Indian Temples are bundle of architecture wonders, culture, heritage and mysteries. Most of them are built by Kings to show their power to the world. Each of them has a special feature and thirst to explore them accelerate after every temple. From Tirupati temple to recent sensation – Padmanabhasamy temple of Thiruvananthapuram, each one is a closed book even after years of exploration. One such marvel is The Brihadeeshwara Temple of Thanjavur,India aka The Big Temple. Built by Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD for Lord Shiva, this massive spectacular is celebrating over 1000 years and still intact surviving major earthquakes, thanks to Chola’s spectacular engineering skills. It is now part of UNESCO world heritage site under ‘The Great Chola Temples’. Lets see what this magnificent wonder holds, shall we?
The Main entrance of the temple itself is an eye feast. A short yet elegant structure with huge dwarapalakas(guardians) on either side totally built with granite is so welcoming and will make sure to fall in love with the idols and colors instantly.
Along the main entrance is seen huge wall protecting the temple complex and has several inscriptions and paintings. Dated 1011 CE, these inscriptions give details about the Chola ministers, the engineer of the temple, the dance postures and the ornaments used in the Chola reign.
A vast courtyard welcomes passing thru the main entrance along with the huge Nandi(sacred bull) Mandapam and the Main tower both carved from a single granite stone. This temple is platform to showcase talent and home of arts. It is commissioned with the bronze Nataraja – dance form of Lord Shiva and 81 of the 108 dance postures in Bharata Natyam(Indian classical dance) are carved on the main tower. It is believed the pillars of the temple resonate with music. To commemorate 1000th year of the temple, 1000 dancers from all over the world performed in this courtyard in September 2010 and it sure is so adorable to watch.
Nandi, the official vehicle of Lord Shiva will be seen in all his temples in front of the main mandapam. This Nandi is on lines with the other structures of the temple built out of single granite stone inside an open mandapam with beautiful art and is one of the largest in the world weighing about 25 tonnes. The paintings inside the mandapam are so colorful and most of them are still crystal clear. In fact, the paintings all over the temple are still undamaged. Thanjavur museum has preserved several of these paintings and will help us understand the importance of them in the world of art.
Then there is Main Mandapam, the heart of the temple. The tower is again made of single granite stone and is about the height of 216 ft. Considering its size and age, it stood really intact compared to other famous towers around the world, credit goes to brick-lock technology, the extraordinary talent from Cholas. This engineering wonder did not use cement or any other binding material. The colors of the tower are so peculiar and are pleasant to enjoy. There are plenty of sculptures around the tower with importance of its own.
There is a myth that temple base is built so the shadow of the tower never fall on the ground during afternoon anytime of the year.
Top of this tower is a cap in the shape of lotus called kumbham which weigh about 81 tonnes carved of you know what by now, a single granite stone. The significance of kumbham is to store positive energy in the main tower. It is hard to understand how such an enormous work is placed on the top of the tower and believed that Cholas used over 1000 elephants and thousands of workers to complete the construction. Also worth mentioning that there is no Granite quarry at least in 100 mile radius of the temple, yet the whole temple used about 1,30,000 tonnes of Granite.
Raja Raja Chola dreamt about Lord Shiva during his visit to Sri Lanka and want to pay off his respects in a grand scale. He was inspired by the temples there and desired to build one in his own dynasty, then, capital – Thanjavur. Thus a milestone was laid and the temple reflects the grandeur of Chola Kingdom.
Inside the temple are several idols, paintings along with the the main sculpture – huge Shiva Linga(abstract representation of Lord Shiva) of 29 ft high, which is one of the largest monolithic sculptures. It is referred locally as periya samy which means great Lord or Big Shiva and so it is called BIG temple.
Around the temple, there are thousands of other lingas each established by several other kings over the time. There will be priests around the temple performing pooja(prayers) to several idols. It is not mandatory to tip priests anywhere in the temple.
And finally, before you exit receive blessings from temple elephant in a cute way. But this one only with the tips 😀
So are you ready to visit the temple? Here are few things to note:
How to reach?
Nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli(Trichy) and is 60 km from the temple. There are multiple buses any time of the day between these two cities. Also there are trains running from Chennai, capital of Tamilnadu state to Thanjavur.
Trichy is a destination of its own with Srirangam Temple and Rockfort.
When to visit?
Winter(December to February) is the right time to visit when the temperatures are pleasant. Summers can be very hot with temperatures around 30-45 degrees C.
Where to Stay?
As Airbnb is not so famous in the area, Hotel Gnanam and PL.A are reliable and affordable options.
- Bargaining is the key to hire local transportation especially autos and taxis.
- Be aware of the surroundings while traveling on the roads.
- Drink only water from authorized water bottles.
- Street food is not always recommended.
- Carry sufficient cash only.
- Talk to local vendors for better directions.
I should thank Sastra University for the beautiful memories in and around Thanjavur!