Thanjavur Brahadeswarar Temple
If there is a temple in the country that would make you wonder at the first sight itself, it must be Thanjavur Brahadeeswarar temple dedicated to Lord Siva. This temple is also called ‘the big temple of Thanjavur’ and said to be the tallest and biggest in the country. The temple is showcasing to the world its rich architecture and remarkable engineering feat besides being the home to Dravidian culture and heritage. The king Rajaraja Cholan-I, who ruled the Chola kingdom for 27 years (985-1012 AD) had built this temple in six years. What is amazing is the placement of an eight sided octagon shaped crown stone of some 80 tons in weight on top of the main tower which is 216 feet in height. This is a rare feat even by today’s engineering standards, executed mainly by human skill and muscle power. A stone tablet says the big temple was consecrated in the year 1010 AD and an inscription calls it ‘Rajarajaecharam’.
There are two entrance towers of similar period one after the other on the Eastern side of the temple. The temple site is encompassed by a continuous mandapam with pillars on all its sides and with a walkway. One thousand and eight Sivalingams are installed in this mandapam besides Navagrahams, all in the form of lingams and Navagrahams in lingam form is a feature not usually found in other temples. A shrine for the Ambal on North Eastern side is located and the Goddess is Brahannayaki or Peruvodaiyal. The temple is built over a large square shaped elevated platform and the imposing 14 storey tower with its huge stone-crown atop stands right on the sanctum sanctorum, a feature so different from other South India temples. In most of the South Indian temples, the entrance tower is the tall structure with several storeys and with idols of Gods and Goddesses associated with the presiding deity. The other tower on the sanctum sanctorum is usually a small one.
It appears from the inscriptions, sculptures and mural paintings at the sanctum that the temple had been a home to hundreds of stage artists, danseuses and musicians once up on a time during the regime of the Chola kings.
The murthy of the presiding deity, Sri Brahadeswara is awe inspiring in form and matching in size to that of the large temple. The monolithic Nandhi facing the sanctum is also large and comparable in size to those in Lepakshi and Mysoru. There is a Kodimaram before the Nandhi which is rather an uncommon sight to be found any where else. The tirtham, Sivagangai kulam is about a couple of hundred yards away from the temple.
The temple has also certain additions done later by Nayakas and Marathas who were in power after Cholas. Lord Subramaniar’s shrine with a six sided crown is typical of Nayakas period and Lord Ganesha’s shrine on the South Western side was renovated by the Maratha king Sarabhoji -II
The licensed temple guide who accompanied me was a master of arts by qualification and knowing my interest in temple architecture took great pains to explain with neatly drawn sketches, the possible ways by which the crown-stone could have been lifted to that great height manually. He was of the opinion that some 1500 workers would have been involved in the construction work of the temple which was completed in just six years. Sri Karur Devar, who was also a Sidha doctor during the time of Rajaraja Cholan-I, is said to be the architect of the temple.
I have tried to mentioned some of the interesting features of Thanjavur Big temple in this write-up which am sure would kindle the interest of all those who are yet to see this great work of art, engineering, culture and place of worship. Am also sure you would come out saying, no task is too big or impossible to achieve in this world and even a mountain can be moved by competent persons, if only they have a will to do!