This article is part of our series on Historical temples. As a part of this series, we are publishing articles on a few famed temples and a few little known temples. Hope you like our series.
Constructed by the famous Raja Raja Chola ,Brihadeeshwara temple is a living history of the grandeur of the Chola kings. This temple remains as India’s largest and Indian architecture’s one of greatest glories. It is also a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Great Living Chola Temples”.
The Brihadeeshwara temple is also known as Rajarajeshwara. It was built by the king as a remedy to black leprosy. The king’s spiritual leader opined that he had burnt and caused violence to many a animal life in his past birth as hunter and hence the ailment. So a Shivalinga was to be brought from river narmada and established in the temple. This was done by the king accompanied by 64 merchants. It is said that when the linga was taken out of water it kept increasing in size and thus ‘Brihat- eeshwara’. The temple was completed after 12 years and the kumbha-abhishek (installation ceremony) was done on 20th day of 26th year of his reign (1011 CE). Construction of temples was considered a sign of prosperity and power of a king. This had led to development of varied schools of architecture each claiming its supremacy yet patronised by a royal family. The Cholas extended their sovereignty from Ganga in north to Ceylon in south.
The architecture of Brihadeeshwara temple is very similar to that of Orissa. The gopurams (usually ornate tower at the entrance of temple) in South India generally overshadows the Vimana (tower above the sanctorum This is not seen with Brihadeeshwara temple and hence is a unique feature. The main temple rises above the gopurams. “Moolavar” or primary deity of Brihadeeswarar Temple is God Shiva. All other deities, particularly ones, which are on places in niches of outer wall or Koshta Moorthigal like Dakshinamurthy, Chandra and Surya, are in huge sizes. Ornate architecture of nine planetary deities in shape of lingass, 108 other lingas, guardinas of 8 directions (dikpala) are said to be mesmerising. The walls depict 64 divine plays (leela) of Shiva. Independent arrangement was made for varied purposes like sacrifices, cooking, storing, dining etc. this shows that the temple must have been regularly visited and worshipped by the king. In Garbhagriha, circumambulation wraps around massive lingam and repeats itself in one upper storey, which presents an idea that Empire of Cholas offers access to gods to all and not just for priests. There is one statue of a sacred bull or Nandi at entrance of this temple measuring about thirteen feet high and sixteen feet long. It is result of a single rock carving. The temple apex is at height of 198 feet and the apex is a kumbam (a ball like structure) which alone weighs 80 tons and is made of single rock. Archeaolgists still wonder how such a heavy weighing stone was put at such height in those days when there were little technological advancements.
Entire structure of Brihadeeshwara temple is made of granite, nearest source being near Tiruchchirapalli, which is nearly 60 kms to west of Thanjavur. Archaeological Survey of India for first time in history made use of its original de-stucco process (Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture.) for restoring sixteen Nayak paintings as they were placed over a thousand years old Chola frescoes. Nayak paintings accumulated over boards of fiber glass and are on display at one separate pavilion. About 400 years in past, kings of Tanjore- Nayaks replaced these Chola paintings with few of themselves.
A masterpiece of Dravidian architectural glory, the temple marks a golden period in history of south India. It indeed does not receive the attention it did a thousand years ago. However, it holds a position of prestige among temples of India. As Indians, this temple is a reminder of past splendour and a good reason to treasure it.
Note : We are not endorsing any particular religion by portraying Hindu temples. India is a secular country and The Positive India is a secular media. It’s our attempt to promote the forgotten history of our glorious India.