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India: Tamil Nadu: Coonoor, Mahabalipuram, Ooty, Srirangam [Tiruchirapalli], Thanjavur, Yercaud
Thanjavur, India: The Big Temple
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The big temple of Thanjavur was called as Rajarajeeswaram, abode of the Lord of Raja Raja Chola or the temple for Lord Iswara built by Raja Raja Chola the great. With the fall of the Cholas, Thanjavur was resurrected by the Nayaks and Marathas. During that period the name was Sanskritised and called Brihadeeswarar temple. Raja Raja Chola I was an unequalled monarch who ruled entire Southern part of India over thousand years ago. His greatness and glory can still be witnessed by the world by his magnum opus - the Brihadeeswarar temple.
A visit to the Big Temple was part of our itinerary whilst touring the coastal area of the State of Tamil Nadu. We reached Thanjavur from Tiruchirapalli which was about 60 kms away.
This is the largest temple in India and one of India's most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The vimana or (temple tower) is 216 feet high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kumbam (Kalasha - the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is carved out of a single stone and weighs around 80 tons.
The temple complex consists of the main Shiva shrine, two gopurams (entrances), a Nandi mandapam and shrines devoted to Ganesha, Karurvurar, Murugan, Sandhigeshwarar, Brahannyagi, Natraja, Varah and Hanuman.
Keralaanthagan Gopuram: Raja Raja Chola assumed the title of Keralaanthakan meaning Destroyer of Kerala. This gopuram is named after the defeat of Kerala. This is a five stage gopuram. In the front side of the gopuram are various forms of Shiva - Rudhrathandava (a fierce Shiva in dancing form), Shiva with Parvathi and Bichadanar (Shiva as beggar). In the rear side of the gopuram is Krishna Leela. MahaVishnu in the first stage, Narasimha combating with Hiranyakasibu on one side and Hiranya Samkara on the other.
The Keralaanthakan gopuram is constructed on the same architectural concept of the Srivimana. Firstly, the load is distributed on two huge granite walls and the walls are merged into single structure as it approaches the height. Secondly, the Ball and Lock of the huge granites lock themselves with the neighboring rock - the small projections evenly distributed on the base of the structure. Thirdly, the huge base platform distributes the load to the ground with the minimum foundation depth.
Rajarajan Gopuram: This gopuram was built by Raja Raja I and depicts the mediaeval Chola architecture where the Raja gopuram diminish in size and the Karpagraham (the main deity's gopuram) is significant. The two huge 15 feet monolithic Dwarapalas on either side of this entrance is seen. The 15 feet huge monolithic stone sculpture of the Dwarapala reveals the concept that God is everywhere as shown by the upper two hands and the pose of right hand index finger denotes that God is one and the only one.
As one enters the complex through the gopurams, the Nandi mandapam comes into view. The Nandi (Lord Shiva’s bull) dates back to the Naik period. It is housed in its own mandapam and it matches the grandeur and size of the temple itself. It is a monolithic Nandi weighing about 25 tons and is about 12 feet high and 20 feet long. Ceiling of the Nandi Mandapam is adorned with paintings based on Holy Scriptures.
The most important part of the temple is the inner mandapam which is surrounded by massive walls that are divided into levels by sharply cut sculptures and pilasters providing deep bays and recesses. Each side of the sanctuary has a bay emphasizing the principle cult icons. The interior of the sanctum sanctorum, is the inner most sanctum and focus of the temple where an image of the primary deity, Shiva, resides. Inside is a huge stone Linga. The word Karuvarai means "womb chamber" from Tamil word karu for foetus. Only priests are allowed to enter this inner-most chamber. The circumambulation winds around the massive lingam in the garbhagriha and is repeated in an upper story, presenting the idea that Chola Empire freely offered access to the Gods.
The corridors surrounding the complex houses hundreds of Shiv Lingas and the walls of the corridors depict paintings of various happenings.
After spending a couple of hours in the temple complex we moved on. For those having time on hand may want to visit the Royal Palace & Museum which is about a kilometer away from the Big Temple. We decided to skip that as we had to visit Vellore and reach Bangalore the same night to take our flight back home.
Thanjavur Image Gallery Photo viewer
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