March 21, 2023
Uncover the mystery of the Brihadeeswarar Temple shadow and learn some really interesting facts about this 11th century UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Temples that have no shadows? Or have been built with material that was not native to the place? Or have dozens of underground secret passages? Well, these are just some of the facts about one of the oldest temples in India. Located in the ancient town of Thanjavur (also, called Tanjore), the Brihadeeswarar Temple is indeed a sight to behold. The temple is more than just a religious stop. It is a destination of mysteries and spellbinding architecture, making it the topmost among the places to visit in Thanjavur.
Locally, the Brihadeeswara temple is called Peruvudaiyar Koyil or Thanjavur Kovil. This “Great Living Chola Temple” is dated back to the 11th century and the times of the famous Raja Raja Chola. This was after the famous group of monuments in Mahabalipuram (8th century) but before the gorgeous Madurai Meenakshi temple (14th Century). The temple is built using granite and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is in fact, called the Dakshin Meru (South Meru).
During the reign of one of the longest-ruling dynasties of India – the Cholas, the temple was called Rajarajeshwaram. It was a center for all religious functions and festivals. Later, after the Nayakas and Marathas invaded it, the temple became famous as the Brihadeeswarar Temple. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one important destination in South India. This stems not just from the Thanjavur Temple history but also, owing to its unusual facets of it.

The Brihadeeshwarar Temple Mystery:

In most South Indian Temples, the gates (gopurams) are taller than the main temple tower (Vimana). Check my post on the Meenakshi temple and you will know what I mean. However, in the Brihadeeswarar Temple, it is exactly the opposite. The gopurams are smaller than the main Vimana.
The entire temple is made of Granite. Evidence shows that there was no granite-cutting quarry or even sources to get the stone around Thanjavur. In fact, it is not available even within 50 km of the site. Imagine how they would have carried it all here to be used in the temple – and in those days!
Speaking of Granite, the main Vimana measures 66 m in height. This is 6 stories high and was the largest structure in South India in those days. The astonishing part about this is that the large granite capstone on the top weighs around 80 tons. This is those days, was placed over the hollow Vimana.

The two-storey Brihadishvara temple is built on a high dadoed-base platform. The granite tower (vimana), which rises in thirteen diminishing levels above the sacred garbhagriha (inner shrine), is topped by a dome structure which rests on a single 7.7 m square granite block weighing around 80 tons. The building has a front entrance porch (mandapa) with 36 columns, and there are two additional entrances at the base of the tower on each side. All three entrances are decorated with guardian figure sculptures, some double life-size, and are approached by a richly carved monumental flight of stairs. The hundreds of niches of the exterior are decorated with sculpture of divine figures (murti) – especially Shiva and Devi, lion heads (kirttimukha), and fan shapes.

The temple was laid out on a precise plan of 16 x 16 squares, a design known as padmagarbhamandala in the Dravida architecture of southern India. The interior contains the typical passageway for worshippers to perform a circumambulation, in this case on two levels. The garbhagriha contains a 4-metre tall Shiva linga (phallus). There is a snapana platform, too, for the ritual bathing of the god located within a portico (ardhamandapa). Murals decorate the interior walls, and, once hidden by later Nayaka period paintings, these include fine images of Rajaraja I, his spiritual advisor or guru, and his three queens. Other subjects include a Nataraja (Shiva as Lord of the Dance) who was the clan deity of the Cholas (kuladevata).

The Gopuras
The gopuras at Thanjavur are two huge monumental gateways which lead to the compound dominated by the Brihadishvara temple. They are the earliest mature examples of the form in southern India. Built on the eastern side of the complex, the outer gopura has five stories and the inner one three. Each gopura has a centrally positioned entrance giving access to a single two-storied chamber on each side of it. The gopuras at Thanjavur are unique because each façade (interior and exterior) is not identical as in later examples. The outer facades each have two large dvarapalas (door guardians) as well as figure sculpture in their many niches and large decorative fan shapes. The top of each gopura is crowned with a massive shala or barrel-vaulted roof. Eventually at other sites gopuras would become even larger and more spectacular than the temples themselves.

Other buildings in the compound include the Nandi mandapa portico, located directly between the gopuras and the Brihadishvara temple. A later addition to the site located at the opposite end to the gopuras is the Subrahmanya Shrine, built in c. 1750 CE.

Location: Thanjavur Big Temple, Google Maps


Dedicated To: Lord Shiva


Thanjavur Temple Timings: 6:00 am – 12:30 pm & 4:00 pm – 8:30 pm (Everyday)


Architect: Raja Raja Perunthachan & Raja Raja Cholan


Architectural style: Dravidian architecture


Thanjavur Temple Built On: 1010 AD


Thanjavur Temple Festivals: Chithirai Brahmotsavam, Shivaratri Function, Sadhaya Vizha


Distance From Trichy: 55 Kms (1 hour Travel Time).
This temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples”.

A rupees postage stamp, featuring the 216 feet tall Raja Gopuram (Vimana) was released by the India Post.

In April 1954, the Reserve Bank of India had released a 1000 rupees currency note with a panoramic view of the Brihadeshwara temple.

The marvellous Thanjavur Temple is one of the best identities of South India. The modern day architects are still curious about the structure of Big Temple and how it was built without equipment. The Chola kingdom is finished but the temple built by them was still ruling the people heart with many mysterious facts and wonders inside it. Lot of positivity in the temple will make you cherish and fresh while visiting it.

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