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Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

By Sathish JamaiPublished 2 months ago 8 min read

The Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as the Big Temple, is a Hindu temple located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. It was built by the Chola King Raja Raja Chola I in the 11th century and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is known for its architectural and engineering marvels, including its massive size and towering vimana (shrine), which is said to be one of the tallest in the world.

The temple is also known for its intricate carvings and sculptures, which adorn its walls, pillars, and towers. Some of the most famous sculptures in the temple include the Nandi bull, the depiction of Lord Shiva and Parvati, and the scene from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, in which Lord Krishna lifts the Govardhan Hill.

In addition to its architectural and aesthetic beauty, the temple is also considered an important cultural and religious site for Hindus. It is a popular place of pilgrimage and is visited by thousands of devotees every year. The temple is also an important example of Chola architecture and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple is considered one of the greatest examples of South Indian temple architecture and engineering. Its massive size and scale, combined with its intricate carvings and sculptures, make it a unique and important architectural monument. The temple's vimana, or shrine, rises to a height of 216 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world.

In addition to its architectural marvels, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is also known for its intricate and detailed sculptures, which adorn its walls, pillars, and towers. The temple is adorned with thousands of sculptures, including depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, scenes from Hindu mythology, and intricate geometric patterns. The temple is also known for its elaborate and detailed carvings, including a number of scenes from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple is considered an important cultural and religious site for Hindus, and it is a popular place of pilgrimage. The temple is said to be the site of numerous miracles and is believed to have the power to grant wishes and cure diseases. It is also a popular site for Hindu festivals and ceremonies, and it is an important part of the cultural and religious heritage of India.

The Peruvudaiyar temple's plan and development utilizes the axial and symmetrical geometry rules. It is classified as Perunkoil (also called Madakkoil), a big temple built on a higher platform of a natural or man-made mounds. The temple complex is a rectangle that is almost two stacked squares, covering 240.79 metres (790.0 ft) east to west, and 121.92 metres (400.0 ft) north to south. In this space are five main sections: the sanctum with the towering superstructure (sri vimana), the Nandi hall in front (Nandi-mandapam) and in between these the main community hall (mukhamandapam), the great gathering hall (mahamandapam) and the pavilion that connects the great hall with the sanctum (Antrala).

The temple complex integrates a large pillared and covered veranda (prakara) in its spacious courtyard, with a perimeter of about 450 metres (1,480 ft) for circumambulation. Outside this pillared veranda there are two walls of enclosure, the outer one being defensive and added in 1777 by the French colonial forces with gun-holes with the temple serving as an arsenal. They made the outer wall high, isolating the temple complex area. On its east end is the original main gopuram or gateway that is barrel vaulted. It is less than half the size of the main temple's vimana. Additional structures were added to the original temple after the 11th century, such as a mandapa in its northeast corner and additional gopurams (gateways) on its perimeters to allow people to enter and leave from multiple locations.Some of the shrines and structures were added during the Pandya, Nayaka, Vijayanagara and Maratha era, before the colonial era started, and these builders respected the original plans and symmetry rules. Inside the original temple courtyard, along with the main sanctum and Nandi-mandapam are two major shrines, one for Kartikeya and for Parvati. The complex has additional smaller shrines.

The Peruvudaiyar temple continued the Hindu temple traditions of South India by adopting architectural and decorative elements, but its scale significantly exceeded the temples constructed before the 11th century. The Chola era architects and artisans innovated the expertise to scale up and build, particularly with heavy stone and to accomplish the 63.4 metres (208 ft) high towering vimana.

The temple faces east, and once had a water moat around it. This has been filled up. The fortified wall now runs around this moat. The two walls have ornate gateways called the gopurams. These are made from stone and display entablature. The main gateways are on the east side. The first one is called the Keralantakan tiruvasal, which means the "sacred gate of the Keralantakan". The word Keralantakan was the surname of king Rajaraja who built it. About a 100 metres (330 ft) ahead is the inner courtyard gopuram called the Rajarajan tiruvasal. This is more decorated than the Keralantakan tiruvasal, such as with its adhishthanam relief work narrating scenes from the Puranas and other Hindu texts. The inner eastern gopuram leads to a vast courtyard, in which the shrines are all signed to east–west and north-west cardinal directions. The complex can be entered either on one axis through a five-story gopuram or with a second access directly to the huge main quadrangle through a smaller free-standing gopuram. The gopuram of the main entrance is 30 m high, smaller than the vimana.The main temple-related monuments and the great tower is in the middle of this courtyard. Around the main temple that is dedicated to Shiva, are smaller shrines, most of which are aligned axially. These are dedicated to his consort Parvati, his sons Murugan and Ganesha, Nandi, Varahi, Karuvur deva (the guru of Rajaraja Chola), Chandeshvara and Nataraja. The Nandi mandapam has a monolithic seated bull facing the sanctum. In between them are stairs leading to a columned porch and community gathering hall, then an inner mandapa connecting to the pradakshina patha, or circumambulation path. The Nandi (bull) facing the mukh-mandapam weighs about 25 tonnes. It is made of a single stone and is about 2 m in height, 6 m in length and 2.5 m in width. The image of Nandi is a monolithic one and is one of the largest in the country.

The temple is dedicated to Shiva in the form of a huge linga, his abstract aniconic representation. It is 8.7 m (29 ft) high, occupying two storeys of the sanctum. It is one of the largest monolithic linga sculptures in India.

Sculptures on the maha-mandapam walls.


The sikhara, a cupolic dome (25 tons), is octagonal and rests on a single block of granite, weighing 80 tons.

The Sikhara

The Shaivism temple celebrates all major Hindu traditions by including the primary deities of the Vaishnavism and Shaktism tradition in the great mandapa of the main temple. The distribution of the deities is generally symmetric, except for the east entrance side which provide for the door and walkway. In addition to the main deities, each side provides for dvarapalas (guardians), and various other sculptures. The vestibule has three stone sculptures that is intricately carved, and mural paintings.

Some of the 81 dance positions carved on the outer wall of the upper storey corridor wall.

On the second floor, Shiva's Tripurantaka form in different postures is depicted corresponding to these sculptures. Above these floors, the sri-vimana towers above in thirteen storeys (talas). Above these storeys is a single square block of granite weight 80 tons, and 7.77 metres (25.5 ft) side. On top of this block, at its corners are Nandi pairs each about 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in) by 1.68 metres (5 ft 6 in) in dimension. Above the center of this granite block rises the griva, the sikhara and the finial (stupi) of Tamil Hindu temple architecture. This stupi is 3.81 metres (12.5 ft) in height, and was originally covered with gold (no longer). The sikhara at the top is cupola-shaped and weighs 25 tons. Each storey of this tower is decorated with kutas and salas. The shrinking squares tower architecture of this temple differs from the tower at the Chola temple at Gangaikondasolisvaram, because this is straight in contrast to the latter which is curvilinear. The temple's sri-vimana magnitude has made it a towering landmark for the city. The upper storey corridor wall of the aditala is carved with 81 of the 108 dance karanas – postures of Natya Sastra. This text is the basis of the Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The 27 unrepresented karanas are blank blocks of stone, and it is unclear why these were not carved. The 81 postures carved suggest the significance of this classical Indian dance form by early 11th century. The garbhagriha is square and sits on a plinth. This is moulded and 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in) thick. It consists of upapitham and adhishthanam, respectively 140 cm and 360 cm thick.


The temple walls have numerous inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha scripts. Many of these begin with customary Sanskrit and Tamil language historical introduction to the king who authorized it, and predominant number of them discuss gifts to the temple or temple personnel, in some cases residents of the city. The temple complex has sixty four inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola I, twenty nine inscriptions of Rajendra Chola I, one each of Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga I and Rajamahendra (Rajendra II), three of a probable Pandyan king, two of Nayaka rulers namely, Achyutappa Nayaka and Mallapa Nayaka.


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


About the Creator

Sathish Jamai

I want to let people know about India's mythology, history, our culture, and how we are connected to it.

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