You Have to See it to Believe it: The Big Temple of Thanjavur

The Big Temple of Thanjavur in all its glory. Source: Thanjavur Tourism

Tamilnadu is known for its historic temples. There is as much history and culture associated with the temples as devotion is. 

Even a person who is a frequent traveler with complete knowledge of the state will not be able to confidently state that he has indeed visited all the historic temples in the state. 

For the benefit of those who have not visited temples in Tamil Nadu, here is a quick introduction. 

The majority of temples in South India will have a black idol. The dark colour comes from the materials used i.e., Panchaloha, stone or granite. Panchaloha is an alloy of gold, silver, copper, zinc and iron. 

Usually there are multiple deities housed inside the temple complex with the main idol along with his consort placed in the middle. The temples are constructed in multiple layers and usually one has to cross many doors before reaching the sanctum Sanctorum.

Another important feature of the temples in South India, especially Tamil Nadu is the Gopuram (temple tower).  The tower has idols and designs enshrined on them. Every temple will have a main tower and several small ones too! 

There is a popular belief that the temple tower should be the tallest in the vicinity and in olden days people would ensure that they don’t construct their houses beyond the height of the tower.

There is a popular saying in Tamil which says ‘Gopura darisanam Koti Punyam’ which loosely translates as seeing the tower (gopuram) brings in good returns. 

The Tanjore Big temple, also called the Brihadisvara temple, is one such great wonder of Tamil Nadu. The temple tower (Gopuram) is 216 feet and one cannot help but get awestruck at its grandeur and splendor, the moment one steps into the premises.   

This temple along with Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (near Jayankondam, TamilNadu) and Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram (near Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu) are enlisted as the great living Chola temples and classified under World Heritage list by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

These temples were built by the kings of the Chola empire during the 11th and 12th century. While the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram was built by Rajendra I, the temple at Darasuram was built by Rajaraja II. 

The big temple (as it is called) at Tanjore was built by Raja Raja Chola – I following orders received in his dream. The original name of Raja Raja Chola I was Arulmozhivarman.

The main deity in this temple is Hindu lord Shiva and it was consecrated in 1010 AD. The Chola king named the temple as Rajarajeshwaram, initially. According to history, it was renamed as Brihadeshwara temple by the Marathas and Nayakas who invaded the town. 

These temples are standing proofs for the milestones crossed by the Chola kings in various fields like architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. 

The big temple has stood the test of time and has survived many calamities including six major earthquakes and a major fire accident. 

The entire temple has been constructed from granite stones. 

Historians say that Raja Raja Chola I promoted the temple as a centre for all economic and religious activities.

The temple tower or Shikara is also called as Dakshina Meru. This is a hollow structure built by interlocking stones without the use of binding materials. The temple houses a huge bull statue, also called as Nandi, which measures 16 feet long and 13 feet height.

As per mythology, Nandi is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Carved out of a single rock, as per historians, the Shivalinga is 3.7 meters tall. The huge structures capture the imagination of the visitors. You have to see it to believe its beauty!

Inscriptions found in the temple reveal that the king Raja Raja Chola 1 recorded in stone all the valuables and properties that he, his relatives and ministers offered to the temple and its deities.  

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the three Chola temples of Southern India represent the architectural marvel of the Dravida type of temples and also the Chola ideology. 

The Big temple has been under the protection of the Archeological Survey of India from 1922. It has also been brought under the Tamil Nadu Hindu religious and charitable endowments Act from the year 1959.   

This historic temple is in news now as the consecration has been planned on February 5,2020, which is 43 years after it was last held, but people are divided as to which language should be used for the temple proceedings.

While one section bats for Tamil, another bat for Sanskrit. They have knocked the doors of the court and hope the consecration of the temple happens in a smooth manner.

If you a devotee or a History enthusiast or a photographer or a nature lover, you must visit this Periya kovil (Big temple).  

Preetha Kadhir

Preetha Kadhir is a Journalist with 15+ years of exp in national and international newspapers. She has penned rhymes for children and loves writing about education, parenting and societal issues.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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