Architectural Brilliance, Delight, Divine and Mystery - The Big Temple in Tanjore

The big temple, Brihedeeshwara Temple was always on my travel list, not only it's one of the Unesco world heritage site but because of architectural excellence and mysteries. Its mix bag of secrets and  architecture brilliance. Its very easy to browse through many pictures on the internet and say Wow this place looks awesome but to get in there and see it your self is a different feeling.

**Warning** This is going to be a lengthy blog as I see so many things to write about this place, the amazing temple, peculiar design, history, mysteries and many more. Unless you are a history buff, there are many pictures to tell you how extraordinary this temple is.

It was unplanned trip to Tanjore. I had 4 days off including Sat and Sunday. My plan was to be at home, sleep, watch Ind vs NZ test cricket, write blogs. By the time it was Sunday afternoon, travel bug started troubling me and I was itching to travel. I spent a few more hours seeing where I can go and decided to travel to Tanjore or Thanjavur in Tamilnadu. Tempted to drive the car as Tanjore is 300 km from Bangalore but driving KA registration car in Tamilnadu in these current political situations is not a good idea. At the last moment, I managed to book bus tickets, hotel and I started my solo journey to Tanjore on Sunday night 11pm. Seven and half hours of uneventful bus journey and I reached Tanjore's new bus stand at 6:30 morning. I had to take the city bus to reach old bus stand and after having cup of tea, I decided to explore the Brihedeeshwara temple first which is hardly 800 meters from old bus stand and for me early morning walk.

As per local legend, the word Thanjavur is derived from "Tanjan", a legendary demon in Hindu mythology who was killed in this place by the Hindu god Neelamegha Perumal (a form of Vishnu). Some say the word Thanjavur is indeed a Tamil name."Than"-cold, "chei"-farmland, "ur"- city, a city surrounded by cold farmlands.

It was 8 in the morning and I already started feeling hot and humid. That's the weather for you in Tanjore. Here is the first glimpse of  Big temple when I was crossing the small bridge.

Lets get into the history book directly and the design of the temple complex. This 1000 years old ambitious temple was built by Rajaraj I of Chola dynasty started in 1003 and completed in 1010 AD. One of the largest and oldest temples in India. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is worshiped in linga form, the lingam is cut from single granite and 3.6 m in height.  Its one of the finest examples of Tamil architecture during the Chola period. The entire temple complex is made out of granite.

King Rajaraja was instructed by his spiritual guru to bring a Shiva linga from the nearby river and construct a temple for it.  It is said that when the linga was taken from the Narmada River, it kept increasing in size; which is why the linga is known as Brihadeeswara.

There are three main entrances (Gopuram) to the shrine called the Keralantakam, Rasarasan and Tiruanukkam.  The 2nd and 3rd entrances are guarded by ferocious doorkeepers of huge proportions, all monoliths.

After crossing all the gopuram, you will see the big complex and the main temple. The Temple stands in the middle of fortified walls. There is one pavilion and statue of a sacred giant black Nandi bull facing this temple. It is a result of a single rock carving, measuring about thirteen feet high and sixteen feet long. I have seen the biggest one in Lepakshi, this statue of the bull in Big temple is I think the second biggest. Don't forget to see the paintings and murals done on the ceiling of this pavilion,  painted in bright blue and golden yellow

The main attraction in the temple is the great Vimana (Tower) built over the garbhgriha (sanctum), which is 216 feet high and has 14 storey. This is peculiar because usually, the Gopurams (towers at the entrance) are generally higher than the Vimana in most temples. The tower was built hollow by the master designers by interlocking the stones without using any binding material!!!

After the Vimana, the temple is capped by a single 80 ton (73,700 kg) monolithic solid granite block. The Sikhara, a spherical dome, is octagonal and rests on top of this granite block.

You will see inscriptions on the walls on the temple. The inscriptions were the master work done by the king. The instructions were provided for carving the details like, how his order should be adorned at the base of Vimana, how he executed the plan for construction of the temple, the list of gifts given by him to the temple. The inscriptions also reveal financial information on the construction of the temple.

Temple has ornate pillars and columns, all with exquisitely carved animal, human and other figures. In Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) 108 poses form the basic movements. There are beautiful sculptures of 81 of the 108 poses inside the chamber of the first tier of the vimana (tower)

1000 year-old but this amazing temple has survived the extremities of weather, six recorded major earthquakes, and a major fire accident. Archaeologists are amazed at this temple and say that this temple can survive for thousands of centuries. What could be the reason?? Granite, Yes, that's one reason. The complete temple is built of the hardest stone available in the world Granite but the way temple was built, each and every stone were put together is something special.

Now let's talk about some myths, mysteries.

How did cholas manage to lift 80 tons of single granite rock to 216 feet tower? There are many theories, explanations but nothing proved so far. The popular theory by western investigators is that a 11 km - long inclined plane was built, and the stone was rolled to the top on logs, by elephants. Another theory is the Vedic Mantra (Ohm) used to place 80 ton stone on top of temple. It might sound miracle for all of us but it was never a secret for ancient Hindus. (Image credit

The temple is constructed only by granite. Approx 130,000 tons of granite was used. Granite is the hardest stone and how did the architect at that era in 1010 AD able to cut and carve the hardest stone, the modern technology and tools takes lot of time to cut and carve but they did all in just 7-8 years without any modern instrument or cranes. Well this question is not only for this big temple but many temples, caves around India. How did they do that, what were those instruments, what was the technique? How did Rajaram I and his successors move more stone than the great pyramid of Giza?

I observed an interesting sculpture there, figure of a foreigner with modern clothes and a hat!! Its located in the middle of the Vimana on the Northside. Now the question is, this temple is 1000 years old and we have foreigner sculpture, its European or Chinese (not sure). In the year 1010 Indian dresses were different and full of jewelry but this is different, cant be Indian origin. History book says Vasco De Gama is one of the first foreigners who came to India, that too in 1500 AD, but whose face is this?? arrived in India, 500 years before Vasco De Gama in 1010 AD?

Temple has many secrets tunnels and passages, were also built by Raja Raja Chola in his period of time. Still no one knows the secret of these passages, underground vaults. There are not much information available and people who know about these, not ready to disclose. 

I spent almost three and half hours there, explored every nook and corner. I dont carry any digital camera or SLR when I travel or explore places, I stopped it almost 2 years back. All the photos uploaded here are all from my mobile phone camera, it lacks detail but its ok for me. However its not a bad idea to carry good quality of SLR if you want to capture all the sculptures and carving in details. the time I left the place it was close to 12 PM and let me tell you the fact Shikhara and Kalasam cast shadow on the ground. All the claims that it doesn't cast shadow is not true.

Another 1 km walk to my hotel, after having shower and them yummy south Indian lunch, I explored Tanjore Royal Palace and Museum. But I will write about this place in next blog. Too much to write and I think its my first blog I finished immediately after coming back from any place. (I just came back yesterday). Allow me to find my usual lazy elegance and wait for my next blog (may be this weekends, or next week or next to next week)

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