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  • Naseef T. P

Brihadeshwara Temple: An Eternal Thachu Shastra Wonder

A land with music in every grain of sand, the last trip in 2022 was to Thanjavur, which was called the paddy field of India in ancient times and where art and music made history. With Benny Sir, we set out in fours to visit the historic town and, eventually, the magnificent Brihadeshwara Temple.

Raja Raja Gopuram of Brihadeshwara Temple

The morning sun is just beginning to caress the earth. Preparations for the awakening of the city of Chennai are in full swing. As it is early morning, there is no commotion of vehicles on the streets. It was calm and quiet. Seenu Annan increased the speed of the car. When I woke up after a short nap, it was dawn. The number of vehicles on the road increased: those on morning rides; flower vendors; sand-carrying bullock carts; Tamil girls with Kanakambaram flowers in their hair; beautiful sights…

The car travelled forward across the cities. At 8 o'clock, we had breakfast and continued our journey. The signboards that let you know that you can reach Thanjavur after crossing a few kilometres filled my heart with excitement. Anjaly and I told Benny sir that we would like to visit Brihadeshwara Temple when we reach Thanjavur. He gave a little smile in response and said we could go. Then he shared his memories with us of when he visited the Brihadeshwara Temple as a serious visitor in 2010, where he took rare pictures.

We arrived in Thanjavur around ten o'clock, a medium-sized city with no new construction and a strong aroma of antiquity. The Kaveri River is curled like a rope tied to Thanjavur. On the Kaveri River's bank stands Brihadeshwara Temple, which is renowned for the variety of its historical and architectural styles. Thiruvuthayar Kovil, Periya Kovil, and Rajarajeswaram Kovil are other names for Brihadeshwara Temple. On the journey through Thanjavur town, one could sight the central gopuram of the Brihadeshwara Temple and the solitary stone crown atop it while sitting inside the car. At first glance, I was captivated by its grandeur. While sitting inside the car, I captured some of the incredible shots of the majestic temple with my camera.

The Arched Gateway That Serves as the Outermost Entrance to the Complex

Due to the time limit, we did not enter the temple and went straight to the house of Palanimanickam, the member of the Lok Sabha from Thanjavur. Benny Sir had a meeting with him. At the end of the talk, he spoke about the importance of preserving Thanjavur's history and heritage. After getting down from there and after visiting another site, we reached the Brihadeshwara Temple at 3 o'clock. Large fort-like walls can be seen around this temple located on the banks of the river Kaveri.

When you enter the entrance, you will see a tower bigger than the entrance. Its name is Keralaantaka Gopuram (it is also a memorial to Raja Raja Chola's victory over the Chera kings), and after passing this and Raja Raja Gopuram, we entered a spacious courtyard. It's incredible how large the main structure of the temple seems from the front.

Keralaantaka Gopuram

Another major attraction is the shape of Nandi, carved from a single piece of stone. This figure, which is 16 feet long and 2.5 metres broad, is remarkable to see. This Nandi statue is the biggest one in South India. Nandi is regarded as Shiva and Parvati's guardian. Stone mandapams can be found near this massive Nandi mandapam.

The Nandi Pavilion in Front of the Main Temple

Painted Ceiling Panel in the Nandi Pavilion

These stone pavilions housed performances and other activities during festivals. We kept walking straight. A circumambulation was made around the shrine. When you stroll through this regal space, you can hear the faint echoes of long ago; even the wind that blows here has an ancient scent.

The Thanjavur Brihadeshwara Temple, which proclaimed the excellence of Dravida (temple) sculpture to the world ten centuries ago, is made of 1,30,000 tonnes of stone. It is the largest temple in South India, built entirely of stone, and the largest temple tower in the world.

West Side of the Pyramidal Sanctuary

Lord Shiva is enshrined as a linga in the Brihadeshwara temple, one of the magnificent structures built during the golden age of the Chola kings, when their empire stretched across the sea to Sri Lanka and other south-east Asian countries. This temple has 14 stories and a height of 216 feet, making it the highest in South India.

It took 12 years to build and is renowned for both its stunning architecture and for the brass Lord Nataraj, the dancing embodiment of Lord Shiva. It was constructed in 1010 A.D. by the architect Kunjaramallan Rajaraja Perunthachchan under the guidance of Arulmozhi Varman, who was Raja Raja Chola 1.

It's almost five o'clock now. We entered the shrine for "darshan." Amazing sculptures can be seen inside. Our visit was at a fairly crowded time. Following the darshan, I received yet another blessing. It was an opportunity to enter the Vimana Gopuram on top of Sri Kovil, which is not allowed for normal visitors. We climbed up a different path in the presence of the ASI guides and other temple staff. As we climb up through the dark corridors, we can see sculptures like poetry engraved in stone on the walls. Once inside the gopuram and looking up, everyone chanted Om—the mantra, which hit the black stones and echoed the moments of intense devotion that will never be forgotten. No photographs were taken because the no-photography rule is now strictly enforced. Benny Sir said that there was no restriction on taking pictures ten years ago. He took a lot of photos the last time he was there. The pictures taken that day are attached here.

Vimana Gopuram

Photo taken in 2010 by Benny Kuriakose of the Tip of the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Vimana Gopuram

Photo Taken by Benny Kuriakose of the Dancing Mudra Form in the Passage Towards Vimana Gopuram

The adhisthana, the plastered walls, and the overhanging kapota eave are the three separate zones that make up the elevation of the temple and the adjacent mandapa. Shrines may be identified by their pyramidal towers, which replicate the plastered walls, eaves, and parapets of the walls below on a smaller scale in one or more stories. In order to produce a striking, sharply pyramidal stone mass rising around 40 metres above the walls, the tower above has 13 diminishing square levels.

The temple is a remarkable depiction of the brilliant craftsmanship and intricate details used in architectural constructions from a thousand years ago. A spectacular collection of carvings, paintings, and reliefs, including wall and ceiling murals and heavily encrusted plaster work, can be seen at the Thanjavur temple. The presence of a royal figure is one of the Thanjavur mural's most interesting details. The temple also contains several pillars, some of which emit various musical sounds

The Stone Carved Exterior Details of the East Face of the Inner Gopura

It was nearly dark. I rounded the temple once more. My eyes feasted, and my lens scanned the spectacular stone sculptures of Brihadeshwara Temple.

Temple architecture makes up a significant portion of India's architectural heritage, with distinct styles adorning various regions of the nation. Brihadeshwara Temple is one such outstanding temple that adds to Southern India's architectural legacy. This extravagant architectural masterpiece radiates grandeur and wealth, and because of how great it is, it attracts attention from all around the Thanjavur area. Also, it is the first complete granite temple. The vimana (tower above the sanctuary sanctorum) of the Brihadeshwara Temple is an interesting architectural feature since it doesn't throw a shadow at midday! The temple is entirely composed of granite, and the walls are covered in Chola paintings that depict many aspects of Lord Shiva.

Free- standing Bhairava icon in the east porch to the mandapa

Due to its exquisite sculpture and superior structure, Brihadeshwara Temple, which remains a marvel of Tamil architecture from the Chola era, has been included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We returned to Chennai from Ponnian Selvan's region with recollections of wonderful vistas.

Dvarapalaka in the East Face of the Inner Gopura

Stone Carved Sculpture

Tamil Inscription on the Base of the Mandapa

Tamil Inscription on the Base of the Mandapa

Outer Face of the Compound Wall

Outer Face of the Compound Wall

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