Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thanjavur Bhrahateeswarar temple

Introduction Thanjavur Chola History Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur

Introduction: we focuses this week on the glorious temples attributedto the reign of Raja Raja Chola and his successors in the Thanjavur Cauvery belt of South India.

Historically speaking, these temples are not as ancient as the 274 odd Saivite temples and the 108 Vaishnavite Shrines sung by the Nayanmars and Alwars of the 7th through the 9th centuries, however they stand out as towering monuments proclaiming the glory of the Chola regime and its committment to the arts and culture.

This issue zeroes in on the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Gangaikonda Choleeswarar Temple in Gangai Konda Cholapuram, the Airavateeswarar Temple in Darasuram and the Kambahareswarar temple at Tribhuvanam.

Thanjavur: The districts of Thanjavur, Kumbhakonam and Nagappattinam (constituting the erstwhile Thanjauvr district) boast of hundreds of ancient temples. The town of Thanjavur was the seat of the glorious Chola Empire of Tamilnadu, and was later on the seat of the Nayaks and the Marathas. True to art historian Fergusson, the Chola artists conceived like giants and finished like jewellers.

Chola History: Raja Raja Chola I, was clearly the greatest of the Chola Monarchs. During his reign (985 - 1014 AD) he brought stability to the Chola Kingdom, and restored from obscurity the brilliant Tevaram hymns of the Saivite Nayanmars from obscurity. Raja Raja was a great builder, and the Peruvudaiyar Koyil or the Big Tmeple at Thanjavur was his creation. His son Rajendra Chola (1014 - 1044 AD) was a greater conqueror who marched all the way to the banks of the Ganges. This march was commemorated with a new capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram and another 'Periya Koyil'. Gangai Konda Cholapuram was the capital of the Cholas for about two centuries, although it is nothing more than a village now with this rather well maintained magnificient temple. 35 Kilometers from Thanjavur lies Darasuram, once known as Rajarajapuram - a part of the Chola's secondary capital of Pazhaiyarai. Here is the Airavateeswarar Temple built by Raja Raja II (1146 - 1173). It was during the reign of Kulottunga III (1178 - 1218) that the Kambahareswarar temple at Tribhuvanam was built.

These four temples under discussion stand out from the others in Tamilnadu in that, it is only in these that the Vimanam towers over the entrance Gopurams. After these four temples, the Cholas went back to their traditional style of building temples with larger Gopurams and smaller central Vimanams. These temples are fitting memorials to the glory of the rulers that built them, as well as monuments of piety and a committment to art and architecture.

Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur: A 107 paragraph long inscription on the walls of the Vimanam records the contributions of Raja Raja Chola and his sister Kundavai to the Thanjavur temple. The temple stands within a fort, whose walls are later additions built in the 16th century. The towering vimanam is about 200 feet in height and is referred to as Dakshina Meru. The octogonal Shikharam rests on a single block of granite weighing 81 tons. It is believed that this block was carried up a specially built ramp built from a site 6 kilometeres away from here. Huge Nandis dot the corners of the Shikharam, and the Kalasam on top by itself is about 3.8 meteres in height. Hundreds of stucco figures bejewel the Vimanam, although it is possible that some of these may have been added on during the Maratha period. The Shivalingam - Peruvudaiyar, Rajarajeswaramudaiyar - is a huge one, set in a two storeyed sanctum, and the walls surrounding the sanctum delight visitors as a storehouse of murals and sculpture.

The long prakaram surrounds the great temple (500 feet/250 feet), and the walls surrounding the prakaram again go back to Raja Raja Cholan's period. The walls house long pillared corridors, which abound in murals, Shiva Lingams and Nandis. The Periya Nayaki temple within the temple is a later addition from the Pandya period, and so is the Subramanyar Temple sung later by the Saint poet Arunagirinathar.

Incidents from the lives of the Nayanmars, several of the 108 Bharata Natyam Dance postures, manifestations of Shiva (Aadalvallaan - Nataraja, Tripurantaka, Dakshinamurthi etc.) are depicted in sculptured panels or in exquisite Chola murals. Both the interior, and the exterior walls of the temple, are replete with images of the kind described above.

The sanctum, the ardhamandapam, the mukhamandapam and the Mahamandapam, although distinct, form a composite unit with an imposing appearance that awes visitors, forcing one to wonder how such timeless architectural feat was executed about a 1000 years ago. Entrances to the Mandapams and the towered entrances to the Prakarams are majestic. The grandeur of the architecture and the sculptural finesse speaks volumes of the skills of the Imperial Cholas.

Inscriptions refer to Shiva as Dakshina Meru Vitankar and Aadavallan. The Nandi, which dates back to the Nayak period, is housed in its own mandapam and it matches up to the grandeur and size of the temple. It is a monolithic Nandi weighing about 25 tonnes, and is about 12 feet high and 20 feet long.

Thanjavurcity in & around

ThanjavurCity was the citadel of the Great Cholas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Nayaks and the Marathas. The known history of Thanjavur dates back before Christ. Early Cholas reigned supreme for nearly a thousand years. It was from the 10th to 14th century, Thanjavur became a centre of learning and culture. The most important is the Temple of Brahadeeswarar built by Raja Raja Chola in the 10th century AD, which is an outstanding example of Chola architecture. The tower is capped by an 81.3 tonnes round monolithic eupola. This enormous piece of stone, it is said, was moved along an inclined plane 6 kms. long.

THANJAVUR is the headquarters of the district of the same name. Thanjavur district,"The rice bowl of TamilNadu" is also known for its exquisite handicrafts, castings, pith models and South Indian musical instruments.


Area 29.24.sq.kms.
Population 200.316(1991)census)


Max Min
Summer 36.6°c 32.5°c
Winter 23.5°c 22.8°c

Rainfall 111.37mm average
Season Throughout the year
Clothing Tropical
Languages Spoken Tamil,English and Marathi, Sourashtra


Air : The nearest Airport Tiruchirappalli is 58kms. and is connected by Indian Airlines and Air Lanka with Colombo. Indian Airlines also connects Tiruchirappalli with Madurai and Chennai directly.

Rail : Thanjavur is directly connected by rail to Tiruchirappalli, Madurai and Chennai directly.

Road: Thanjavur is connected with all major cities.


SRI BRAHADEESWARAR TEMPLE: Built by the great Chola King Raja Raja I in the 10th century AD is an outstanding example of Chola architecture.

THE PALACE: The Palace near the temple is a vast building of mansonary built partly by the Nayaks around 1550 AD and partly by the Marathas.

ART GALLERY: In the palace there are a number of granite and bronze statues of the Chola period.

SARASWATHI MAHAL LIBRARY:In another section of the palace is the library where over 30,000 palm leaf and paper manuscripts in Indian and European languages are preserved.

TAMIL UNIVERSITY (7km): Established in 1981, is engaged in research and advanced study in Tamil.

HALL OF MUSIC: Also in the Palace is the acostically perfect music hall.

SCHWARTZ CHURCH: (In the Palace Garden)Built in 1779 AD by Rajah Serfoji in token of his affection for the Rev. Schwartz of the Danish Mission.

ROYAL MUSEUM: Located in the Palace Complex, this museum has mixed collections like manuscripts, weapons, dresses, utensils and musical instruments
used by the Royal Family of Thanjavur.

SHOPPING: Handicrafts, Pith models, Thanjavur painting and Thanjavur art plates are available at Poompuhar Handicrafts Emporium and they can also be purchased from the manufacturing units. Silk sarees can be purchased from any saree-weaving unit in Thanjavur, which be cheaper than in retail shops. Thanjavur is also famous for making Veena, a South Indian musical instrument. It is available in Musical Instruments Society.

LOCAL TRANSPORT: Regular bus service connects all places of interest in and around Thanjavur. Taxis, autorickshaws are available.


THIRUVARUR(55Kms): The Thiagarajaswami Temple here has the biggest temple chariot in Tamil Nadu. This is the birth place of Saint Thiyagaraja, one of the musical trinity.

MANORA(65Kms): The 8-storey victory tower was built by Raja Serfoji in 1814 to commemorate the victory of the friendly British over Napolean Bonaparte at Waterloo.
THIRUVAIYARU(13 KMS):Famous Saint Thyagaraja lived and attained eternity here.A music festival is held here every year in January in honour of the saint composer in the name 'Thyagaraja Aradhana' festival.

Melattur(16 KMS):Is famous for its old temple and the annual ' Bagavatha Mela ' festival conducted on the Narasimha Jayanthi day.Bagavatha mela is an ancient mode of worship, in the form of dance drama , to narate some stories from the two epics and Hindu mythology viz.Harischandra Purana Rukmini Parinaya , Prahaaltha charithra etc. .

Vedaranyam(104 KMs):Place of historical importance on the eastern shore, where salt sathyagraha was conducted by local patriots under the guidance of Sri. Rajaji. It was held simultaneously when Mahatma conduted salt sathyagraha in the western shore. Festivals on full moon days in the Tamil months of Adi (July-August) and Thai(January-February) attract pilgrims from all over Tamil nadu.
Kodiakkarai(Point calimere)(112KMs):Thisplace is noted for its congregation of migratory water fowl,particularly flamingoes from November to January.Other wildlife, like blackbick and wild ponies are also found here.


The seven planets, the Sun (Suriya), the Moon (Chandra), the Mars(Sevvai or Angarakan), the Mercury (Budhan), the Jupiter (Guru or Prahaspathi), the Venus (Sukkiran) and the Saturn (Saneeswaran) and the ascending & the descending nodes of Moon, the Raahu and the Ketu are called the Navagrahas. They are the deities appearing in these nine planets. They pay good fortune or bad fortune to all living things in the universe according to their good or bad deeds. Those who worship Navagrahas will be relieved of their misfortune and of the baneful influence. These navagrahas are situated in all Siva Temples. They are situated on the north eastern side of the karpagrahas of Siva Temples. Even though they are situated in all Siva Temples, each of them has a separate special place of worship in the districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagai (formerly Thanjavur District).