Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Brahadeeswara Temple[also Known as The Big Temple ] - Thanjavur

Last week we went to Kumbakonam Temples and near by Places.It was my long time dream to visit Tanjore BigTemple. It’s one of the most amazing architecture in India. It’s one of the most amazing buildings in India. It’s 10 times taller than anything built before it, and not only is it huge, but it’s made of granite, one of the hardest stones in the world. The reason for this Post of mine is to let the world know of the Chola architetectural and engineering skills, the sculptural and painting marvels and of course the careful planning and execution involved to build such a huge, magnificent monument.


One thousand years old The Tanjavur “Big Temple”/ The Brahadeewarar temple was built by the great Chola King Raja Raja 1 (985 -1012 A.D). It is an outstanding example of Chola architecture. The 64. 8 Mt. tall vimanam (tower over the sanctum sanctorum) is testimony to the engineering skill of the Cholas. The towering Vimanam is built up with stones with bonding and notching, without the use of mortar. The topmost stone weighing about eighty tons is still a matter of discussion for engineers who are baffled as to how the builders lifted it to that height without the help of modern contrivance.It was the jewel-in-the-crown of Raja Raja, an extraordinarily powerful king, a grand monarch with a style of his own, a conqueror who also understood art and architecture, and a true devotee of Shiva. Recognizing its unique architectural excellence, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Monument.
A magnificent glory of Chola - The Big Temple, Thanjavur - India's Greatest  Architectural Wonder!

RajaRaja Chola the GreatRajaraja Chola I [ 985 to 1015 CE] was an unequalled monarch who ruled the entire Southern part of India over thousand years ago, whose greatness and glory can still witnessed by the world by his magnum opus the Brahadeswara Temple in Thanjavur.Rajaraja built the Great temple of Thanjavur and covered the two hundred feet high tower with gold to signal his contribution. The temple survives to this day in its original grandeur. It is a magnificient haven of architecture, sculpture and paintings.

History :The greatest of Chola emperors Rajaraja-I (985 A.D - 1012 A.D) the son of Sundara Chola (Parantakaa-II) and Vanavanmahadevi built this magnificent temple named Brihadisvaram at Thanjavur - the capital of Chola dynasty.From the epigraphical evidence it is known about Rajaraja-I started building this temple on his 19th year and completed on 275th day of his 25th year. It took just 6 years to complete this work on 1010 A.D.

Keralaanthagan Gopuram
Rajaraja Chola assumed the title of Keralaanthakan meaning Destroyer of Kerala (Chera's). after his victory over Kerala king Baskararavivarma This gopuram is named after this title .

 Rajaraja Chola I commissioned this greatest edifice of Tamil history and performed the sacred dedication of the temple in the year 1010, the 25th year of his reign. It was the jewel-in-the-crown of Rajaraja, an extraordinarily powerful king, . It is a matter of pride that a Tamil king built the finest example of Tamil architecture, stupendous in proportion, yet simple in design. Siva in this temple is known as Brihadisvara — the Lord of the Universe. A gigantic stone “lingam” fills the sanctum sanctorum, sheltered by a vimanam (towering roof) which pierces the sky at 216 feet. One can gaze with awe at this majestic structure from a distance as one drives towards Thanjavur. However many times one has seen it, one cannot help but hold one's breath in amazement. And as you enter its precincts, this temple never fails to humble you, for, such is its magnificence.

 How RajaRaja Built This temple?
After Rajaraja secured a good supply of money, he started construction on his Temple of Bragatheeswarar. The quarry that supplied the granite was over 50 miles away from the temple site. Most of the stones were moved with boats, but some much heavier stones, like the 81.3-ton capstone at the summit of the tower, were moved with a combination of ramps and elephants. The remains of the original ramps still exist today after a thousand years, indicating a gentle 6-degree slope pointing toward the top of the temple. The ramp began 1 mile from the temple, and gradually intersected with the top of the tower 216 feet in the air. Stones were moved from the quarry to the ramp, and up the ramp, with elephants pulling the stones over wooden rollers, much the same as the way ancient Egyptians built the pyramids.

The temple occupies an area measuring about 750 feet by 400 feet, in a fort, surrounded by a moat. It is a marvel of engineering, considering the technology of those ancient times. The towering vimanam is built up with stones with bonding and notching, without the use of mortar. The topmost stone, weighing about 80 tons, is still a matter of discussion for engineers who are baffled as to how the builders lifted it to that height without the help of modern contrivances. A charming tale is told about a ramp being built from a village — Sarapallam — four miles away, from where the giant stone was pulled up by elephants!

 The unusually tall vimana alone weighed about 43,000 tons and supporting it was a challenge. Though the pyramidical shape of the vimana is self-stabilising, the architects could not afford to make the base appear wide and loose out on the visual appeal.
 A proportionately large sanctum with double walls and circumambulatory passage in-between was designed. It rose to two tiers and merged at the third and held the tower.Architectural studies show that a larger forecourt measuring 241 by 121 meters was specially designed to spatially hold the tower. The court was made of two equal square parts and the vimana was placed at the centre of the rear square. This provided the necessary foreground to view the elegance of the tower in full.
when completed, was 40 times larger and five times taller than any average temple that preceded it and consumed 130,000 tons of granite. The 60-metre tall vimana[tower over the sanctum] built in 15 tiers, appeared like a huge mountain and remains the tallest in South India.

The details of the stone work of this imposing vimanam are representative of the masterly craftsmanshipofSouthIndianartisans
Every feature of the temple is larger than life — the monolithic Nandi, the gigantic [12-feet high] Dwarapalakas [guardian deities] and the sculptures in the niches around the central shrine. They are distinguished by an elegant simplicity in lines and ornamentation. The faces of the figures like Dakshinamurthi and Yogalakshmi are beatitude in essence. Inside the vimanam, there is a hidden corridor surrounding the sanctum. Rarely open to visitors, this is a treasure trove of Chola painting and sculpture. 
The walls of this cave-like corridor were plastered with lime and used as a large canvas for the paintings. Perhaps the subjects chosen were dear to the great king's heart, for, he was a staunch Shaivite, a great warrior who took pride in his victories, and was responsible for the renaissance of the Bhakti movement through the spread of the songs of the saints


The paintings, which have survived time and a 17th century coat of paint, are exquisite in detail and colour, and proportion. The colours in the paintings are subdued, the lines are delicate and the expressions vivid and true to life.

The Chola period is also remarkable for its sculptures and bronzes all over the world.The shilpi [sculptor] and the sthapathi [architect] came together to create their fanciful abode for Shiva. Naturally, the shape had to echo Mount Kailash itself. In its perfect geometry and distinct clarity of lines, this is unbeatable


 1000 years ago Through scupture he predicted that British will Rule India.

Rajarajesvaram, as the temple complex was known in the inscriptions .Rajaraja Chola the Great was the first Chola King to document archives of his rule in the form of written evidence on stone tablets and copper plates.

These recorded his achievements, his philanthropy, his judicial decisions, his administration, irrigation and healthcare systems. In the famous inscriptions in the Rajarajeeswaram [Brahadeeswara temple] complex he records not only the donations given by him and his sister and relatives ,the noblemen but also the commoners who donated to the temple. The most exciting aspect of this temple is the vast number of inscriptions on its walls which record details of Raja Raja's reign as well as that of his successors

 The Architectural Beauty

Each and every one who visited this temple really admired the structural beauty. On either side of the main entrance gate are large dancing figures sculptured into the rampart walls.  One of them is shown below.

The temple complex is dotted with such sculptures at numerous places, especially all around the big temple. Here are some images of the temple complex. To fully appreciate the beauty of the carvings.

When Rajaraja died in 1014, he left behind him a shining legacy that made him one of the greatest patrons of art and religion in India. It is the perfect tribute to the Almighty, ordered by a great king and executed by his subjects who contributed to its building in more ways than one. To this day, it stands tall as a reminder of who we are in the history books of culture, art, architecture, religion, language, governance and trade.

Recognizing its unique architectural excellence, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Monument. Thanks to Archeological Survey of India, surroundings are well maintained.

It is amazing to see such a wonderful structure that has stood the test of time. The history apart, the sheer size and scale of this structure is impressive. The sheer size of the gopuram, Great carvings, lovely structures ;the deep chola culture that is evident in every morsel of this holy place and the giant Nandi statue add greatness to this place! A must seePlace!

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