Brihadisvara Temple Thanjavur

By Sanjeev Nayyar esamskriti@suryaconsulting.net | 2016

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Last visited Brihadisvara temple in 2003 and now is 2016. U see overview. It has a mahamandapa, natya (dance) mandapa, maha mandapa, Artha mandapa and Sanctum. Also known as Big Temple it was created through patronage of Chola ruler Rajaraja I. It was his contribution to Saivism in the retrieval of the nearly lost sacred hyms of the 3 Saiva saints Appar, Sundarar and Gnanansambandar collectively known as the Tirumuriai.

View from road. Entrance Arch followed by 2 gopurams. Rajaraja I envisaged the temple as a place of worship, social institution, centre of learning and treasure house of arts and crafts. Best time to visit is between October to January. Lots of reasonably priced and clean hotels close to temple.

Rajaraja I ruled from 985 to 1014 a.d. After his death the capital was shifted to Gangaikondacholapuram. The temple was fortified and Subramanya temple made during rule of the Nayakas. The Marathas ruled from 1675 to 1855, next British. Temple construction started in 1003 completed 1010 and was to represent a MAHAMERU.

Arch made by Marathas. Temple has Linga 3.66m, Courtyard 240 by 120m, Granite blocks used came from a distance of 50 kms, Vimana 60.96m, Stone Sikhara weighs 81 tons, height of Vimana achieved due to 2 tiered Bhuni wall.

Temple is within the Sivaganga Little Fort and is surrounded by a moat on east, west and north. Typically all forts have water moat around them be it in Rajasthan, Vellore, Imphal. Total area of the Sivaganga Little Fort is 14.73 hectares and that of temple 2.88 hectares.

Image is of Rudhra Thandava (Shivji). This is Keralantakan gopuram part of the Chola period. It was to celebrate Rajaraja 1 victory over Kerala king Bhaskar Ravi Varman. Has 5 floors. This gopuram has granite upto first floor and above that stuccos. Umasahita Siva and Mahesa Siva are seen on either side of the bhadra (central offset).

Image of Goddess Parvati - dance east side of gopuram.

Stucco images of centre of gopuram east side. Centre 4 heads is Brahma. Central passage of gopuram has plain pilasters supported by plain brackets and on its front face bhutaganas are shown blowing conches.

Side view of Keralantakan gopuram is impressive. Top centre of pic is a huge Dakshinamurthi. In each of its five talas the central koshtha figure is Dakshinamurthi. This is in south side of gopuram. On north side is Brahma. Pl correct if wrong. Temple has shrines named Chandikesvara, Amman, Subrahmanya, Canesa, Karur Devar and Ganesha.

Back side view of Keralantakan ie gopuram one. It has images of Ugra Narasimha, Varaha Moorthy, Krishna lifting Govardhan mountain, Shiva sitting on Nandi. Missed taking close up of these.

Centre scene is Krishnavastaram - Krishna took away dress of the 4 gopis and sits on top of tree. On right see Ugra Narasimha. How did artisans of those times break rocks. According to Selham guide, first they made holes, inserted wooden sticks, watered daily, then wood expands and water splits.

Close up view of back side top Keralantakan gopuram. Next to Kirti Mukha in centre of pic (ie face of animal) left side is Shiva sitting on Nandi, right side is sitting Vishnu. Took this pic in morning so such color, if had taken at 11 noon would be bright like pic 10.

Gopuram 2 is called Rajarajan Tiruvassal after the Emperor himself. It is a stone one with some modification in brick. It is contiguous to the prakara (outer wall) of temple, do walk around wall I missed doing. 2 sub shrines of Indra and Nagaraja are situated on either side of the outer wall, missed that.

Second gopuram called Rajarajan gopuram. Left side dvarapalas 18 feet tall name Indran. Under feet animal not sure if lion or elephant. Hand is in Visima mudra. Size is 27 by 17.25m. Please revert if names of dvarapalas are wrong.

Same gopuram dvarapalas or doorkeeper on right side name Rahu. Gopuram base has carvings of marriage of Siva Parvati, the story of Kannapa Nayanar etc.

This is area below the dvarapalas. Left to right from bottom row 1 attendants of Shiva. Row 2 Shiva getting married to Parvati. Row 3 Devas or simply put Gods. Row 4 priests.

From bottom row 1 lower animals and small organisms. Row 2 left to right Arjuna in penance and Shiva fighting with Arjuna. Row 3 Shiva sitting with Parvati, Arjuna getting weapons so he is invincible and Shiva Parvati and son Kartik going to Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. Row 4 celestial beings giving blessings.

Bottom up row 2 left see lady with a hand fan (do not remember actual word), on right is a man in dancing pose, right is lady doing pranam to I think is Vishnu. Row 3 right is man with arrow. Please help with caption. Read Why are there 3 images of Buddha in temple Click here

View from Nandi mandapa. In front Rajarajan Tiruvassal gopuram. All around temple are long corridors. For a good guide call Selham 91 97512 15179.

Close up of top part of gopuram 3. In centre is Ganesha above whom are Kirti Mukha at 3 levels. On either side of Ganesha is Kirti Mukha (face of animal) ie meant to keep away evil spirits.

View as we entered temple. Nandi mandapa in front behind is temple. The names of the sthapathi (architect) of this temple are Viracholan kunjaramallan alais Raja Rajan Perundachchan, Nittavinoda Perundachchan and Kandaditiya Perundachchan.

View of Nandi. The colossal Nandi and the Nandi manadapa were a contribution of the Nayakas in 16-17th century.

Ceiling painting of Nandi mandapa was done during Maratha period. Note Marathas ruled over Thanjavur from 1675 to 1855. To see pics of Maratha Palace Click here

Front view of temple in all its majesty. We first present pics of temple external then internal then smaller shrines. At about 7.30 am was abhishek of lingam with milk. We considered ourselves lucky to be there, a divine experience. It is believed that the Sivalinga (3.66 m) was first installed and temple built around it.

Front view. How did artisans make this temple and then carvings? Plinth of central shrine is 45.72 sqm and shrine proper 30.48sq m. This temple is called Dakshinameru meant Kailas of the south. Those who could not visit Mount Kailash in Tibet - north could come here.

An interesting aspect on the eastern face of the main tower, on the terrace below the mahanasika is the representation of the Trinity as a composite unit. Siva as Uma Mahesvara is in the centre, on the nasika, and with Brahma and Siva on the 2 main niches at the slightly lower face wall, see next pic.

Earlier caption spoke of mahanasika, this pic has a close up. Centre is Shiva as Uma Mahesvara, right is Parvati. Top left is Gangatharan, Ganesha and Yama. Top right is Muruga, Valli and Devaseena. Left lower level is Vishnu, Brahma, Astathibalagan. Front centre is Kubera. Right is Varuna, Indira and Vayuniruthi. Any errors please write back.

Temple called Dakshinameru and deity named Dakshinameru Vitanka. Vertical view images of Shiva all the way. Missed taking close up of individual Shiva image and inscriptions at lowest level ie Adhishthana.

Sikhara has 8 members and weighs 81.284 tons. Note kirti mukhas in centre on each side to ward off evil spirits. This is the 13 tala, the lower 12 talas being in receding dimension whilst this the 13 has a sealing slab with double Nandis at corners as you see.

The slab which supports the griva (neck), sikhara (head) and stupi (finial) measures 8.15m by 8.15m. The dimension is well matched with the inner dimensions of the sanctum. The kumbha panjara motif, introduced in 10th century, is an imp feature of Chola art. Carved in recesses of the walls, they were of simple design in early period, later developed into decorative forms.

Now we go around temple clockwise. From above the plinth, first are inscriptions, then imaginary creature called Yazhi. Images are of Rajendra Chola with a weapon - seems like a restored piece. These are 2 of the eight Vasus in the niches in the front part of the Mahamandapa.

Right is Ganesha left is Mahavishnu and lower level imaginary creature called Yazhi. Missed seeing 10 armed Shiva dancing in Chatura pose and Devi in padmasana.

Dvarapalas on side entrance. Right is Vishnu that you saw in earlier pic. Left is Bhairava. All dvarapalas are 4 armed. Pics of another wow and similar Chola made temple Gangaikondacholapuram Click here

This is lower panel after Dvarapalas. Ladder goes up to Dakshinamurthy Temple. Here again 2 more Dvarapalas. Close up of images on right and left of dwarpal follow. Right is Bhairava and Ahora form of Shiva. Extreme left of pic is Nataraja and then is Kalantaka (form of Shiva that decides our fate).

Right of pic is Bhairava - caretaker of temple. Left is Ahora form of Shiva ie when in a angry mood.

Close up of Dvarapalas. These pics are all southern side of temple. Missed taking pics of Lakshmi southern and Saraswati on northern side walls.

Side view imposing to say the least. Lowest level ie before images is called Adhishthana, image level one is Lower Bhumi and next is Upper Bhumi. Entire vimana till one level before Sikhara is called Talas. Level before Sikhara where you saw Nandi in pic 29 is called Griva. After that is Sikhara and then Kalasa.

Lower panel right of dvarapalas are these 2 images. Left of pic is Nataraja, right is Kalantaka (form of Shiva that decides our fate). Lower level are imaginary creatures Yazhi.

View of vimana.

Close of sculptures in vimana. Top centre is Kirti Mukha (to ward away evil spirits). Seen in all Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples.

View from one end of temple. Left is Ganesha temple. It is a small shrine built by Sarabhoji at the end of the 18th century. The squared two tiered sanctum opens to the east and is entered through a mandapa.

Pic just gives you an overview. Corridor on right is all around the temple, has paintings as you shall see later. Centre of pic gopurams. Take a left turn from gopuram 2 and walk around temple. U will see the prahara, outer wall, and get to click some lovely pics too.

Angular view of vimana, north east side. It has a height of 60.96m with 13 receding tiers.

View against setting sun, west side. Images level 1 are Harihara, Lingatpavar, 2 dvarapalas, Sathyokathar ie form of Shiva and Chandrasekhar form of Shiva. It is also called Adhishthana and bhumis of Vimana, western view.

East side view. All images at level one have bows and arrows called TRIPURANTHAKAR. It also has an image of a European whose close up cannot find now but guide said so.

Lower panel on north side. Left is Gangadhara. Right is Ardhanarishwara ie half man half woman as also seen in Shore Temple Mahabalipuram and in Aihole temples Karnataka.

Left is Uma Mahesvara. Right Chandra Sekaa - Shivji.

Dvarapals on northern side just like what you say earlier.

Image is of BUDHGANA, attendant of Shivji. Inscriptions in Tamil. Imaginary creature YAZHI that we have seen all over the temple.

Dvarapalas on northern side. So on north and south sides are 2 big dvarapalas (stairs in front) as you see plus on all sides except east are 2 smaller dvarapalas. On east dvarapalas are part of the gopurams.

Right is Mahisasura Mathini. Left is Bhairava. Have tried to make captions accurate. In case of any errors do write back.

Nandi mandapa with 2 gopurams in background. Instead of this pic should have gone to a height and taken a vertical pic of nandi mandapa and 2 gopurams.

Front view in all its majesty. Pic about 7.30 am so dark brownish color because of rising sun rays. We now enter temple.

We now enter the temple. Pranams to Ganesha first.

U see Kstera Balar ( special 8 armed Kalabairava from without the Dog mount - favourite of Sri Raja Raja’s queen Lokamadevi!) ie just outside temple entrance. Queen Tribhuvanamahadevi bore his successor named Rajendra 1.

Image of Murugan. Please write back if not right.

Side wall image of Vishnu Durgai.

Ganesha temple. Maratha King Sarabhoji II renovated the entire shrine and the front mandapa was his own addition. Missed taking pic of Rajaraja 1 with his preceptor Karuvar Devar.

Left is Karuvar Devar shrine. It is dedicated to Karur Devar the preceptor of Rajaraja 1. This shrine belongs to the Marathas of the 19th century. Temple has a vaulted roof supported by stone pillars. The tree behind is a venerated one.

Subrahmanya shrine a contribution of the Nayakas. It looks like a chariot and carries a 6 sided sikhara. Hall made by Maratha king Sarabhoji II and has on its walls portrait paintings of most of the Maratha Rajas - missed seeing that.

Close up view of temple, looks like a Ratha. Loved the design and kalash. For a 360 View of the temple Click here

Close up right side of temple, image of Ganesha. Kirti Mukhas on top to ward away evil spirits.

Same temple KARTIKEYA indicated by a peacock.

Same temple u see YAZHA MUGAN (face). Abhishekam jal (water) comes out of here.

Durga in same temple.

Same temple side exit. Angry elephant in the battlefield, tail up eyes out crushing man in battle gear. Right top is imaginary creature called Yazha.

North side view of vimana. In front is Chanikesava temple.

Side view Chanikesava temple, behind is Amman shrine.

Front view Chanikesava shrine. Loved the sculptures even though not a very clear pic.

Amman shrine. Right is Nandi mandapa. Behind that are gopurams. This temple is dateable to the 13th century Pandyas and the first structure added to the complex after the main temple. The front mandapa was added in the late Nayaka / Maratha periods.

Paintings inside ceiling of Amman shrine. Paintings represent stories done during Maratha period 18th century.

Paintings inside ceiling of Amman shrine. Paintings represent stories done during Maratha period 18th century.

Cloister Mandapa ie all around the temple. This is north side. Mural paintings are there on the northern and western side of the mandapa. We show some. The manadapa was constructed by Rajaraja military commander Krishnan Raman.

Mural painting- Ghaja Lakshmi. Ghaja means elephant.

Mural painting- Saraswati with Veena.

Mural painting- Kali / Durga.

Mural painting- Shiva with Parvati on bull. Wish Tourism dept came out with a small booklet giving pictures that every keen photographer must take with a pic title. There is so much to click in this temple that sometimes we unknowingly miss clicking.

Mural painting- Murugan with 2 consorts Valli and Devasena. U see linga in front. There is a railing now so could not take a vertical shot of the linga all through the corridor. Maratha ruler Sarabhoji installed 108 lingas.

Nataraja. Caption details given by Guide named Selham G, boards in temple and booklet on temple published by Archaeological Survey of India. Thanks to them. Selham is a good guide. His number is 91 9751215179.

Subrahmanya Temple with Vimana behind it. Took this 7.30 am ish, mistake should have taken in the evening against setting sun. These pics are a tribute to the Chola Kings who made some of the most magnificent temples of India. Pranams.