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This imposing structure of Brihadeeswara Shiva temple was built by Raja Raja Cholan and his sister Kundavai, both ardent devotees of Lord Shiva. It was constructed by the King at the height of the Chola reign to signify his power and strength.
Arulmozhivarman, a Tamil emperor who was popular as Rajaraja Chola I laid out foundations of Brihadeeswarar Temple during 1002 CE. It was first among other great building projects by Tamil Chola. A symmetrical and axial geometry rules layout of this temple. Temples from same period and two following centuries are expressions of Tamils Chola power and Strategy, artistic expertise and wealth. Emergence of these types of features, such as multifaceted columns along with projecting signals of square capitals signifies arrival of Chola style, which was new at that time.
It is one architectural exemplar, which showcases true form of Dravida kind of architecture in temples and is a representative of ideology of Chola Empire and Southern India’s Tamil civilization. Brihadeeswarar Temple “testifies to Chola’s brilliant achievements in architecture, painting, bronze casting and sculpture.”
It is said that after seeing Pallava Rajasimha Temples in Kanchipuram, had the dream of establishing such a huge temple for Lord Shiva. Brihadeeswarar Temple is first among all buildings, which make use of granite fully and it finished within five years from 1004 AD to 1009 AD.
The greatest of Chola emperors Rajaraja-I (985 A.D – 1012 A.D) the son of Sundara Chola (Parantaka-II) and Vanavan mahadevi built this magnificent temple named Brihadeeswarar 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.
The Chola reign declined and they were ousted by the Pandyas who were in turn thrown over by the Vijayanagara Empire. In 1535, the Vijayanagara king installed a Nayak king and the clan, called Tanjore Nayaks, reigned till the mid-17th century. In 1674, the Marathas conquered Tanjore. Later, like the rest of the country, Thanjavur too fell into British hands.
The inscriptions and frescoes on the walls of Brihadeeswarar Temple record the rise and fall of the city’s fortunes. Shiva’s representation is as a gigantic stone lingam. This is covered by a vimanam that extends to 216 feet. It is built with stones that are bonded and notched without any mortar. The topmost stone, an engineering marvel, weighs about eighty tons.
Rajaraja-I named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar, the temple is also known in the deity’s name as Peruvudaiyarkovil (in Tamil language). In later period Maratta and Nayaks rulers constructed various shrines and gopurams of the temple.
The Brihadeeswarar Temple was completed in around 1010 in the southeastern part of the new capital Thanjavur constructed in the basin of the Kaveri (Cauvery) River by the king of the Chola Dynasty, Rajaraja I (r. 985-1014). It has also been called Rajarajesvara Temple after the king’s name. It is one of the two greatest temples from the age of the Chola Dynasty together with the Rajendra -Cholisvara Temple built in the next new capital, Gangaikondacholapuram, which was constructed by his successor Rajendra I. Those constructions were prodigious national projects showing the Chola Empire’s hegemony in south India.
It is said that the Brihadeeswarar Temple was erected in only seven years. Its precincts are surrounded with cloisters covering an area of 120m by 240m and are also surrounded outside with heavy brick walls for an area of 350m square including a large tank (reservoir).
There is a Nandi Shrine, two continuous extensive Mandapas (worship rooms), an Antarala (antechamber), and a Vimana with a high tower, all in line on the east-west axis.
On the same axis stand Gopurams (temple gateways) of the early phase at the eastern center of the cloister and the brick wall. They are the sole entrance spots to the temple precincts.
Though they are embellished with sculptures, they look much lower than later Gopurams of huge temples in south India, as the height of the Vimana is great in contrast.
The second Gopura on the line of the cloisters is 24m in both width and height, lower than the first Gopura, but its sculptures are larger, with a pair of Dvarapalas (guardian figures) on both sides of the doorway.
In the cloisters surrounding the precincts is a line of Lingas (phalluses), symbol of Shiva, and wall paintings from the Nayaka period on the rear walls delight the eye of pilgrims. This Brihadeeswarar Temple made of granite and brick is the greatest work of the Dravidian (northern) style in its grand scale and high degree of perfection, alongside of the great temple in Gangaikondacholapuram. The development of stone temples in the southern Indian style, having started at the small temples at Mahabalipuram, reached their summit here. It became the model of the temples to be built in south India and Southeast Asia in the period of the Chola Dynasty.
However, after the end of the Chola Dynasty in the 13th century, temple style would change dramatically. Huge Vimanas would not be built anymore, rather temple precincts would be expanded, surrounding the temple in fold upon fold, and constructing only Gopurams in a colossal scale on the four sides. The outer Gopurams would be erected higher, and would eventually attain more than 60m. The relationship of height between the main shrine and its gates would be completely reversed. From this point too, the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur is the best representative of orthodox south Indian temple architecture.
Thanjavur Periya Koil is the grandest creation of Cholas and it is visible from any area in Thanjavur, perhaps the only temple with such a characteristic.
This temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples”. The temple became popular all over the country on its 1000th birthday in September 2010. In its commemoration, a rupees postage stamp, featuring the 216 feet tall Raja Gopuram (Vimana) was released by the India Post. A 5 rupee coin was released by the Reserve Bank of India. A 1000 Rupees Commemorative Coin with the same picture on the 5 rupees coin of Thanjavur Periya Kovil will be issued soon. This will be the first 1000 Rupees coin to be released in the Republic of India coinage, but it will not be for public circulation. In April 1954, the Reserve Bank of India had released a 1000 rupees currency note with panoramic view of the temple. Later, during the Indira Gandhi rule, all 1000 rupees notes were demonetized to curtail black money.
The nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli Airport which is (60.8 Kms) from Brihadeeswarar Temple.
The nearest railway station is Thanjavur Railway Station which is (1.9 Kms) from Brihadeeswarar Temple.
Brihadeeswarar Temple is (1 Kms) from Thanjavur Old Bus Stand, (5.2 Kms) from Thanjavur New bus stand, (60.3 Kms) from Trichy Central Bus Stand.