Wednesday, April 20, 2011

1000 Year Old Brihadeeshwarar Temple (Tanjai Peria Koil), also called Dakshina Meru!


This type of gopuram/tower/vimaana/shikhara, is found only in this temple which was built by King Rajaraja chozhan I (985 - 1014 AD) and in Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, built by his son, Rajendra Chozhan (1014 - 1044 AD), in the whole country!

I still remember the pen sketch of the 'Big Temple' in my school history book....right side page! I remember some of the details of the temple too, like 'the shadow of the gopuram never falls on the floor on any side of the temple at any time of the day', how a sloping road for so many miles was erected for rolling the huge stones to the temple site, etc.! I wanted to visit this temple, mainly to see the architecture, for many years now. At last, we planned to attend my niece's college fest in Tanjavoor and we stayed for an extra day and visited the famous Brihadeeshwarar Temple, which is also called Peria koil in Tamil or Big Temple.

First, we visited Oppiliappan koil, which has got a beautiful Venkateshwara deity and it was not crowed too! The gopuram is an ordinary dravidian type with colourful sculptures.

Then we visited Bangaaru Kaamakshi amman temple which is an ancient temple. The deity, Kaamakshi amman, is made of pure gold and we can see the gold one during navarathri time and on the day of the yearly festival, we were told. On other days, it is covered by 'punugu' and the priest told a story to why the deity is covered by punugu! But this post is about the Big temple, I should remember not to divert from this topic!

I was more fascinated by the gopurams of this temple, Brihadeeshwarar koil, than the deity, which is Shiva, a huuuuge one (Brihat means huge, Eashwara)! The front gopuram is of Dravidian culture, but the main gopuram inside is different, kalash type! Have a look:

You can see the Dravidian type of gopuram in many temples like Meenakshi, Chidambaram Natarajar and many others in Tamilnadu. I noticed the sculptures on the gopuram are not in different colours, but just in mud colour. Wikipedia says 'The entire temple structure is made out of hard granite stones, a material sparsely available currently in Thanjavoor area where the temple is located. The temple is made up of 130,000 tons of granite. The 60-metre tall vimana is the tallest in South India. If you are interested in serious architecture, you can read in the wikipedia link given above and others which I am going to quote later, here.

Some say that this place had a temple of goddess Varaahi (this deity is still there in a small sannidhi) and the King was asked to built a temple for Shiva in his dream. His priest, Sama Varma designed this shrine and I saw a small sannidhi for this priest also, inside the temple compound.

This link says, 'The Brihadeeswarar Temple was built to display the emperor's vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order. On the 275th day of his 25th regal year (1010 A.D) Raja Raja Chola handed over a gold-plated kalasam (copper pot or finial) for the final consecration to crown the vimana.

1000th year celebration was conducted in September '10 and the Tamilnadu CM conducted the event. Myth is there that whoever entered the shrine through the front gate, would lose his leadership/his top position, soon, in life! So Karunanidhi entered through the side entrance and did not enter the garbha gruha (sanctum sanctorum) of Shiva (Karuna hates gods!)! Will he lose in this election?!

Now let me show some pictures I had taken which show how our Kings took interest in minute details in building temples.

The ancient temples, mostly, were built like forts with 2-3 layers/compounds, which were used as shelters when enemies invaded.

This moat (agazhi) used to be full of water which surrounded the fort/compound of the temple. Even crocodiles were bred here, to scare the enemies!

The Outer!

Notice the Nandi figures/sculptures on top of the compound here, which can be seen at Chidambaram Natarajar temple too!

Notice the distance to the next compound! Dwarapalakas (security guards) can be seen here! The temple elephant (check my earlier post about this!) with Shaivaite marks on the forehead is on the left side here - not in the picture, though! The Vaishnaite elephant in the post is from Oppiliappn Koil - Venkateshwara koil!

All Shiva temples have the statue of Nandi which is his Vaahana (mode of travel). This Nandi measures 6m in length and 3.7m in height and faces the inner garbhagruha. This monolith (single stone) weighs 25 tonnes and is the largest Nandi statue in India! You can notice the beautiful murals on the ceiling!

This is one of the beautiful murals on the ceiling of the Nandi statue!.

The main deity, the Shiva Lingam is here, a huge 2-storey garbhagruha. The inner wall of the garbhagruha or the sanctum sanctorum has sculptures of 108 dance poses called karnas performed by Lord Shiva himself. The detailed description is here.

I feel, for such a huge temple with such beautiful architecture, the entrance to the main deity, looks very simple!

Side view of the Temple.

The left gopuram was built in the 16th century by the Nayak Kings and the deity inside is Subrahmanya, Lord Shiva's second son. The carvings on the gopuram is unique and the sculpture inside the temple also is beautiful. The contrast between the two gopurams, is clearly visible!

The above sculpture of Dwarapalaka, was inside the Subrahmanya temple. This has got intricate designs of jewels too! Polished granite!

One more picture of the gopuram from a different angle!

Another view of the gopuram...(link)

Old Tamil letters! This link says that the Cholas' history (actually, Chozha is the right word, in Tamil) is written in many walls here, in this temple, even about their lifestyles, clothing, art, etc.

This video about the Big temple is interesting, here, it is. You can see how huge the temple area is, in this video and the guide explains more details of the temple.

I am sorry, this post is too long...I wanted to post more pictures, but had second thoughts later!

Edited to add on 21.4.11: 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 on a specially built ramp, built from a site 6 kilometeres away from here.

Wikipedia: This temple remains as one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture. The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Great Living Chola Temples".


radha said...

I had a very short visit to the temple. And that left me very disatisfied. Such a lovely place needs a whole day to explore. Your pictures and account make me want to plan a trip there soon. ( And yes, I can also remember the page in my social studies book of certain monuments - it comes clearly to mind - just as it did when I was writing the school exam!!!)

Bikram said...

beautiful place. I have been to a lot of places in south but that was during school days and I dont remember much and also in those days camera was a luxury so no photos too..

I wish one day when i have the money and time to go and visit all the lovely place our great nation has ...
thank you for sharing .. :)


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post sandhya,about temples and its architect always fascinates me.

Would love to read more about deity covered by punugu

Deepa said...

I remember going to the Periya Koil some 5 years ago. We reached at noon in the scorching heat. You have to leave your chappals outside and walk bare feet. My feet were roasted by the time I was done!

One more bit of trivia - the kalasa that rests on top of the vimana is a monolythic stone that weighs some 4 (or is it 40?) tonnes. Remembered that from my history lessons.

Nice read. More travel posts please!

UmaS said...

Oh yes, I've been there a decade back...and its so beautiful and totally impressive structure. :) Love the details, the sculptures, the tastefully done.

Have u noticed that the shadow of the main gopuram never falls on the ground ??? An architectural feat !!!
And also, the the gopuram is built with a single stone and the shiva lingam too with a single stone !! I wondered how they brought in the lingam thru that narrow entrance !!! Or probably they kept the lingam and built the vimana around it !!! Its a great thing !!! :)

Sandhya said...

Radha: I should have read about this temple first and then visited. Missed many interesting areas. Didn't notice the sannidhis for panch bhoota too! Time constraint too!

You too remember pages from your books while writing exams? It was always a habit for me. Even now I can remember the skin layer diagram from my science book!

Bikram: Yes, camera was a luxury in earlier days. I don't have much pictures of my sons too! many interesting places of history are here in our land, Bikram!

Varunavi: Sure, will write about Bangaru Kamakshi one day, in detail, Saritha!

Deepa: We were there at the temple at noon, but the sun was not very hot and it was a bit can notice that in my picture of the three gopurams. We couldn't check the saying that the shadow of the gopuram never falls on the ground, which was in our school book! Now, some coir carpets are laid to help us walk in the sun!

Many details are there and I was worried that my post will become longer and longer! So I quoted the links!

Thank you Deepa. I have already written some more posts on temple visits, just click the 'temple' tag in the cloud!

Sandhya said...

UmaS: I wanted to check it but the weather was cloudy on that can see it in the photos, I was there at noon too, bad luck!

A sloping road was built to bring the stones for some 4 miles, the link says! Read the links I have given for more interesting news about this temple, Uma. My post is already tooo long, so I was giving importance to the photos mainly of Gopurams. I must go there again, I feel!

Destination Infinity said...

I had planned to visit this temple, and the neighboring two temples too, but had to drop the plan then. I guess at least two days are required for all the three. Need to visit Kumbakonam too....

How can the shadow not fall on the ground? When the sun is in the evening - sideways, the shadow has to fall on the ground no? Looks like lot of meticulous planning had gone in to the construction of this temple. Lucky that this one has survived a thousand years. Wish it survives many more...

Destination Infinity

KParthasarathi said...

A very informative and well illustrated post.I have seen the temple and could relate to whatever you had said.Thanks a lot

Renu said...

Fabulous post Sandhya!..I have been planning for such a long time to see this temple, but havent been successful..may be next year:(

Sandhya said...

Destination Infinity: Kumbakonam, Thanjavoor, Mayavaram, etc. are surrounded by temples, that too, Navagraha Temples, the famous Thirunallaaru Shaneeshvara temple too! But we have to digest the crowd behaviour and the temple staff behaviour...horrible.

About the gopuram shadow...I still remember reading about this in my school book. But it was cloudy on the day we visited and this, in one way, helped us escape the scorching sun! Some link said that it is not true! I have quoted 3-4 links here, please read them and then visit. Remember to note the pancha bhootha sannidies too, we missed to notice.

KParthasarathy: Thank you, Partha Sir!

Renu: As I told Destination Infinity, this area has got many many ancient temples and plan the trip during working days! Thank you, Renu!

kanagu said...

Please post a part-II about the temple..

this is very informative and the pictures are lovely... of all the temples I have visited this one is very clean and also very less crowded due to its large area and I liked it :) :)

/*Karuna hates gods*/

Well... only Hindu gods....

Locomente said...

Thanks a lot for sharing these.. Very detailed...
BTW... Loved this coincidence :D

Sandhya said...

KANAGU: Oh, I missed to acknowledge this comment, Kanagu, sorry! Yes, I still remember this temple....I have forgotten many others.

Sandhya said...

LOCOMENTE: Thank you, Locomente! :D

dpk said...

Amazing temple and a lovely write up
What is the source of the ill luck associated with Brihadeeswara ? Why is it considered bad luck

Sandhya said...

dpk: Don't know the reason. But Karunanidhi and one more CM lost in the election after visiting this temple.

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