Ancient India

“Fascinating Marvels of Dravidian Architecture – Part 3 (Thanjavur Big Temple)”

C360_2018-08-29 - Dual perspective painting found in the ceiling of Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library. (3)

All Images © AMJ ShotS

” The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong ” – Marty Neumeier.

                                                                      If you are experiencing this blog for the first time, please read out the previous two parts and it will be nicer for you. Then only, you can enjoy this awesome journey about dravidian architecture from Mahabalipuram to Thanjavur. The links for the first two parts are given below, just click on them;

As mentioned earlier, the final location on our list was the ‘Big temple’ of Thanjavur. Traveling from Gangaikondam to Thanjavur (70 kms – two hour journey) was not an issue, as these routes are well connected by public transport system. The route via Kumbakonam is the easiest way to reach Thanjavur, considering the well developed state of transport facilities in Kumbakonam (38 kms from Thanjavur).

” Great Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur “

DSC_0261 (1) - Sri Vimana and main sanctum (16 tiers),Ardhamandapa,Great hall,Mukhamandapa - Brihadeeswara.

Overlooking the delta of Cauvery at the point, where its distributaries span out, you can see this majestic sight of an extraordinary architectural marvel by Raja Raja Chola I, in the temple city of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu (South India) – Brihadeesvara Temple or Rajarajeswaram. It was a successful experiment in dravidian architecture by Raja Raja Chola during the period, 995 – 1010 AD. This Big temple was commissioned in 1010 AD and dedicated to Lord SivaBrihadeesvara is a Sanskrit composite word composed of Brihat which means “big, great, lofty, vast”, and eesvara means “lord, Siva, supreme being, supreme atman (soul)”. The name means the “great lord, big Siva” temple. Locally, the temple is called the big temple, while in historic inscriptions it is also referred to as the Rajarajeswaram and Peruvudaiyar temple.

The Brihadeesvara Temple stands as a supreme example of Chola architecture. Built on a scale appropriate enough to house the presiding deity, Sri Brihadeesvara, or the Lord of the Universe, the temple continues to excite wonder at its many unique architectural features and living presence as a centre of Saiva devotion. During the period when Chola power was in the ascendant, (around 850-1350 AD) architecture in the Tamil country went through dramatic changes. Indeed before the time of the most famous Chola king, Rajaraja I, gopurams in temple complexes were not built on a very grand scale. During the reign of Rajaraja I, the temple at Tanjore was built not only as a monument to the sway of Chola power over many southern lands but as a living sign of Saiva concepts and beliefs. It was called ‘Dakshina Meru’ as a complement to the ‘Uttara Meru’ or the Sacred mount of Kailasa, thought of as the spine of the universe. The Dakshina Meru was thought to be a centre of divine power analogous to the northern centre of Sri Kailas.

  • For my video of Brihadeesvara temple, please click on the link below:

“Thanjavur Brihadeesvara Temple”

History of Brihadeesvara temple, Thanjavur

Being an exemplary example of a fully realized Dravidian architecture, Brihadeesvara is one of the biggest south indian temples. While the earlier granite temples built by the Cholas seldom had has many as three tiers, the Sri Vimana or the main sanctum tower of this temple rises up to 16 tiers with 216 ft height. This is 6 times higher than that of any temple built earlier in entire parts of India.Many inscriptions of Rajaraja I (A D 985-1012) reveal him to be a great warrior and an ardent devotee of Siva. It is this spirit of ardent devotion that visualizes the entire temple complex itself as a visible symbol of the divine presence. The architect and engineer of the temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama Perunthachan as stated in inscriptions found at the temple.

DSC_0254 - South side of east facing Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur.216ft Sri Vimana - Magnificent.

“Brihadeesvara or Rajarajeswaram or Peruvudaiyar Temple “, Thanjavur.

Cholas had become the greatest power in South India by 10th century CE. They had
reached the borders of the Rashtrakuta kingdom in the north. Rows of temples were built on both the banks of the river Cauvery to mark their growing power. Cholas greatly made use of art to proclaim their power, used temples to make unequivocal statements about their political hegemony. Rajaraja I, crowned in 985, carved out an overseas empire by establishing a second capital at Pollonaruva in Sri Lanka. The Brihadisvara (995 – 1010), built by him at his capital Thanjavur, though he did not live to see it completed is a product of this success. Raja Raja Chola, then adopted the title Raja Raja Sivapadha Sekhara, which means ‘He who bears Siva’s feet as his crown’.The temple inscriptions make clear the triumphal nature of the edifice. Donations to the shrine came from far and wide. The numbers of architects, accountants, guards, functionaries, temple dancers, revenue records of land grants etc are engraved on the temple walls, thus establishing the importance of the temple as an institution of prime importance in Chola times.

Later dynasties, the Vijayanagara in 15th century, the Nayakas in the 16th – 17th centuries and the Maratthas in the 18th – 19th centuries, were renovated the buildings of Brihadeesvara and added their own. As practitioners and patrons of music and dance, they also did much to systematize the transmission of intangible cultural heritage, through their mural paintings, architecture, literature etc.

The temple recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site, in 2004, is a living monument which draws to itself devotees, lovers of literature, music and other arts, scholars and historians. It completed a thousand years of existence in the year 2010, and this occasion was observed with great fanfare by the state with many artists and scholars gathering there to pay tribute to its magnificent presence.

On 26 September 2010 (Big Temple’s fifth day of millennium celebrations), as a recognition of Big Temple’s contribution to the country’s cultural, architectural, epigraphical history, a special ₹ 5 postage stamp featuring the 216-feet tall giant Sri Vimana was released by India Post. The Reserve Bank of India commemorated the event by releasing a ₹ 5 coin with the model of temple embossed on it. Mumbai Mint issued Rs 1000 Commemorative Coin with the same picture as on the Rs 5 coin. It was the first 1000 Rupees coin to be released in the Republic of India coinage. This coin was a Non Circulative Legal Tender (NCLT). On 1 April 1954, the Reserve Bank of India released a ₹ 1000 currency note featuring a panoramic view of the Brihadeesvara temple marking its cultural heritage and significance. In 1975, the then government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi demonetised all ₹ 1,000 currency notes in an effort to curtail black money.

Architecture of Brihadeesvara Temple

DSC_0704 - Morning view of East facing Dakshinameru with the Nandi Mandapa in front and Clear blue sky in backdrop.

” Sri Vimana of Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur “

The original monuments of this 11th century temple were built around a moat. It included gopura, the main temple, its massive tower, inscriptions, frescoes and sculptures predominantly related to Shaivism, but also of Vaishnvaism and Shaktism. The Sri Vimana is laid out as a Dravida padmagarbhamandala of 16 into 16 squares. It was consecrated in 1009 – 10. The site is not associated with any Puranic story or any ancient legend, the Rajarajesvara appears to have been an entirely new foundation, a royal monument of power. Within the large enclosure wall are shrines of the parivardevatas (family deities) and the dikpalas (deities of cardinal directions). The eight dikpalas are housed separately against the wall. The two large gopuras in line are first introduced here in Dravidian architecture. The vimana is dvitala (double storied).
The vertical base (a square of 82 feet with a height of 50 feet) forms the first storey and the 13 slightly receding tiers form the upper portion. The diminishing tiers taper till the last at the apex to become one third of the base. On top of this rests the crowning dome, which comprises a massive granite block of 25 and a half feet square and estimated to weigh eighty tons. The cupola with its inward curve of its neck is a pleasing break from the outward rigid lines of the composition that has a soaring character. Rest of its architecture will be explained along with the interesting shots (© AMJ ShotS), taken during my journey.

Floor Plan of Brihadeesvara temple, Thanjavur

DSC_0144 - Floor plan of Thanjavur Big temple or Peruvudaiyar kovil.

Day 3 – Morning session ” Thanjavur Times “

Thanjavur Big temple has to be experienced and analyzed at many levels simultaneously. The symbolism of the architecture, the relations between the central Siva lingam and the sculptures of  different aspects of Lord Siva on the side walls, mural paintings of songs and dances, that in different ways, unfolding the puranic stories of Gods and their devotees. As mentioned, temple is dedicated to Shiva in the form of linga, his abstract aniconic representation. It is 8.7 m (29 ft) high, occupying two storeys of the sanctum. It is one of the largest monolithic linga sculptures in India.

Before entering in to the main temple complex, one has to pass through an entrance leading towards a small fort and watchtowers, surrounded by the moat.

DSC_0125 - Repair works are done on the Keralanthagan gopura behind the Maratha entrance.

A small entrance in front of the ‘Kelanthakan Gopuram’ , constructed by King Sevvappa Nayaka of 16th century CE. Later, renovated by the Marattha Kingdom in early 18th century. And the surrounding defensive wall attached to it, was added in 1777 AD by the French colonial forces, with the temple serving as their arsenal. One can see gun holes in these defensive walls.

DSC_0122 - 17 th CE plain Maratha entrance and 11th CE Keralanthagan gopura.

Two of the three main Eastern Gateways – Marattha entrance in front and the five-tiered Keralanthakan gopuram on back of it.

DSC_0132 - Maratha entrance on east - Stucco reliefs of Brahma and Vishnu as last.

Close view of the Marattha Entrance – One can see the images of Siva – Parvathi at the centre top, then Ganesha on left and Karthikeya on right of them. Brahma and Mahavishnu are placed at the extreme ends of this centre group. Dynasty’s Lion emblem and Nandi Bull can also be seen at both the ends.

The next one is, actually the ancient (early 11th century ) major eastern gateway of the Brihadeeswara temple – ‘Keralanthakan Gopuram’ ….

DSC_0759 - View of Keralanthagan Gopuram from NW corner of Temple garden.

‘ Keralanthakan Gopuram ‘ – Built by Raja Raja Chola I after his victory over the Chera King of Kerala, Bhaskararavi Varma and assumed the title of Keralanthakan. A five storied tower with plain pilasters supported by plain brackets on either side of central passage. The upper storey of this tower having stucco figures. Constructed 8 years after the construction of the Big temple.

Keralanthakan gopuram is constructed on the same architectural concept of Sri Vimana. Firstly, the load is distributed on two huge granite walls and the walls are merged into single structure as it approaches height. Secondly, the ball and lock of the huge granites lock themselves with neighboring rock, one can see the small projections evenly distributed on the base of the structure. Finally, the huge base platform distributes the load to the ground with minimum foundation depth.

DSC_0138 - Keralanthagan gopura (90ft by 55ft) - Urdhavathandava Siva and Kali on N and S sides of east face.

This East face of Keralanthakan gopuram has stucco images of Urdhavadhantava Siva and Kali on northern and southern part respectively. Umasahitha Siva and Mahesha Siva are noticed on the either side of central offset. Apart from this, several other forms of Lord Siva like Chandrasekhara, Bhikshata and Gangadhara are also noticed here.

DSC_0142 - Stream of Dvarapalas on the double storeyed Vimana of Keralanthagan gopura.

Perfectly placed stucco images of Dvarapalas on either sides of centre region – Keralanthakan Gopuram. How symmetrically and proportionately they are placed !!!

DSC_0141 - Mahesha Siva stucco relief on the 1st layer of Keralanthagan gopura near central offset (right side).

‘Mahesha Siva’ on the right side of central offset – East face of Leralanthakan Gopuram.  long identified as Brahma but now thought to be Mahesha, a form of Siva. Mahesha is shown here with four faces: on the right is Brahma; in the center, Shiva; on the left, Vishnu; and on the back, Rudra (possibly the predecessor of Siva).

In the rear side (West face) of this gopuram, one can see stucco images of Krishna leela, Mahavishnu in first stage, Narasimha (fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) combating with Hiranyakasipu (A demon) in the northern side and Hiranya Samhara (Killing Hiranyakasipu) othe southern side. On the top stage Siva and Vishnu idols are seen.

DSC_0175 - Heavy rays from east - West face of the Superstructure of Keralanthagan Gopuram.

West face of Keralanthakan Gopuram’

DSC_0173 - Krishna leela with Makarathorana displayed on the N side of West face.Narasimha-Hiranyakasipu combat is visible

‘Krishna leela’ shown on the northern part of west face; Narasimha combating with demon, Hiranyakasipu on the top right – Keralanthagan Gopuram.

Separate shrines for Dakshinamurthy and Brahma are located on the southern and northern sides, respectively in the first storey of Keralanthakan tower.

The next on the scene is “Sri Rajarajan Tiruvayil or Gopuram” ….

DSC_0139 - View of Rajarajan Gopura (2nd gopura) through the entrance of Keralanthagan.

Viewing the innermost gateway ‘Rajarajan Tiruvayil’ (Gopuram) through the entrance of Keralanthagan Gopuram. It diminishes in size when compared to the outer one.

DSC_0157 - Rajarajan Gopura, East face - Stories like Tripurantaka,Kamantaka,Kala samharam,Murugan-Valli etc are displayed.

‘ Sri Rajarajan Tiruvayil ‘ (East face) – built after the construction of Keralanthakan gopura. Three-storied structure with two massive dvarapalas on either side of entrance. The base of this gopura is broad and has sub shrines of Indra and Nagaraja at lower level of west face. The base is plank moulded type and well recessed.

DSC_0170 - Full view of the east face of Rajarajan Gopuram.

‘Close view of Rajarajan Gopuram’ – Look at the gigantic two 15 feet Dvarapalas present  in the gateway. How enormous, they are! The opening of the gateway runs through entire height up to main cornice. Chambers have been provided on either side of the passage. Inner side of adisthana contains the sculptural representation of Lord Buddha under the Bodi tree, Ganesha proceeding towards war front, Muruga with his two consorts, the portrayal of kings carrying Siva linga in their head are some of the interesting representations.

DSC_0168 - On his leg,image of an elephant is being swallowed by a snake and a lion is standing behind.(Firm belief in God)

One of the two 15 ft Monolithic Dvarapalas (Left one) in the east face of Rajaraja Gopuram – Here, He reveals the Thattva concept of Hinduism that God is everywhere as shown by the upper two hands and the pose of the right hand index finger denotes that God is one and only one. On keen notice one can see an elephant, which is being swallowed by a snake and the lion standing behind. This symbolizes that even if one faces such a big problem as of this magnitude, a strong stand (firm belief in God) similar to that of a lion’s strong stand posture will lead ways to realize God. The Lion can be considered as a representation of Cholas, because of its relation with dynasty’s emblem and their devotion to Lord Siva.

DSC_0182 - Right side of the temple walls connected with Rajarajan Tiruvayil.

The enclosure wall which is connected with the Rajaraja gopuram and also covers the inner running cloister halls along the boundaries of main temple complex. This enclosure wall is more than 20 ft high and topped with small nandi statues all around.

DSC_0186 - North part - miniature sculptures of Lingodhbhava,Kalyanasundara,Karthikeya with consorts,Kiratharjuniya etc.

The Rajarajan gateway shows a series of miniature panels, all around its basal plinth representing Saivite mythology, puranic themes and legends.The base of the gopura wall is decorated with a number of small carvings depicting various forms of Siva such as Bhikshatana, Vrishabhavhana, Ardhanari, Gajantaka and Durga, Ganesha, Karthikeya, Saptamatrikas on the northern face. The eastern outer face on the corresponding base shows from south to north, miniature sculptures of Lingodhbhava, Kalayanasundara (Siva-Parvathi wedding), Karthikeya with his consorts – Devasena and Valli and large number of scenes related to Kiratharjunya and Kannappa Nayanar story.

DSC_0205 - Vaulted barrel roof of Rajarajan gopuram - Viewed from SW corner - Numerous Stuccos of Deities are seen.

Southern face of the Vaulted barrel roof of Rajaraja Gopuram. Numerous stucco figures related to Saivism can be seen. Makarathorana and Kirthi mukha at the top.

DSC_0189 - Nandi Mandapa and 216ft high Sri Vimana of Thanjavur Big temple.

View of the Great Sri Vimana of Brihadeesvara temple ‘ through the entrance passage of Rajaraja Tiruvayil.

Now, we are entering into the inner courtyard of main temple complex….                         And Sometimes exploring the surrounding nature will amaze us and here is an example for it……

DSC_0235 - 'Squirrel got busy on eating a coconut piece' - Seen from SE corner of Big temple.

“A Squirrel’s Breakfast” – The welcoming scene in the inner courtyard. And its really interesting and intriguing. What’s he eating ? Is it a coconut piece ?  Yeah, it is!  Look at his eye…. He is concentrated in finishing his breakfast. Not a time to disturb!

Coming to the Brihadeesvara temple, here you gets the full view of its enormous structure, which was made out of 130,000 tonnes of granite. Wow!… That’s quite interesting, isn’t it?

DSC_0212 - Marvellous view of Sri Vimana and Nandi mantapa of Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple - SE corner.

Brihadeesvara temple, Thanjavur’ , which is popularly known as ‘ Dakshinameru’ (Peak of South) – The view from south east corner. It includes east facing three-tiered main sanctum and the 13-storied Sri Vimana above it, the connecting ardhamandapa, the mahamandapa (great hall) and a mukhamandapa in the front (later addition, 15th century). West facing Nandi Mandapa (standing alone), opposite to this main structure complex can also be seen, here. This inner courtyard is a rectangle that is almost two stacked squares, covering 790 ft east to west, and 400 ft north to south.

Raja Raja Chola was reviving a design established by the early Pallavas in 8th CE. here, the Garbhagriha or inner sanctum is enshrined by a huge 8.7 m high, monolithic Siva Lingam, which is surrounded by an inner corridor, that opens to a vestibule and the mukhamandapa in inner courtyard. The symmetry of Brihadeesvara is exceptional. This walled compound is an unusually elongated rectangle, whose width is twice the height of Sri Vimana or superstructure and forms an almost perfect double square; where the midpoint of the sanctum (the point where main Siva Lingam is placed), corresponds to the midpoint of the first square and the midpoint of the pavilion of Nandi with that of second square. This how, the architecture express the cosmic expansion of temple, within enclosure to enclosure, with increasing height. Loot at the cloister halls to the south of this temple. How perfectly, they are arranged!

DSC_0258 - South side Cloister mandapam of Brihadeeswara, Thanjavur.An interpretation centre is functioning there.

Cloister Halls of Brihadeesvara in the southern side – Inner walls of these halls contain numerous inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha scripts. Now, functions as an interpretation centre of the Archaeological Survey of India.

DSC_0744 - Ancient Nagara inscriptions found on the south side of Cloister mandapa - Brihadheeswara, Thanjavur.

Inscriptions in Grantha script (on the inner walls of southern cloister halls) – Many of these begin with customary Sanskrit and Tamil language historical introduction to the king who authorized it, and predominant number of them discuss gifts to the temple or temple personnel, in some cases residents of the city.

An inscription on this enclosure, dated 1011 CE, gives a detailed accounts of people employed and supported by the temple. The inscription gives their wages, roles and names. It includes over 600 names including those of priests, lamp lighters, washermen, tailors, jewelers, potters, carpenters, sacred parasol bearers, dance gurus, dancing girls, singers, male and female musicians, superintendents of performance artists, accountants among others. Their wages was in parcels of land, so their temple employment was likely part time.

DSC_0737 - Thiruchchurru maligai (South) - built by Commander-in-chief of Rajaraja,Krishnan Raman Mummudichola Brahmarayan.

Inner view of the cloister halls of Brihadeesvara (south side).

Towards the eastern part of these cloister halls, you can find a Nandi statue of the Chola period….

DSC_0242 - Chola period Nandi of 1.5m height found on the south side of cloister hall.

‘Monolithic Nandi statue of Chola period’ – This statue has a 6 ft height and 8 ft in length. It was the actual Nandi statue, installed in front of main sanctum, during Chola period. Because of the damage done to this statue in different conquests of later dynasties, it was replaced by the Nayakas in 16th century.

But still, he watch over the main sanctum, which houses Lord Siva, His beloved master, to show his trusted loyalty….

DSC_0241 - Brihadeeswara viewed from thw angle of Chola period Nandi on the South side of circumambulatory.

Guarding His beloved master – Nandi statue of Chola period and the view of Sri Vimana from southeast part.

DSC_0249 - Ancient cannon barrel placed on the south side of Circumambulatory - Brihadeeswara, Thanjavur.

A 18th CE Cannon tube used by the french armies, when they used this temple as their arsenal.

The towering Vimana 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 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 details of the stone work of this imposing “Sri Vimana” are representative of the masterly craftsmanship of South Indian artisans. The ‘Shilpi’- sculptor, and the ‘Sthapathi’ – architect came together to create their fanciful abode for Lord Siva. Naturally, the shape had to echo mount Kailash itself….

DSC_0711 - View of E facing Dakshinameru Brihadheeswara and Clear blue sky in backdrop.(SE corner)

. Brihadeesvara temple is a perfect example for Shudha type of architecture – That is, using only one type of material (Granite here) for the whole construction of Sri Vimana.In its perfect geometry and distinct clarity of lines, this tower is unbeatable. Really, a marvel of engineering, considering the technology of those ancient times.

Comparing the structural difference of this Srivimana with that of Rajendra Chola’s Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the Thanjavur Srivimana is masculine as nature. While the one at Gangaikondam is feminine in nature. The main difference that is obvious is this Srivimana has 4 sided (Quadragonal) in structure and Gangaikondam Srivimana has 8 sided (Octagonal) in structure…..

Next, on the scene, is this huge, centrally placed, Nandi Mandapa – The shelter of the Master’s Loyal Servant…..

DSC_0256 - Nandi mandapa and Rajarajan Tiruvayil.

Sixteen – pillared Nandi Mandapa (Hall) in front of the main sanctum complex and in line with the Rajaraja Gopuram. A perfect shelter for the Master’s loyal servant!

DSC_0283 - Nandi placed on 5ft high dias under 16 pillared canopy.Constructed by King Sevappa Nayaka and Achyuthappa Nayaka.

Huge monolithic Nandi, weighing 25 tonnes, situated on a 5 ft high dias under the 16-pillared canopy. The height of this statue is 3.66 m, 5.94 m in length and 2.59 m in width; constructed by two Kings Sevappa Nayaka and Achyuthappa Nayaka, of Nayaka dynasty in the 16th century.

The ceilings of this sixteen pillared Nandi mandapa contains several mural paintings of Nayakas in the 16th century……

DSC_0273 - Inside Nandi mandapa in front of Mukhamandapa - Mural paintings on the ceilings.(centre)

400 years old mural paintings of Nayakas on the ceilings of Nandi Mandapa.

DSC_0285 - Inside Nandi mandapa in front of Mukhamandapa - Mural paintings on the ceilings.

400 years old mural paintings of Nayakas on the ceilings of Nandi Mandapa.

DSC_0292 - Mural paintings of different designs displayed on the ceiling of Nandi mandapa.

400 years old mural paintings of Nayakas on the ceilings of Nandi Mandapa.

DSC_0307 - A welcoming figure found on the pillars of Nandi mandapa (NW corner).

Scene of a beautifully sculpted “royal figure” in one of the front pillars of Nandi Mandapa. This monolithic statue is almost 10 ft high, representing the devotion of the royal class towards this temple.

There is a decorated flag post of Chola period, made out of bronze, centrally placed in front of Nandi mandapa, facing the main sanctum….

DSC_0263 - Decorated flag post or Dvaja sthamba of Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple.

Decorated bronze made,Flag staff of Brihadeesvara – A 30 ft high Dvaja Stambha, guarded by four miniature nandis at four corners, facing the main deity inside the sanctum sanctorum.

DSC_0299 - Copper flag post from SE corner - E facing Ganesha and S facing Karthikeya with his consorts Valli,Devasena.

The base of the flag staff is lotus shaped and four Bhutaganas (mythical dwarves) placed above it at cardinal directions, as if they are holding the flag post. Above these dwarves, four intricately carved elephants can be seen. These elephants are holding cubical shaped box with four images.

DSC_0304 - Copper made Flag mast of Brihadeeswara - North facing figure is King Rajaraja Cholan I.

The cubical box in the bottom of 30 ft flag post contains four images facing the four cardinal directions; Narthana Ganesha facing east, Siva-Parvathi (sitting) facing west, Karthikeya with his consorts (mounted on the peacock) facing south and King Raja Raja Chola facing north.

DSC_0298 - Copper made flag post and Enormous Brihadeeswara temple - View from Nandi hall.

Front view of the Brihadeeswara tempele (main structural complex) – from Nandi Mandapa. Really, a Grand Scene!

Near to this Nandi Mandapa, on its northwest corner, a south facing Devi shrine is present …. The presiding deity of this shrine is known as ‘Brihanayaki or Ulagammudaiya Nacchiyar’ ….

DSC_0330 - South facing Brihanayaki or Ulagamuludaiya Nacchiyar temple - North of main temple complex.

‘Brihanayaki Amman temple’ (northeast of main sanctum complex) – This shrine was constructed during the later Pandya period in 14th century. There was no separate shrine to Amman attached to any temple during the middle Chola period. However as per epigraphical record, there was subshrine at the back of present amman shrine, in the cloister hall to amman known as ‘Parivaralayathu Uma Pattaraki’. In the plan, the temple has a Garbhagriham, an ardhamandapa, a mahamandapa and a mukhamandapa (added during the later Nayaka period). The pillars of mukhamandapa show Vijayanagara style of architecture.

DSC_0722 - Notice board about Rajah Sri Rajaramarajah Saheb in Brihanayaki Amman shrine.

A valuable information in Indian history from 1939, signed by the Great Mahatma Gandhi.

DSC_0310 - Yali pillars of the south facing Amman shrine (NW of Nandi hall).

Yali (a mythical creature, combined form of lion and horse) Pillars of the Mukhamandapa – Brihanayaki Amman temple. The pillars of this mandapa has sculptures like Veerabhadra, Narthana Ganapathi, Karthikeya, Kinnaras etc. One can see the paintings of Marattha period in its ceilings.

The image of the presiding deity, “Brihanayaki or Goddess Parvathi”, measures up to more than seven feet and exudes serene majesty and grace. The goddess is standing with her two upper arms arms holding an arghhyamala and lotus and the two lower arms displaying the abhaya-varada mudras. Photography is restricted inside the main sanctum of this Amman shrine. But, there are some interesting reliefs in the mahamandapa, also….

DSC_0317 - Markhandeya legend displayed on the west wall of Mahamandapa - Brihanayaki Amman shrine.

A stucco relief showing Markhandeya legend – Siva, in his Kalantaka form, protecting His devotee, Markhandeya, a young boy (the one hugging the Siva Linga), from the hands of Yama, God of death.

DSC_0316 - A royal figure, may be Rajaraja Chola I, worshipping Shiva linga.

Another relief showing the devotion of royal families to Lord Siva – A King worshipping Siva Linga with his consorts.

DSC_0314 - Parvati tightly holding Shiva lingam -Ravananugraha legend.'Ravana lifting Kailasa'.E wall of Great hall - Amman.

Relief depicting the scene of ‘Ravananugraha legend’ (Demon King Ravana lifting Kailasa with his bare hands) – Parvathi Devi trying to hold the Siva Linga down, firmly to the shaking ground.

DSC_0321 - A unique display of 2 snakes facing each other - Pillars of Mukhamandapa added by Nayakars - Amman shrine.

A unique sculpture of two snakes facing each other, found on one of the pillars in the mukhamandapa of Brihanayaki Amman temple. How elegantly they are carved out with such a perfect symmetry !!!

Let’s get into the details of the northern side of Brihadeesvara temple complex. There are two other subsidiary shrines in the north side. One is a south facing Chandikesvarar shrine, similar to the Gangaikondam Brihadisvara, and the other is an east facing Karthikeya shrine, built during the Nayaka period.

DSC_0334 - North side of Brihadeeswara temple complex.South facing Chandikesvara and east facing Karthikeya shrines visible.

Northern side of Brihadeesvara temple complex, which includes a Chandikesvarar shrine, a Karthikeya shrine and cloister pillared halls.

Perhaps the oldest shrine in this complex is that of Sri Chandesvara in the north-central part of the compound. It is thought to have been built at the same time as the main temple…..

DSC_0346 - East side of Chandikeswarar shrine.Ancient inscriptions on its base.Vimana consists of an Octagonal Shikhara.

Chandikesvarar Shrine (located adjacent to the northern entrance to the main sanctum) – A south facing shrine, with an intricately carved superstructure and an octagonal shikhara at the top. This is similar to the one in Gangaikondam. The temple plan has a Garbhagriha and an ardhamandapa. This shrine signifies that ordinary human being can be elevated to the place next to the God by his true devotion. Many Chola period inscriptions are found in its plinth (below the leogriffs) and pillars.

lets talk about the architecture of main sanctum complex which includes the Sri Vimana, also. The footing of pedestal (Upapitha) measuring 100 feet on each side rising to a height of 6 feet is divided into five bays which continue to the top.  The gala has galapadas. The Padma – bandha adhisthana (basement) rising to a height of a 8 feet 3 inches is 90 feet 9 inches square on top.  The vyala-friezes (leogriffs) are seen in the lower and upper courses. Above the vyala-frieze is the vedi supporting the foot (padas) of the wall.


DSC_0360 - 216ft high Sri Vimana above a 3 tiered Garbhagriha housing huge monolithic 29ft Shiva linga.

Northern side of the Brihadeesvara (main sanctum complex) – The Sri Vimana is Sarvatobhadra type (with openings on all four directions providing light) and ventilation to the enclosed ambulatory passage housing the wonderful fresco paintings, ad dance sculptures.  The total height of the wall portions in two talas (tiers) is 25 feet. The structure rises to a height of 5/6 of the aditala (ground-floor). The arrangement of the wall decoration is indeed remarkable.  They carry a series of devakosthas (niches) and beautifully deigned pilasters. In the first tier or aditala, the sculptures shown in the niches are Ardhanarishvara, Gangadhara without Parvati, Pashupata-murti, Siva-alingana murti, plus two dvarapalas at the centre region. On the second tier, different postures of Lord Siva’s Tripurantaka form are depicted.

This type of arrangement has given ample space for the sculptor to accommodate exquisite images of many divinities, which are noteworthy for their iconographic and aesthetic content.

Parallel course of the masonry over the second tala are stepped closer, using a system of corbelling and extending to the third tala. On this the base of the other 12 talas rest. The remainder of the superstructure including griva (neck) and sikhara is hollow following the Kadalika – karana method of construction. The square plan of the hollow interior becomes octagonal beyond half of the height.  The corner slab acts further to brace the superstructure. The neck (griva) is octagonal capped by light ribbed, bulbous Kalasa. The height of the Sri Vimana is the eight times the base as the human body is conceived of as 8 spans of the land. With 16 talas (tiers) highest prescribed in texts – this Sri Vimana is considered to be Jativimana. Just compare this Sri Vimana with that of the Gangaikondam temple, and you can see the difference below….

This part of Sri Vimana also has the niche figure of Alingana Murti or Gouri Prasada Murti. Siva is shown here with his left arm around Uma maheshvari’s shoulders. Both figures exude a languid and reposeful grace.

DSC_0352 - Abhishekajalam flowing out through Pranala or Komugham, resting on the head of Budhanagana(Blowing conch).

Abhishekajalam (Holy water) flowing through the beautifully designed Komugham or Pranala (drainage channels), which is resting on the head of Bhudhagana, who is blowing a conch – A  scene from the northern side of main sanctum wall.

Now, look at the sculptures in the niches of the northern side of main temple complex…..

DSC_0372 - Bhairava display near Mahishasuramardhini on the North wall near Anukkan Tiruvayil.

‘Bhairava’ (located on the north side wall of mahamandapa, adjacent to Mahishasuramardhini figure) – standing with four arms in naked position wearing garland of skulls, round eyes, protruded teeth, hair show like a flame, holding trident and parasu in his right arm; fire and khatvanga in his left arm and a coil of snake shown around his thighs.

DSC_0371 - Mahishasuranardhini display - N wall of Mahamandapa - left side of Anukkan tiruvayil.

‘Mahishasuramardhini Durga’ (located on the north side wall of mahamandpa, adjacent to northern entrance) – Goddess Durga is shown, standing on the head of demon Mahisha (buffalo-shaped), with a discuss and conch in upper right and left arms respectively. Lower right hand showing Abhaya mudra and left hand is on her thigh. Two female warriors are placed on her sides with swords and two flying Bhutaganas above her head, at the corners. One can see a makarathorana decoration above her head.

Did you notice the ancient inscriptions in Grantha script (Sanskrit) running along the plinth area of main sanctum complex (below the niches) ??? These inscriptions are called ” Chola Prasasrhi ” ….

DSC_0348 - Chola Prasasthi - Poetic way of expressing the extol of the King and his heroism - Anukkan Tiruvayil (N entrance)

Viewing “Chola Prasasthi” inscriptions in the plinth area – Prasasthi is a poetic way of expressing the extol of the king and his various heroic activities. Prasasthi of Pallava kings gave detailed account of their puranic ancestors. But later on during the Chola period, the puranic aspects of the dynasties were reduced and heroic acts of the monarch were elaborated. Rajaraja I was the first ruler who created the prasasthi’s with historical events of his period. With this we can chronologically arrange the historical details of his rule.

Later on Chola kings had more than one prasasthi. Cholakings added a title alternatively as Rajakesari and Parakesari. Prasasthi’s start with auspicious saying such as Swasthi Sri etc., they give historical details, name of the king, his title, name of his queen, the regnal year, and later on about the donations, land details etc. During Pandya period, they used the titles as Maravarman and Sadayavarman.

Finally, we reached at the northern entrance, locally known as, ‘Anukkan Tiruvayil’….

DSC_0377 - Anukkan Tiruvayil - North entrance of Brihadeeswara temple.Ashtamangala signs found in this entrance.

‘Anukkan Tiruvayil’ (north side entrance) – One of the four entrances for proceeding towards inner sanctum (directly in to the ardhamandapa). It is also known as Perumangala Tiruvayil. There are eight auspicious symbol sculptures (ashtamangala signs) found in this entrance. This might have been used by the royal families to enter the sanctum. Two 15 ft Dvarapalas are seen  on either side of the entrance; where flight of steps are present. Architectural features of this place resemble that of the Kerala art style roof with beautifully decorated motifs.

You can see two other sculptures on the west and east side walls, near the 15 ft monolithic dvarapalas, of the Anukkan tiruvayil ….

DSC_0338 - Pashupata murti displayed on the North entrance (W wall) to Ardhamandapa of main sanctum - Brihadeeswara.

“Pashupatha murthi”  or ‘Lord of animals’ (found on the west side wall of Anukkan tiruvayil) – Lord Siva is shown as a two handed standing figure with naked foot and a trident in his right hand. Here, you can see the well-dressed figure (fancy nature) of the Lord with an elongated crown decorating His head. Is He, representing a Chola king ?

DSC_0337 - Saraswathi Figure displayed at the left side(E) of North entrance to the Ardhamandapa - Brihadeeswara.

“Goddess Saraswathi” (found on the east side wall of the Anukkan tiruvayil) – Facing toward Pashupathamurthi on the east side wall is the Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswathi. She is seen seated on a lotus throne with two arms; one dilapidated (right hand) and the left hand is holding palm leaves. Two female servants are seen on either sides. An umbrella shaped Makuda is sculpted above her crown, with some flying dwarves at the top corners.

Its time to explore the inner sanctum, ardhamandapa, mahamandapa and mukhamandapa of Brihadeeswara temple complex. Like any other temples, Photography is strictly restricted in these areas. So, let me explain the inner views in words….

The temple interiors were designed to be dark so the human eye is not distracted by the material world to let the mind enter the spiritual world of God. As seen in the Brihadeshvara Temple, natural light is introduced in a progressive light quality from brightness to darkness accommodating the ritual movement of the worshiper. It is interesting to note that the reduction level of light quality in the temple also contributes to the thermal comfort in the building. Thick walls, small windows, and reduced light maintain cool and dry conditions for better thermal comfort in the hot humid climate of Tamilnadu. Thus, the worshippers are not distracted visually or thermally enabling to focus one’s mind on God.

The garbagriha or main sanctum is 24 feet 9 inches square surrounded by an enclosed ambulatory passage. The inside extends for both the talas housing the biggest Siva Linga, having 8.7 m height, with enormous pitha (pedestal). The Siva linga itself is a very grand presence and is believed to house the powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in its three divisions respectively. The topmost division is further sub-divided into ascending tiers of energy beginning with Rudra, Mahesha, Sadashiva, Parabindu, Paranadam, Parashakti and Parasivam. And the name of presiding deity is, Dakshina Meru Vidanagar Paramasamy.

In the ambulatory passage, the two talas are separated by mezzanine – the lower tala has the paintings and the upper tala has dance panels. There are three colossal sculptures, respectively located in the south, west and north and representing Siva as holding a spear (Rudramurti); Siva with ten arms dancing in chatura pose as Lord Vishnu plays the drum and Parvathi Devi sits in Padmasana with a lotus-bud and rosary in her hands and seated Devi Manomani carrying a sword and trident are present in the passage surrounding the sanctum.

The entire wall-space and ceiling of the passage were originally covered with exquisite paintings, now obscured by a coat of the Nayaka period paintings in the 17th century. On the western side, the entire wall space is occupied by a huge panel in which Siva as Dakshinamurthi seated on a tiger-skin in a yogic pose is shown with yoga-pata across his waist and right knee under the banyan tree. Bhairava with dog and the Sanagathi munies, famous four disciples of Siva, are seen in the panel with animals and birds.

A complete imaging with better photographic equipment suggests that these historic interpretations were incorrect. It is actually a secular scene of a royal Guru meditating under a banyan tree. On the tree are shown peacocks, birds, monkeys, squirrels and owls, plus a cobra. The animals and birds are shown as worried of the cobra, the one’s closer to the snake are shown to be more worried.

Very interesting panel is the marriage scene of Sundara; Lord Siva appears in the guise of old man with documental evidence in his hand to establish his right to carry away Sundara on his marriage-day to his adobe at Tiruvennainallur. Still below this, the depiction of a lively scene of women cooking and food being served during the marriage ceremony is also noteworthy. The painting of two saints, Sundara and Cheraman rushing towards the Mount Kailas on elephant and horseback respectively shows the momentum in action. Two apsaras (celestial nymphs), ganas and other celestial musicians play the drums on, and other musical instruments, where in Vishnu along with Siva and Parvathi and Bhutaganas witness the scene with joy.

Beyond this, on the other side of the wall, is a large figure of Nataraja dancing in golden hall at Chidambaram with priests and other devotees on one side, Rajaraja and three of his queens with followers and other attendants seen on other side. A little further up is, Rajaraja shown worshipping the linga in Thanjavur temple.

The next panel in northwest corner depicts the scene of four disciples Sanga, Sanathana, Sananthana and sanathkumara, the ardent disciples of Lord Dakshinamurti are painted gracefully. The entire northern wall is covered by a scene of Tripurantaka on a chariot driven by Bramha, Karthikeya, Ganesha, Kali with their respective vahanas nandi, peacock, mouse and lion, etc. These paintings speaks itself the grandeur, rhythm and artistic skill of the Chola artists in the art of painting. You have to note the special technique used in these paintings – True fresco technique ( applying paint to the wet plaster), an uncommon one.

The upper storey corridor wall of the aditala is carved with 81 of the 108 dance karanas – postures of Natya Sastra. This text is the basis of the Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The 27 unrepresented karanas are blank blocks of stone, and it is unclear why these were not carved. The 81 postures carved suggest the significance of this classical Indian dance form by early 11th century.

Immediately in front of the sanctum are two large pillared halls (maha and mukha-mandapas).  The former comprises of six transverse rows of six pillars each, forming three concentric squares.  The four pillars in the south-west corner enclosed by a wall is Thyagaraja shrine.  The pillars on the northern side are included for Utsava murtis (processional deities). And in the southwest corner of mahamandapa, highly decorated (with gold and diamond ornaments) bronze idols of Raja Raja Chola and his queen Ulagamadevi are present with some security. The later mandapa has a central nave bordered by two rows of ten pillars each, with shorter pillars raised on small platforms on either side.  On western side are the steps to reach the terrace.  In front of the mandapa is a wide platform reached by flight of steps on north and south.

DSC_0719 - 15ft Dvarapalaka on the left side of Great hall entrance from the Mukhamandapa - Brihadheeswara.

Massive monolithic Dvarapalaka (15 ft high) guarding the eastern entrance of the Great hall. The same image of an elephant, being swallowed by a snake and the lion standing behind; can be found around his legs, too.

Coming to the southern side of Brihadeesvara temple complex, the visual impact of Sri Vimana gets more clear….

DSC_0750 - South side of Sri Vimana - Southern entrance to the Antarala of Garbhagriha on right extreme.

Wow !!! a marvelous structure…. The southern face of Great Brihadeesvara temple. An outstanding creative achievement in the architectural conception of the pure form of the Dravida temples. The lower niches in the aditala contains the sculpture, from east to west; Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Dakshinamurti, Kalantaka, Nataraja plus two dvarapalas. A later added, small shrine cell of Balaganapathy can be see near the southwest corner.

lets compare this image with the southern face of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara….

Now, have a closer look at the southwest corner of this Big temple….. you can see the devotees rushing in to the smaller shrine cell of Balaganapathy …..

DSC_0742 - Devotees rushing in to the Small mandapa located at the S side of SW corner - Brihadheeswara temple.

Southwest region of the Thanjavur Big temple – A scene of rushing devotees. How deep are their devotions ! They are really interested in the Balaganapathy shrine…. the lovable younger son of Lord Siva.

I think this is the view that, everyone is looking for …. The view from the southwest corner of Great Brihadeesvara Temple….

DSC_0734 - Full view of the South side of Brihadheeswara - from Ganesha shrine to Rajaraja gopuram.(Morning)

Really, this Brihadeesvara is a fascinating marvel in Dravidian architecture and an astonishing monument in the whole of India.

And comparing it, with its feminine version, the one at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, built by Rajendra Chola I, the proud son of Raja Raja Chola I …. Which one looks better ???     Just, you decide….

Finally, to the last shots of this awesome morning session of exploration…..

DSC_0730 - Virabhadra statue found in the SW corner of Cloister mandapa - Brihadheeswara temple complex.

A statue of Demon King Ravana (found inside the cloister halls at the southwest corner) – This statue is used during festive occasions as apart of showing the ‘Ravananugraha Legend’. Is he still, trying to lift the Mount Kailasa ???

DSC_0397 - View of blue sky and white puffy clouds during our visit to Thanjavur Maratta Palace.

Looking at this (Brihadeesvara) spectacular art work of ordinary humans, the nature, itself turns to be a bit artistic. With it blue sky, lush green and puffy clouds, the nature can also paint some scenes like this one….

With this shot, concludes the morning session  and its time for having the traditional breakfast of Thanjavur. And after that, in the mid session, some indoor shots from the Thanjavur Marattha palace complex and Maharaja Sefroji’s Saraswathi Mahal library are displaying for you…..

Day 3 – Mid session (exploring the views around Thanjavur Marattha Palace)

Thanjavur Marattha Palace complex is situated, just 3 kms from the main town. Hardly, a half-an-hour walk towards the north. Thanjavur Marattha Palace Complex, known locally as Aranmanai, is the official residence of the Bhonsle family which ruled over the Thanjavur region from 1674 to 1855. Thanjavur Marattha palace was originally constructed by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayak kingdom. After the fall of the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom, it served as the official residence of the Thanjavur Marattha. When most of the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom was annexed to the British Empire in 1799, the Thanjavur Marathas continued to hold sway over the palace and the surrounding fort. The Bhonsle family continued to hold on to the palace even after the last king Shivaji II.

Palace complex consists of the Sadar Mahal Palace (not opens for the public), the queen’s courtyard and the Durbar Hall. The Royal Palace Museum contains a splendid collection of Cholla bronzes. The Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall and the Royal Palace Museum are situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace. There is also a small bell tower. The Saraswathi Mahal Library is situated with the Thanjavur palace complex. Our places of interest were the Bell tower, Marattha Durbar Hall and Saraswathi Mahal library …. (A 50 rupee ticket is all you needed, here.)

DSC_0435 - Arsenal tower of Thanjavur Maratha Palace, official residence of Bhonsle family.

The Arsenal Tower of Thanjavur Marattha Palace – Magnificent architecture similar to the Sri Vimana of Brihadeesvara.

DSC_0403 - 7 storey Bell tower (Maadamaligai) in the NW side of Arsenal tower of Thanjavur Palace.Gets a bird's eye view.

“The Bell Tower or Madamaligai” (situated on the west side of Saraswathi Mahal library) – Bell
tower is situated in the Northwestern side of the Arsenal Tower. This tower is
also known as “the wide holed ear pavilion” to the public and designed in the
style of the Gingee Nayaks. The seven-story bell tower has superb views of the
Big Temple and a bird’s eye view of the city of Thanjavur. It is
also believed that Vijayaraghava Nayakkar climbed it every day at noon to
worship the towers of the Srirangam Ranganatha temple, visible from the top of
this tower.

DSC_0410 - Inside view of the Bell tower (Maadamaligai)

Inner view of Bell tower (entry is restricted up to this) – This tower has only seven storeys though it is said to have been higher with
more levels that were damaged by thunder and lightning. A research note says
that there was a huge and unusual clock on the tower in which the figure of a
monkey used to strike the gong every hour.

Next, to the Inner views of Marattha Durbar Hall…. 

DSC_0418 - Traditional Thanjavur style of painting on wood - Ceiling works of Durbar hall of Thanjavur Maratta Palace.

Just look at the inner wooden construction and colour design paintings of Marattha Durbar Hall.

DSC_0422 - King's mandapa of Maratta Durbar hall and a painting inside showing Maharaja Serfoji I.

Decorated Mandapa at the centre of Durbar hall for the King. One can see the painting of Maharaja Serfoji I of Thanjavur Marattha Kingdom.

DSC_0416 - Thanjavur style painting of Lord Krishna with his consorts - Maratta Durbar hall.

A Marattha painting of Lord Vishnu with his consorts; Lakshmi Devi and Bhumi Devi shown at the upper section of side wall – Durbar Hall.

You can also enjoy the beautifully coloured ceilings of this Durbar hall….

DSC_0432 - Plaster relief of Lord Vishnu with his consorts having a makarathorana - Maratta Durbar hall.

A stucco relief of Lord Vishnu with His consorts (Lakshmi Devi and Bhumi devi on His left side) and loyal mount or vahana, Garuda (on His right side). He is shown sitting above Adi Sesha (Anantha), five-hooded serpent and surrounded by Devganas, devotees, etc. Makara thorana decorations can also be seen, here.

DSC_0434 - Plaster relief of Lord Shiva with his consorts and having a makarathorana - Maratta Durbar hall.

Another similar stucco relief with makarathorana decorations showing Lord Siva sitting along with Parvathi devi and Nandi is seen under His left leg. The lord is surrounded by Devaganas, royal devotees, etc. He is also guarded by two Dvarapalas.

DSC_0454 - Mural painting of Chatrapati Sivaji portrayed as Tiger in Thanjavur Maratha Palace.

An Interesting Marattha painting of “Lord Hanuman” , found on one of the side walls of Royal Palace Museum – Thanjavur Marattha Palace complex. Here, the Lord (about 7 ft high) is shown carrying the ‘Sanjeevani mountain or Maruthuamalai’ in his right hand, to save Lakshmana’s life (from the Epic Ramayana). On keen observation, you can see some animals in that mountain (represented as a medicine pot, here). A presentation showing the Great Valor of Lord Hanuman.

There are some exciting images sculpted and painted on the ceilings and pillars of Saraswathi Mahal library….

C360_2018-08-29 - Painted relief of 2 deers facing each other- ceiling,Tanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library.

Stucco painting of two spotted deers facing each other.

C360_2018-08-29 - Beautifully painted lady figure in a pillar of Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library. (2)

Beautiful painted sculpture of a Curvy, gorgeous-looking Lady figure.

C360_2018-08-29 - Dual perspective painting found in the ceiling of Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library. (3)

A dual perspective stucco painting, found on the ceiling of Saraswathi Mahal library.

With this shot, concluded the mid session of Day 3 and Its Lunch time ….!!!  Getting some refreshments after a long five hour expedition is something blissful, yeah!

Day 3 – Evening session (” The Conclusion “)

Evenings are always sweet and a perfect spot between the harshness of daylight and the infinite darkness of night. So, going back to Brihadeesvara temple, always a right choice and to explore the remaining views of that dravidian marvel. I think, you can agree to that, by enjoying the following scenes……

DSC_0459 - Beautiful evening sky from Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple complex - North side.Rajarajan gopuram is visible.

Starting from the east – Rajaraja Gopuram, ‘ The royal gateway of Brihadeesvara’.

DSC_0457 - Beautiful evening sky from Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple complex - North side.

The 16-pillared Nandi Mandapa – ‘Ever trusted Loyal Servant of Lord Siva’

DSC_0463 - Marvellous view of main temple complex of Brihadeeswara from NE corner with evening blue sky as background.

And the Spectacular view of the ‘Dakshina Meru’ – The Brihadeesvara temple complex, Thanjavur. Pride of the Great Raja Raja Chola I and the proud monument of Chola dynasty.

Its a popular question among the tourists that, whether the shadow of the temple falls?   It is very much true that, in the morning and evening, the shadow of the Sri Vimana falls on the ground.

Now, zooming in to the heights of Great Sri Vimana…..

DSC_0473 - Quadrangle Sri Vimana of 216ft,13 tiers above 3 tiered square sanctum - Evening view from NE corner.

‘The 216 feet tall architectural wonder of South India’ – A Great Temple with a macro-cosmic Linga and a befitting crown in the form of the biggest Vimana over the garbagriha.

DSC_0498 - Quadrangle Sri Vimana of 216ft,13 tiers above 3 tiered square sanctum - Evening view from NE corner.

Just look at 13 tapering squares of Sri Vimana. How remarkably executed by the Chola artisans ! Each tapering square is consisted with Salas, Kutas and Kirthi mukhas. The tower is elaborately articulated with Pilaster, piers(a raised structure), and attached columns which are placed rhythmically covering every surface of this vimana. A pyramidal appearance without the central projection. (a change from the Sri Vimana of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara)

DSC_0480 - Peeled Orange shaped Sikhara of 80 tonnes and Gold plated final Stupi with inscriptions of Tanjavur Maratta King.

The top segment of Sri Vimana – A spherical shaped Shikhara (not monolithic), weighs 80 tonnes, made up of many pieces of cut stones as that of a peeled orange fruit. It is placed on the griva or neck, having a circumference of 20 meter. Each of the four corners has a pair of nandis seated on the griva. Height of each nandi is 1.34 m and width 1.4 m. In the northwest corner, 1.53 m height Bhutagana is seen with a hole in its head, to waive Rishaba flag. The final Stupi, shaped like a lotus bud, is plated with gold and has the inscription of Thanjavur Marattha King.

Here, comes the essential part of this architectural design. The supreme power associated within the the temple, which has no colour, no boundaries, came into existence by the hip of the Stupi or final on the top of Sri Vimana, acting as a ‘Dot’ in space. Once you put a dot in the space, there is no direction. That is, the 360 degree directions are brought in to existence, now operating on the top; which we called as  “The Bindhu or Dot”. Lets compare this with the Brihadisvara temple of Gangaikondam…..

Coming back to the bottom segments of main sanctum complex….

DSC_0499 - North side of Mahamandapa (almost 100ft long), Chola period, a 2 storey structure (one is missing).

‘The Vestibule’ – Northern side of the elongated Mahamandapa or Great hall. A mukhamandapa can be seen at its front, facing east.

DSC_0489 - An evidence of the influence of Chinese architecture seen at the Mukhamandapa of Brihadeeswara, Thanjavur.

Just look at the ‘curved roof tips’ at the corners of Mukhamandapa, which are pointing upwards. An evidence showing the influence of Chinese architecture. A representation of cultural exchange.

DSC_0496 - Cloudy blue skies with hiding Sun rays seen from North side of Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur.

Cloudy blue skies of Thanjavur – Marvelous scene of nature, isn’t this looks like a water colouring by nature ?

DSC_0492 - Another scene from north side of temple complex - A kid playing with his own Fantasies.

A kid playing with his own fantasies, ignoring the architectural wonders surrounding him –   ‘Act of Innocence

Now moving on to, one of the remarkable shrines built within this temple complex. The shrine of Sri Subrahmanya, in the northwest corner by the Nayakas in the 17th century.

DSC_0378 - Mukha mandapa of Karthikeya shrine on the NW corner of Brihadeeswara temple complex.

“Subrahmanya Shrine” (located at the northwest corner) – This Karthikeya shrine is
built on a base of around 45 square feet, is believed to date from the Nayaka
period. The sanctum houses Subrahmanya with six faces, seated in sukhasana on his mount, the peacock. The deity, peacock and the Tiruvasi around the deity have all been carved from a single stone. On both sides of the deity are sculptures of his two wives, Valli and Devasena in standing poses. The entire shrine is a masterpiece of carved stone sculpture and a wealth of rich detailing. The six-pillared mukhamandapa seen in its front, resembles the Vijayanagar style of architecture.

The shrine consist of a tower 55 feet high, raced on a base 45-sq-feet, covered with delicately carved figured, pillars and pilasters and carried on along a corridor 50 feet long, communicating with another Mandapam 50 feet sq. to the east. Flights of steps lead up to either side of the shrine but the principal entrance is to the east. The walls of the pillared mandapam are decorated with the portraits of the Marattha rulers.

DSC_0381 - Elegantly carved Elephant found on the side walls of steps leading to the Mukhamandapa of Karthikeya shrine (NW).

Image of a beautifully sculpted elephant on the side wall of steps leading to the eastern entrance of Subrahmany shrine (ie, in to the mahamandapa).

You can see, two elegantly carved out figures of Kinnaras (Half man, Half horse) on the welcome pillars of the mukhamandapa of this Subrahmanya shrine….

DSC_0728 - Fire breathing mythical Yali sculpted on a pillar of the Mukhamandapa of N placed Karthikeya shrine.

A fire spitting mythical Yali, found in, one of the pillars of east facing mukhamandapa -Subrahmanya shrine. Isn’t this related to the Chinese architectural culture ???

DSC_0503 - Highly decorated horse, standing on 2 legs,found at the north side of Subrahmanya shrine.

“Horse statue” (made from cut pieces of granite) – located in the north side of Subrahmanya shrine. A true miniature form of a decorated modern day horse.

DSC_0530 - Display of Elephant fighting with horse warriors on the side walls of steps leads to N side of Karthikeya shrine.

Another image of an elephant fighting with a horse warrior, shown at the side wall of steps leading the northern entrance of Subrahmanya shrine. A perfectly carved out war scene of ancient times !

DSC_0536 - Miniature fig. of Subrahmanya with Makarathorana - found on the L side wall of N side staircase leads to sanctum.

Miniature relief of a ten-armed Lord Karthikeya in Sukhasana position, on his loyal mount, the peacock. Even though the head of peacock and the hands of Karthikeya are damaged, this sculpture still got its grace. Found in the side wall opposite to the image of fighting elephant.

DSC_0573 - Sword carrying Dwarapalakas made out of black basalt stone guarding the Garbhagriha of Karthikeya shrine.

One of the four-armed Dvarapalas seen near the entrance to the main sanctum of Subrahmanya shrine. This sculpture is made out of a black asphalt stone, evenly polished, ornamented and having 6 ft height. He is carrying a sword in his right hand. His right leg is placed on the top of a lion (A symbolism to show the devotion of royal families).Why do these Gods need protection by Dvarapalas ???

DSC_0527 - Architectural design of the Komugham or Pranala of E facing Subrahmanya shrine - N side.

Komugham or Pranala of the Subrahmanya shrine, located on the central region (main sanctum) of north side. The pranala is protruding from the mouth of mythical lion and it is skillfully carved till the end, to form a lotus bud. A square tank is placed below this Komugham, which is supported by four monolithic lions at four corners. Figures of dancers and warriors are shown at the sides of this tank.

DSC_0513 - North side of east facing Subrahmanya shrine with Mahishasuramardhini relief above the Komugham(Pranala).

Northern face of the main sanctum of Subrahmanya shrine – A sculpture of Lord Karthikeya with his mount peacock is placed in the central niche above the komugham or pranala. Intricately carved out Kumnha panjaras, pilasters, model vimanas, salas, kutas, miniature figures, etc are so exciting to watch here.

DSC_0505 - Mahishasuramardhini Durga relief above the Komugham - N side of E facing Karthikeya shrine.

‘Mahishasuramardhini’ sculpture on the north face of Subrahmanya shrine, placed inside a niche – A 3 feet high image of  Goddess Durga standing on the head of demon Mahisha (buffalo shaped), with abhaya mudra in lower right hand; disc and conch in upper hands.

DSC_0507 - Another small Mahishasuramardhini relief found at the north side window of Subrahmanya shrine.

Another miniature relief of ‘Mahishasuramardhini Durga’ with her loyal mount, the lion. Here, the end scene of a fight between ten-armed Goddess Durga and demon Mahisha (accepted his defeat) is shown.

DSC_0541 - West side of Subrahmanya shrine with image of Karthikeya in the centre of sanctum wall.Highly ornated form.

West face of Subrahmanya shrine with the sculpture of ‘Lord Karthikeya with peacock’ at the central niche. The three-tired superstructure contains numerous stucco figures of the deities in Hindu puranas. Absolutely, a marvelous piece of dravidian art work.

DSC_0552 - South side of E facing Subrahmanya shrine.Vijayanagara style.2 sculptures of Lord Karthikeya and Ganesha.

Southern face of the Subrahmanya shrine with Lord Karthikeya and Lord Ganesha in the two available niches – This shrine has been pronounced to be “As exquisite piece of decorative architecture as is to be found in the south of India” and “A perfect gem of carved stone work, the tooling of the stone in the most exquisitely delicate and elaborate patterns, remaining as clear and sharp as the day it left the sculptor’s hands”. Its correct place in the evolution of Dravidian temple architecture would be modern, giving it a date not earlier than 1600 AD and is popularly believed to be of the Nayak period.

The western side of complex, is the perfect place to get some serious shots in the evening, especially with the western sunlight…..

DSC_0554 - Sri Vimana exposing to heavy evening sunlight - Literally glittering view from NW corner.

“Glistening view of the Sri Vimana by the western light” – A blissful scene of Brihadeesvara temple admired by every eyes focusing on it. You can see a small shrine on this west part, placed under the tree. That’s the Karuvur shrine.

In the western courtyard a small shrine for Karuvur devar is present. He was a saint and said to be the preceptor of Rajaraja. A later erected shrine with modern era style construction. Karuvar devar is said to be one among the venerated Siddhas of the Tamil people. Now, coming to the west side details of Sri Vimana….

DSC_0577 - West side view - Harihara,Ardhanarishvara and 2 Chandrasekharas (with and without halo) in the lower niche.

West face of Great Sri Vimana, Brihadeesvara temple – look at those fascinating straight shrinking squares. A perfect pyramidal superstructure without any central projections, in contrast to the design with central projections, of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara.

lets check it out…. (Another comparison of the west face of both Thanjavur Brihadeesvara and Gangaikondam Brihadisvara)


DSC_0579 - West side view - Harihara,Ardhanarishvara and 2 Chandrasekharas (with and without halo) in the lower niche.

Lets examine the sculptures arranged at the first and second talas of the Western face – In the first tier or tala, from south to north;  Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu), Lingodbhava, Chandrashekhara without prabhavali, Chandrashekhara with prabhavali, plus two dvarapalas (in centre region) are seen. On the second tier,different postures of Lord Siva’s Tripurantaka form are depicted.

DSC_0587 - W side of NW corner - 2 Chandrasekharas (with and without halo) in lower niche - Tripurantakas in upper niche.

Western side of northwest corner – In the first tier, Chandrasekhara with prabhavali (halo) and Chandrasekhara without prabhavali are depicted in the niches. Different Tripurantaka forms are seen in the second tier.

DSC_0589 - One of Upper level Tripurantakas - W of NW corner.

Tripurantaka form of Lord Siva in the upper tier of the western side (northwest corner) – Lord Siva is shown (in dominating posture) with a trident in upper right hand; bow in upper left hand; arrow in lower right hand and an axe (parasu) in lower left hand.

DSC_0592 - Lingodhbhava Shiva displayed in the lower niche of west side - 2nd from the right.

Lingodhbhava Siva in the lower tier of western face (right of centrally placed dvarapalas) – Unlike other Lingodhbhava images, we have seen, there is a difference, in here. Lord Vishnu in the form of a wild boar dives low to find the base of this column and Lord Brahma
in the form of a Swan glides up into the heavens to discover the topmost limit of this
column which is indeed Siva himself.

DSC_0594 - Image of Harihara displayed in the W side of SW corner.Chola Prasasthi at the plinth area is visible.

“Harihara form of Siva (Half Siva, Half Vishnu)” – Present in the west side of southwest corner (lower tier). Symbolizing the multiple personalities of a human being.

In the Southwest corner of the main temple complex, near the cloister halls, a subsidiary shrine of Lord Ganesha is present….

DSC_0583 - North side of E facing Ganesha shrine in SW corner of temple complex with blue cloudy evening sky.

“Ganesha Shrine” (located in the southwest corner of Brihadeeswara) – A record from its front mandapa refers that the front mandapa was the addition by Marattha King Serfoji II (1801 CE). It houses a large sculpture of Ganapati and has a wealth of Marathi inscriptions on the steps
leading to the shrine. Behind this shrine, 108 Lingas are installed in a part of the circumambulatory corridor (cloister mandapa). It is said that the Serfoji II brought these Lingas from a village called Veerasingampettai and had them reconsecrated in the new premises in 1801.

DSC_0597 (1) - Superstructure of E facing Ganesha shrine at SW corner of Brihadeeswara - N side.

“Superstructure of the Ganesha shrine” –  A miniature form of that in the Subrahmanya shrine.

As we have seen the southern side of Brihadeesvara temple, earlier in the morning session….. Lets see it, once again in the evening and you can experience the difference of the two shots….

DSC_0607 - South side of Sri Vimana - Southern entrance to the Antarala of Garbhagriha on right extreme.

Southern face of Brihadeesvara temple – The lower niches in the aditala (first tier) contains the sculpture, from east to west; Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Dakshinamurti, Kalantaka, Nataraja plus two dvarapalas. A later added, small shrine cell of Balaganapathy can be see near the southwest corner. Here also, the upper tier or second tala, contains different postures of Lord Siva’s Tripurantaka form.

DSC_0606 - S side of SW corner - Tripurantakas in U niche with Nataraja (left) and Kalantaka (Right) in L niche.

Sculptures of ‘Nataraja or Adavallan’ and ‘Kalantaka’, seen in the lower tier of southern side (southwest corner). Two different postures of Tripurantaka form of Lord Siva in the upper tier.

DSC_0602 - Full view of the South side of Brihadheeswara - from Ganesha shrine to Rajaraja gopuram.

Once again, the infamous view of Thanjavur Brihadeesvara temple from its southwest corner. The feeling of admiring this view cant be explained, in some ordinary words.

DSC_0613 - Last moments of Sunset seen from the south side of Brihadheeswara temple complex.

Last moments before the Sunset…. The scenes are getting darker….

One last thing to explore in this main temple complex…… ” The Mural Paintings of Nayakas period inside the Northern Cloister Halls of Brihadeesvara” ……              Only thirty percentage of these 400-years old paintings are survived from the damages incurred to them.

DSC_0620 - Thiruchchurru maligai (inside) - built by Commander-in-chief of Rajaraja,Krishnan Raman Mummudichola Brahmarayan.

Inner View of the Cloister halls – .  Tiruccurru malika is the cloistered corridor along the prakara wall referred to as Krishnan Raman Mummudi Cholan wall with 36 sub-shrines (parivaralayas), Eight Dik and Vidik sub-shrines are placed at four corners and the middle of the four sides.  These shrines are dvitala (two-tiered) carrying the respective vehicles (vahanas) at the griva corners with Vishnucchanda sikharas.  1008 Lingas are housed in these cloister halls.

DSC_0616 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Gajalekshmi.

“Gaja Lakshmi mural” (Presence of two elephants on either sides of Lakshmi Devi)

DSC_0617 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Saraswathy.

“Saraswathi Devi” (presence of Veena and palm leaves) – Saint Narada standing on her right side; Aswani Devan standing on her left side.

DSC_0618 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Mahishasuramardini Durga with 8 arms.

“Mahishasuramardhini Durga” accompanied by two of her devotees. Demon Mahisha is under her right feet.

DSC_0621 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Lord Ganesha on his holy Rat.

“Lord Ganesha” sitting with His consorts Shakthi and Buddhi, on his loyal mount, the Rat. Two Bhutaganas on either sides waving the fans at him.

DSC_0622 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Shiva with Parvathi, both sitting on Nandi vahana.

Lord Siva sitting with his consort Parvathi Devi, on his loyal mount, Nandi (The Bull). And Two Bhutaganas on either sides waving the fans at Him.

DSC_0623 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Subrahmanya with Valli and Devasena in his Peacock

Lord Karthikeya” sitting with His consorts, Valli and Devasena, on His loyal mount, the Peacock. Two Bhutaganas on either sides waving the fans at Him.

DSC_0624 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (W) - 16th CE Nayaka period -

“Priests worshipping Lord Siva and Parvathi Devi with Aarthi deepam and Nivedhyam (sacred food offerings) “. Here, the Lord and His consort are dressed up like royal figures.

DSC_0633 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (N) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Agasthya dries out Ocean by dranking it.

“Saint Agasthya dries up the Ocean by drinking it as a whole” – Just notice the presence of marine living beings like fishes, crabs etc in the flowing water.

DSC_0632 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (N) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Is it Bheema.

“Kumbhakarnnan” (brother of Demon King Ravana) – A character of epic Ramayana, known for his hunger towards food and sleep; a strong devotee of Lord Siva.

DSC_0630 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (N) - 16th CE Nayaka period - Kalyanasundaram legend.

“Uma – Maheswara Wedding scene” – A part of Kalyanasundaram legend. Here, Lord Vishnu is shown as a four-armed blue figure with disc and conch in upper hands.  Near Lord Vishnu, on the left side, Lord Brahma is also present.

DSC_0635 - Mural Painting, Cloister mandapa (N) - 16th CE Nayaka period - A woman worshipping Siva-Parvathi.

“The scene of a female devotee praying for the blessings from Lord Siva and His consort Parvathi Devi”

DSC_0653 - 16th CE Mural painting of Nayakas in Cloister hall (S) - 10 armed Durga fighting with Dharikan.

“Scene of a royal devotee worshipping Nataraja for blessing his weapon” – The demon of ignorance, Apatsmara is shown under Nataraja’s feet. Here, ten-armed Nataraja is carrying an antelope, sword’ arrows and parasu in his right hands; fire, shield, bow and bell in his left hands.

The above shown murals are some of the surviving paintings in those cloister halls. There is much more, almost 4 times of this…. It is time, for saying goodbye to this architectural beauty.  Before that, i can share some of the last moments in this holy atmosphere…..

DSC_0688 - View of 'Dakshinameru' during Sunset.

“It is this spreading Darkness, which really signifies the presence of Divine light in those skies”

DSC_0691 - Sayaratchai or Evening pooja - Brihadheeswara temple complex, Thanjavur.

Its time for the Lord to come out from his holy sanctum and feel the devotion of His devotees. Scenes of Sayaratchai  or evening pujai and Shiveli ritual of Brihadeesvara temple.

DSC_0698 - Perfect centre view of Brihadeeswara during Sayaratchai, with mesmerizing blue dusk in background.

Wow !!! A perfect scene to end this exploration. The final moment of success which marks the end of an exciting expedition. Here, you are witnessing the bronze idol of Lord Siva, brought out for the Shiveli ritual.

From the times of the Cholas the temple and its surrounding environs have been a cradle of music and dance traditions. The panels of karana sculptures in the first storey of the temple illustrate eighty one of the hundred and eight karanas codified in ancient texts such as the Natyashastra. These are thought to have been executed at the same time as the temple was built. The temple has various inscriptions which confirm that elaborate rituals including dance and music were part of its observances. Generous endowments were bestowed upon the artists for their ritual services. Through the centuries the temple has been a towering presence with its presiding deity inspiring many literary and musical compositions.

One can spend a whole day in the Big Temple, and still want to come back to marvel at every detail of its beauty. Many kings had built temples to Lord Siva on the banks of the Cauvery. Many saints have sung in praise of these deities. But there is only one temple to Brihadeeswara, and it stands tall a thousand years after a devotee-king climbed a ladder with a copper pot (kalasam) anointed with holy water from all the sacred rivers, to dedicate it to history. For me, this journey is all about understanding the ancient dravidian architecture of South India, which starts with Pallavas of 7th century and ends with Cholas of 11th century. Its time to remember my loving companions…..

DSC_0365 - Near Anukkan Tiruvayil - Brihanayaki Amman temple in background (east side).

Sreejith and Lakshmy – My companions, supporters, well wishers ….. Really thankful to them for their participation in completing this expedition, successfully.

Thanjavur temple represents, in every meaning of the term, the pinnacle of of Chola power, but also the importance of cultural development, that to place along with the economic and social integration, being done with the help of this temple as a major institution. That’s why it has an enduring importance in Indian history.

C360_2018-08-30-18-14-15-410 - Sunset viewing from Thanjavur railway station.

Viewing Sunset from Thanjavur Railway Station – Sunset shots are always perfect for ending, the final moments of a dream journey. Dusk is just an illusion because the sun is either above the horizon or below it. So, the journey always continues.

Actually, this is a tale of discovering the cultural significance of bringing together the spiritual world with the social life of South India. A journey to explore, how the ‘Divine culture’ is synced with the creative abilities of ordinary men. And it also shows the influence of ancient architectural science in various transformations of the Dravidian era. This expedition of mine, never ends as it is an ongoing process of discovering the epic tales of ancient India……Definitely, it will continue !!!

Day 3 – Itinerary

  • Starting Point                                   : Jayakondam (70 kms from Thanjavur)
  • Mode of transportation                 : Public transport, Via Kumbakonam (38 kms from Thanjavur)
  • Travel Time                                      : 2 hours in total.
  • Place of Stay                                     : Ganesha Lodge, Thanjavur (near old Bus station). Above average facilities.
  • Rent Charges                                    : Rs 500 per day for double rooms.
  • Places of Interest                             : Thanjavur Big temple, Marattha Palace and Saraswathi Mahal library.
  • Duration of Exploration                 : 10 hrs in total. (Morning & Evening)
  • Return Journey                                : By train (Thanjavur – Ernakulam express), in night.

Thank You !


9 replies »

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  2. Hello, I don’t find the original page where we exchanged some messages. I recently asked permission to use or a book, the photo of the pillar with the 2 snakes. You proposed I make an offer. I am ready to buy the photo at 8 euros or 10 euros maximum.
    Kind Regards


    • DSC_0321 – A unique display of 2 snakes facing each other – Pillars of Mukhamandapa added by Nayakars – Amman shrine…. Isn’t this, the image you are looking for???…. It’s my pleasure doing this deal with you…. If you can pay 10 euros, please send it via paypal through my email address – . If you are interested in the proper edited version of this image, i can send it directly to you. So, kindly provide your email address also….


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