‘ Is there any point in leaving this world without actually seeing it ??? ‘ Its a question that always haunts me…. This trip is about one such occasion, which happens in your life, once in while….
Kerala is blessed with abundant beauty in the form of misty hills, backwaters, spice plantations giving the tourists, a serene natural scenery and an interesting culture. It draws in people from all over the country who come here to enjoy the lush green nature and watch sunsets on the quaint backwaters. Though, Kerala during monsoon becomes more fascinating as life springs up everywhere brushed by the fresh raindrops. One of the most exciting and intriguing things that you will get to witness during this time is the famous Neelakurinji flower. A sea of purplish blue flowers covers the munnar valleys and hills of western ghats presenting the most picturesque sigh ever.
Seeing the Neelakurinji (Strobilanthus kunthiana) blossoms in their prime form is so special, because its something happens once in every 12 years. And the hype that was created over the last few months on this 12 year wait was pretty much swept away by the heavy monsoon and landslides that lashed Kerala in August. So, my decision was just to see those wonders, no matter what happens!
You can witness this poetry of blossoms, mainly, in two popular locations on Munnar – the Kashmir of South India. One is the Eravikulam national park – ‘home of the popular Nilgiri Tahr’and the other one is the infamous Kolukkumalai tea estate of Suryanelliregion. And I selected the first spot, Eravikulam national park, because of the presence of surprising wildlife and so much floral diversities. It was a one day trip, but felt that the journey was too long. It is because, this time, i chose to travel by bus and in the most popular service of KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) – The “Minnal Express” ….
An 8 hour journey was all i needed to reach that awesome destination. That wasn’t a tiring journey because of the curiosity about seeing those purple blossoms of munnar. And the climate was so right for my photography sessions. A perfect sunny day! To visit Eravikulam national park, at that time, all i needed was just a 150 rs ticket through online process. So that made things easy. Bright daylight, clear blue skies, chilling atmosphere – a perfect scenario for exploring the wild neelakurinji blossoms of Eravikulam….
The park was not so crowded, as i planned this trip on a working wednesday. So the scenes were so calm and clear….
It time for the readers to have some infos about the Eravikulam national park and the unique Neelakurinji flowers of western ghats…. (Please read these brief details)
To see the video of this Neelakurinji exploring trip, please click on the below caption…….
Then a fun ride was waiting for me, there…. And the ride runs through the Kannan Devan tea plantation hills spreading across the Anamudi hills , to reach the top of this national park ….
Now, lets explore into my memories of this journey, which can amaze your eyes and refresh every minds….
Flowers that fall in the genus Strobilanthes, grow at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 meters. The first person to research upon this magnificent beauty was German botanist called Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck. What is the most fascinating part of this flower species is that is blossoms very late. Its flowering cycle can range from once every seven years to even 16 years, which is why people eagerly wait for the neelakurinji blooming season.
Actually, this park is really famous for spotting one of the protected species in western ghats – the Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) or Nilgiri ibex. So, had decided to wait there for sometime. Thought that if i get a chance to shot the wildlife with these blossoms in backdrop, it will be awesome. I had waited there for 3 hours, but, finally, started to descend the hill with no luck of spotting the infamous Nilgiri Tahr. Patience really matters sometimes in life. Surprisingly, on my way down, the most exciting moment of this trip happened…. let’s get into it….
As, i was returning back to the entry point, got a chance to spot yet another inhabitant of this national park, the lion-tailed Macaque…..
Thats all for the day. Now, its time to say goodbye to this place. This was my second visit to this park. Got some interesting shots to make this a memorable trip. I was so much happy to witness the Neelakurinji wonders of munnar – the purplish blue smiles of western ghats. The next blooming season will be in 2030 which gives you all the more reason to check out the bloom in 2018 itself. Neelakurinji flowers which are absolutely exclusive to this place add another layer of beauty to Munnar. This captivating flower casts its magic upon those who visit Kerala during the blooming season.
The elegant, stately hills, golden horizon spreading over the setting sun, orderly placed eucali trees, symbolizing the serene and subtle beauty that will make you return to this place again and again! As a traveler, I could nevertheless say that the glory of that Neelakurinji laden hills of Munnar was something I had never experienced anywhere else.
” 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 “
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 Siva. Brihadeesvarais a Sanskrit composite word composed of Brihat which means “big, great, lofty, vast”, and eesvarameans “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:
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.
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 Gandhidemonetised all ₹ 1,000 currency notes in an effort to curtail black money.
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.
The next one is, actually the ancient (early 11th century ) major eastern gateway of the Brihadeeswara temple – ‘Keralanthakan Gopuram’ ….
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.
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.
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” ….
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……
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?
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!
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.
Towards the eastern part of these cloister halls, you can find a Nandi statue of the Chola period….
But still, he watch over the main sanctum, which houses Lord Siva, His beloved master, to show his trusted loyalty….
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….
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…..
Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur
Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Next, on the scene, is this huge, centrally placed, Nandi Mandapa – The shelter of the Master’s Loyal Servant…..
The ceilings of this sixteen pillared Nandi mandapa contains several mural paintings of Nayakas in the 16th century……
There is a decorated flag post of Chola period, made out of bronze, centrally placed in front of Nandi mandapa, facing the main sanctum….
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’ ….
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….
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.
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…..
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.
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….
Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur – North face
Brihadisvara temple, Gangaikonda cholapuram – North face
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.
Now, look at the sculptures in the niches of the northern side of main temple complex…..
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 ” ….
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’….
You can see two other sculptures on the west and east side walls, near the 15 ft monolithic dvarapalas, of the Anukkan tiruvayil ….
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.
Coming to the southern side of Brihadeesvara temple complex, the visual impact of Sri Vimana gets more clear….
lets compare this image with the southern face of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara….
South face of Brihadeesvara temple, Thanjavur.
South face of Brihadisvara temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
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 …..
I think this is the view that, everyone is looking for …. The view from the southwest corner of Great Brihadeesvara Temple….
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….
Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur.
Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Finally, to the last shots of this awesome morning session of exploration…..
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.)
Next, to the Inner views of Marattha Durbar Hall….
You can also enjoy the beautifully coloured ceilings of this Durbar hall….
There are some exciting images sculpted and painted on the ceilings and pillars 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……
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…..
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…..
Shikhara of Thanjavur Brihadeesvara temple.
Shikhara of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara temple.
Coming back to the bottom segments of main sanctum complex….
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.
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.
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….
Kinnaras of the Subrahmanya shrine, northwest corner of Brihadeesvara.
Kinnaras of the Subrahmanya shrine, northwest corner of Brihadeesvara.
The western side of complex, is the perfect place to get some serious shots in the evening, especially with the western sunlight…..
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….
lets check it out…. (Another comparison of the west face of both Thanjavur Brihadeesvara and Gangaikondam Brihadisvara)
West face of Thanjavur Brihadeesvara temple.
West face of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara temple.
In the Southwest corner of the main temple complex, near the cloister halls, a subsidiary shrine of Lord Ganesha is present….
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….
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.
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…..
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…..
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.
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.
“Enlightenment inside, Illusion outside” – A basic concept relating Inner Consciousness with The Divine …
Before moving on to the next fascinating marvel of Dravidian architecture, you should try to read out the first part of my blog (if not, please click on this link “Fascinating Marvels of Dravidian Architecture – Part 1 (Mahabalipuram)”) and then only, one can experience the noticeable transition of dravidian temple architecture from the 7th century Pallava tradition to the 10th century Chola tradition. In this part, you are going to experience the two Chola Marvels of dravidian architecture :
Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.
Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram (One of the Great Living Chola temples).
Temple architecture in South India reached its pinnacles under the rule of imperial
Cholas (850 – 1250). Early Chola temples however, are not as large as the ambitiously planned Pallava Kailashnatha or the Vaikunthaperumal temples at Kanchipuram. Development in early Chola architecture consists, instead, in perfecting the unique elements of the Dravidian style and combining them harmoniously with new forms in astonishingly diverse ways.
Period of the imperial Cholas (850 CE – 1250 CE) was an age of continuous improvement and refinement of Dravidian art and architecture. Utilized their prodigious wealth earned through their extensive conquests in building long-lasting stone temples and exquisite bronze sculptures. One such architectural marvel is our next location :
“Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram”
In South India, five temples were built for each of the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. These are the Pancha Bhuta Sthalas. Geographically, they are all within the Deccan Plateau – four in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. The temple for water is in Thiruvanaikaval, fire is Thiruvannamalai, Kalahasti is air and Kanchipuram is earth. The temple for space is in Chidambaram.
Thillai Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is located in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu and it is about 5 kms north of Kollidam river (Kaveri), 65 kms south of Pondicherry and 220 kms south of Chennai. State transport and private companies operate many services connecting it to other major cities. The site is also linked to the Indian Railway network through Chidambaram railway station. So, reaching Chidambaram, from Mahabalipuram was not an issue, as there were state transport buses available from the bypass junction near Mahabalipuram town (in 1.5 km distance). The easiest way is to reach Pondicherry, first (91 kms from Mahabalipuram) and then to Chidambaram.
In ancient times, this town was used to be called ‘Thillai’, following Thillai Vanam (forest), derived from mangrove of Thillai trees that grow here and the nearby Pichaivaram wetlands. And was renamed to Chidambaram, by Chola dynasty, when it was their capital city.The early history of the temple lies hidden in the mists of time. It reached its present form under the patronage of the kings of the Chola dynasty in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. From the aerial view we can see the total surface area of the temple covers 13 hectares or 35 acres. Placing it among the largest temples in the whole of India. It is designed with five concentric Prakaras, or circumambulatory temple courtyards. These are associated with the Five Elements. The innermost Prakara is not visible. It lies within the sanctum with the golden roof, and can only be entered by the Deekshithars (exclusive administrative group of Brahmins). The architecture and the rituals of this temple reflect its history and doctrine.
The word ‘Chidambaram’, refers to the philosophy and doctrine of the temple. ‘Chit’ means consciousness or wisdom. ‘Ambaram’ signifies ether in Sanskrit, but in Tamil the ‘ambalam’ means hall. The name unifies two aspects of the doctrine. Meaning both Hall of Wisdom, as well as the place of the Ether of Consciousness. Temple’s architecture symbolizes the connection between art and spirituality; ie, creativity and divine.
The Nataraja (Lord Siva posing as a Cosmic dancer) form essentially comes from Southern India, particularly from Tamil Nadu. And Nataraja is the family deity of Chola dynasty. Represents the exuberance of creation, the dance of creation which self-created itself from the eternal stillness. Nataraja standing in Chidambaram is very symbolic because what you call as Chidambaram is just absolute stillness. That is what is enshrined in the form of this temple. Main idea of classical arts is to bring this absolute stillness into a human being. Without stillness, true art cannot come… isn’t it ???
History of Chidambaram Nataraja Temple
Where we now find this beautiful and ancient temple, was once an impenetrable forest of Thillai trees, which is a kind of mangrove. This forest gave Chidambaram its first and most ancient name, Thillai. Within this sprawling forest was a lotus pond, and at the southern bank of this pond existed a Svayambhu Linga. A linga is a representation of Lord Siva which unites both the concepts of Form as well as of Formless in itself. In modern terms this formless-form might be called an abstraction.
Svayambhu means ‘self existent’, signifying that the linga was not made by human beings, but came into existence by itself, from nature. To this lotus pond in the Tillai forest, once came two saints, named Vyagrapada and Patanjali. They came from very different backgrounds and from very different directions, but they came for the same reason: to witness LordSiva’s Cosmic Dance. It had been foretold to them that if they would worship the linga on the bank of the lotus pond in the forest, Lord Siva would come to perform His Dance.
Eventually this great event took place. Nataraja came to perform His Dance on a Thursday, when the moon was in the Asterism Pushan, in the Tamil month of Tai, long before the Christian era. This dance is called the Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss. The saints achieved liberation, and on their special request Siva promised to perform His Dance for all time at that place. The story of the origin of the worship of Shiva Nataraja in Chidambaram is told in the Chidambaram Mahatmyam. The Sacred History of Chidambaram, which is part of the Skanda Purana, one of the 18 great Puranas or collections of mythology. From one of the saints, Vyagrapada, which means Tiger Footed, Chidambaram received its second name, Puliyur, meaning ‘City of the Tiger’.
“Chidambaram Mahatmyam or Legend”
An interesting story to visualize….. Throughout all of eternity, Lord Vishnu rests on Shesha (Ananthan), the Cosmic Snake, in Vaikundam. Once his weight suddenly seemed to have greatly increased. Shesha asked Vishnu “why are you so much heavier, Lord?” The Lord answered “I have had a vision of Siva doing his Cosmic Dance. I have expanded with happiness at the sight.” Shesha requested Vishnu to tell him all about Siva’s Dance. And Lord told him everything as follows :
“In the forest called Daruvanna, lived a community of Rishis or Seers in a hermitage. Through the performance of rituals they had achieved great knowledge and power, but they had not realized the importance of Divine Grace. Lord Siva requested Lord Vishnu to accompany him to enlighten the Rishis, by showing them human power and knowledge were helpless without intervention of Divine Grace. To accomplish this purpose the two deities applied their power of Maya or Illusion. Siva entered the hermitage of the Rishis as Bhikshatana or a Mendicant. With dazzling beauty, wearing only a mendicant’s sandals, the wives and daughters of the Rishis fell madly in love with him, forgetting everything else, and completely loosing themselves. Vishnu transformed himself into a beautiful woman called Mohini, and an alluring dancer. As soon as the Rishis saw Mohini dance before them, they too lost all sense and rationality and with desire burning in their hearts they followed Mohini around like madmen.
When some of the Rishis realized what was happening they became enraged and started a great magical fire sacrifice against Lord Siva’s Bhikshatana. First they called from the fire – A tiger, but when tiger attacked Lord Siva he laughed, and killed the ferocious animal with his hands, tearing off its skin and wearing it for a loin cloth. Next the Rishis send poisonous snakes, which he draped around his arms and neck, as jewelry. Then Siva prepared to perform his Cosmic Dance. His two other arms appeared and his third eye shone in his forehead. The Rishis called a fierce dwarf (Apasmara Purusha – Murayalayan) from their magical fire, but Siva’s dancing foot simply took him for a pedestal and danced. Finally the Rishis send the fire itself to destroy the Cosmic Dancer, but he just took it on to his left hand. And from the mantras that the Rishis used against him he made his anklets. Then the Lord danced his Tandava or Cosmic Dance. Its full power made the Rishis fall to the ground. It made Lord Vishnu shake, and even Parvati, the goddess consort of Shiva, who joined them to witness her husbands dance, was overcome with fear. But the Lord danced smiling, showing his raised foot. The Rishis understood the Lord’s Divine Grace, and attained realization. They started to dance themselves and all of creation danced with them.”
After Vishnu has told Shesha about his vision of Siva’s Cosmic Dance, he longs for only one thing: to see Siva’s dance himself. Vishnu grants him permission to leave him for a while, so Shesha too will be able to experience the dance. After performed austerities for long ages, Siva appeared before him, and offers him the fulfillment of any wish. Shesha has only one wish: to witness Shiva’s Ananda Tandava.
In fulfillment of Shesha’s wish, Siva announced to him that he will dance at the appropriate and tangible moment on earth in the Sabha in the Thillai forest. This forest is situated on the middle point of the earth, and constituted its heart centre, the Lotus Space. Through it passes the main energy nadi, or vein, of our mother planet. This place is called Chit Ambara, the Ether of Consciousness. Siva told that he, Shesha, would be born on earth from human parents, and that he would be called Patanjali. After growing up, he will travel to Thillai, where he will meet another saint, called Vyagrapada the Tigerfooted. And both will perform tapas and worship, until the appointed time for Siva to perform his Cosmic Dance in the Sabha has arrived.
All these things foretold by Siva to Shesha, come to pass. As Patanjali reached the Thillai forest he found on the southern bank of the lotus pond the saint Vyagrapada, worshipping the Mulasthana Linga and performing austerities. Vyagrapada had come to the Thillai forest following the advice of his father, the Rishi Madhyandina. To worship the Mulasthana Linga he used to gather flowers in the early morning, but however early he collected the flowers, insects had already damaged them. Deeply upset that his worship was not as complete or perfect as he aimed for, he cried to Lord Siva to help him. In answer to his prayer Siva gave him tiger claws for hand and feet, enabling him to find his way through the thick forest at night to gather flowers long before daybreak, before the insects could inflict their damage. From then on both saints did the worship and the austerities together, as they waited for the appointed time for Siva to dance in the Sabha. As that time approached also the 3000 munivars or Thillai Muvayravar (later called Deekshithars) arrived in the forest to await the Lord’s dance.
When that day arrived, it was announced with the sound of drums and conches. A rain of flowers fell from heaven, and in the Sabha appeared a light of a thousand suns and moons. In the middle of this light mass appeared Siva’s form, dancing his Ananda Tandava, and showing his Lotus Foot. His is an un-earthly beauty, while his peaceful smile shines on all. He was together with Parvati, who witnessed his dance. All those present, Devatas, demons and humans rejoiced, almost fainting, and all joined in his dance, dancing themselves. Then Siva offered the two saints to make a wish. They wished that Siva would forever perform his Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss in the golden Sabha of Chidambaram, for the entire world to experience. So that any human who desired this could also reach His lifted Lotus Foot and realize liberation. Soon after that, the King Sveta Varman came to the Thillai forest. At that time, he was forced to give up his kingdom after being infected with a skin disease called ‘white spot’, a form of leprosy. Lord Nataraja ordered the two saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali to let the king take a bath in the lotus pond, now called the Shiva Ganga (A sacred pool), that he may be healed. After re-emerging from the water the king’s skin had become golden, his name becoming Hiranya Varman or ‘golden coloured’. And he was taken to the Sabha to see Nataraja’s Ananda Tandava. Overtaken with emotions the king fell on earth and offered his life-long service to the Dancing Siva. He was consecrated by the 3000 munivars, and received from Vyagrapada, signifying his kingship and valor. The king then rebuild beautifully the temple and the city around it. And established the main festivals of the yearly cycle in the temple.
Nataraja Siva and his “dance of bliss” is an ancient Hindu art concept. It is found in various texts such as Tatva Nidhi which describes seven types of dance and their spiritual symbolism, Kashyapa Silpa which describes 18 dance forms with iconographic details and design instructions, as well as Bharata Muni’s ancient treatise on performance arts Natya Shastra which describes 108 dance postures among other things.
Earliest historically verifiable Siva temple at Chidambaram is traceable in inscriptions that date to the rule of Aditya Chola I in early 10th century, and far more during the rule of 10th century Chola King Parantaka I. For them, Lord Nataraja was the kula-nayaka (family guide or deity) and Chidambaram was the capital they built. The copper plate inscriptions of Parantaka I (907-955 CE) describe him as the “be at the lotus feet of Shiva”who built the golden house for Shiva, with Chit-sabha, Hema-sabha, Hiranya-sabha and Kanaka-sabha (all mandapam, pillared pilgrim rest places). He is referred to as “Pon veinda Perumal”, which means “one who covered with gold” the Chit-sabha of Chidambaram. These inscriptions and texts from this period suggest that the significance of the Agama texts and Shaiva Bhakti movement was strengthening within the Chola leadership and thought. They converted many older brick and wooden temples into more lasting temples from cut stone as the building blocks in dozens of places across South India.
The temple, according to inscriptions found in South India and Southeast Asia, was also historic recipient of a precious jewel from the king of Angkor who built the Angkor Wat through Chola king Kulothunga I, who submitted it to the temple in 1114 CE.
Significance of Siva in his “Ananda Tandava” Nataraja aspect:
The demon (Apasmara) under Lord Nataraja’s feet signifies that ignorance is under His feet.
The fire in His hand (power of destruction) means He is the destroyer of evil.
The raised hand (Abhaya or Pataka mudra) signifies that He is the savior of all life forms.
The arc of fire called Thiruvashi or Prabhavati signifies the cosmos and the perpetual motion of the earth.
The drum in His hand signifies the origin of life forms.
The lotus pedestal signifies ‘Om’, the sound of the universe.
His right eye, left eye and third eye signify the sun, moon and fire/knowledge, respectively.
His right earring (makara kundalam) and left earring (sthri kundalam) signify the union of man and woman (right is man, left is woman).
The crescent moon in His hair signifies benevolence and beauty.
The flowing of river Ganges through His matted hair signifies eternity of life.
The dreading of His hair and drape signify the force of His dance.
Invasions in Chidambaram
By late 13th century, in the north, the Indian subcontinent had been conquered by the Delhi Sultanate. Muslim armies had begun raiding central India for plunder. In 1311, the Ala ud Din Khilji’s army general Malik Kafur and his Delhi Sultanate forces went deeper into the Indian peninsula for loot and to establish annual tribute paying Muslim governors. The records left by the court historians of the Delhi Sultanate state that Malik Kafur raided Chidambaram, Srirangam and other Tamil towns, destroyed the temples, and the Chidambaram Siva temple was one of the sources of gold and jewels booty he brought back to Delhi. The temple towns of Tamil Nadu were again targeted for loot in 1320s. However, when the news of another invasion spread in Tamil lands, the community removed them into the Western Ghats or buried numerous sculptures and treasures in the land and concealed chambers underneath temples sites before the Muslim armies reached them. A large number of these were rediscovered in archaeological excavations at the site in and after 1979, including those in Chidambaram. Those who buried the temple artworks followed the Hindu Agama texts such as Marici Samhita and Vimanarcanakalpa that recommend ritually burying precious metal murtis as a means of protection when war and robbery is imminent. Over 200 such items have been recovered, including relevant hordes of copper plate inscriptions.
The islamic invasion in the 14th century, bought an abrupt end to the patronage of Chidambaram. The Delhi Sultan appointed a Governor, who seceded within the few years from the Delhi Sultanate and began the Madurai Sultanate. This Sultanate sought tribute from the temple towns, instead of supporting them. Madurai Sultanate was relatively short-lived, with Vijayanagar empire removing it in late 14th century. Vijayanagararulers restored, repaired and expanded the temple through the 16th century, along with many other regional temples. These kings themselves went on pilgrimage to Chidambaram, and gifted resources to strengthen its walls and infrastructure. Destruction of Vijayanagara Empire in late 16th century by Bahmini Sultans, an alliance of Sultanates, followed within a few decades by entrance of Portuguese, French and British colonial interests brought geopolitical uncertainties to Chidambaram and other temple towns. The Portuguese were already a major Coromandel Coast trading group by early 17th century, a region to which Chidambaram belonged. The Portuguese began building forts, garrison and churches in Coromandel Coast region after the demise of Vijayanagara, triggering the intervention of the French and the British. By mid 17th century, the temple complex was within the patronage of Nayakas, who repaired the temple and repainted the frescoes on mandapa ceilings. According to British reports, this temple town had to bear the “brunt of several severe onslaughts” between the French and the British colonial forces several times particularly in the 18th century.
Floor Plan of Thillai Nataraja temple, Chidambaram
First session of Day 2 – Exploring Chidambara Rahasyams (Secrets)
The most imposing feature of Chidambaram Natraja temple, which can be seen soaring above the plain from miles away, are the four temple gateways or gopurams, located in the second wall of enclosure at the cardinal points. They are considered among the earliest examples of such structures and are in their present form dated to the 12th and 13th century. Scholars disagree about the dates of individual gopurams, or about which one was build first. Some consider the west gopuram as oldest, some the east gopuram.In total, the temple has nine major gopuram gateways connecting the various courtyards. Four of these are huge and colorful, visible from afar, a symbolic and convenient landmark for pilgrims. These gateway towers, each have 7 storeys facing the East, South, West and North.The first edition of the four gopuram superstructures were likely built between 1150 and 1300 CE. All gopuras are built of precisely cut large stone blocks all the way to the main cornice. Upon this is a stone, brick and plaster structure with layers of pavilions. Above these talas(storeys) is a Dravidian style barrel vaulted roof, crowned with thirteen kalasa finials. All four are approximately similar in size and 14:10:3 ratio. Truely, a fascinating scene for our eyes….
Between the second half of the 12th century and the early 13th century, the Chola kings added colorful and high gopura stone gateways as easily identifiable landmarks, starting with the western gopura. Thereafter, about mid 13th century, the Pandya dynasty ended the Chola dynasty. The Hindu Pandyas were liberal supporters of Chidambaram temple, along with other Siva and Vishnu temples, just like the Chola. Sundara Pandya added the huge eastern gopura at Chidambaram, beginning the colossal gateway tradition.
Artists and architects who built these towers may have had a rationale in the relative sequence and position of the artwork with respect to each other and on various levels… How marvelously and perfectly they are sculpted and arranged !….. True geniuses !
The gateways, which are dwarfed in the Pallava, are in late Chola prominent. The dvarpalas (gatekeepers) in Chola temples are fierce men with tridents, bearing tusks
protruding from mouths, rolled eyes and hands always in threatening gestures. These contrast with the benign natural looking single paired arm dvarpalas of the past.
Inside walls of passages through all the four gopurams are decorated with the 108 karanas, the dance movements of Siva, from the Natya Shastra, the world’s most ancient treatise on dance, drama and theatre. Besides in Chidambaram these karanas are depicted in only four other temples, all in Tamil Nadu. That’s interesting, isn’t it ?
Eastern gopuram features the 108 reliefs of Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra dance postures (22 cm each in a separate niches)…..
Just look at the ceilings, also … What can you find ???
On the outside of the granite bases of the gopurams are found sculptures of many important as well as less well known deities in niches in a particular order. From the second tier onward, on each of the Gopuram, are seen images of various manifestations of Siva such as Bhikshatana, Kankala (both being ascetic forms), Kalyanasundarar, Somaskandar etc. (bestowers of prosperity). There are no representations of Nataraja on the temple towers, as this image is reserved for the innermost shrine alone….
A typical new Chola feature, that is different from the Pallava, is the famed
ornamentation of temple walls. This consists in the use of real deep niches with entablatures. These niches, the Devakushtas (niches to house deities), flanked by demi pilasters, appear on wall surfaces of Chola temples. The decoration, in most finished examples, alternates between the various niche devices of koshtapanjaras and Kumbhapanjaras. Space is narrow in these forms but the decoration is more rounded. The pilasters of these niches are crowned by a curved roof moulding adorned by two kudus with crowning lion heads. The bases of these decorative devices have makara (motif based on the mythical sea monster) and warrior heads.
Moving on to the eastern entrance to the third prakara or courtyard, a Yagam was going on in the nearby pillared mandapa or hall…. you can see the Deekshitars or Thillai muvayravar in this scene…
Today there are around 360 families of Deekshithars who are conducting the rituals and are also the beneficiaries of the temple. But they are unable to maintain it so many things are going away. All the vegetable dye paintings on the ceiling, which are a thousand years old are almost sixty percent gone. The plaster has fallen off and there is nobody for upkeep. And unknowingly, they have put up concrete structures here and there in this hundred percent stone temple because of which the aesthetics and the dynamics of the temple are badly disturbed.
Coming to the eastern entrance of second prakaram …. two interesting designs caught our attention…. one, on the floor and the other, on the ceiling…
Reaching near the entrance to inner third prakara, the most disturbing and annoying thing came to my notice. A saddened moment for a photographer …. can you guess it ??? Yeah ! Its about restriction of photography….
In any way, the good thing is that you can still explore the world, beyond this, with your magical eyes…. And i can explain it to you, what’s on the other side of this….
Main edifices of the temple are the five Sabhas or Halls: the Cit Sabha, Kanaka Sabha, Deva Sabha, Nritta Sabha, and the Raja Sabha. At the centre of the temple is situated the sanctum sanctorum or holy of holiest, called the Chit Sabha or Chit Ambalam. This means the ‘Hall of Wisdom’. It is the main shrine where Lord Nataraja accompanied by his consort Parvati performs His Cosmic Dance, the Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss.
The world is the embodiment of the Virat Purusha, the colossal human form. Chidambaram is the centre of this form, the place of the heart, where Siva performs the Cosmic Dance. Chidambaram temple is laid out as a Purusha. For this reason the devotees may approach the central shrine from two sides. As blood flows to and from the heart. The nine stupas or finals topping the golden roof represent the nine orifices of the human body, and also symbolize the nine Matrikas or goddesses. The roof is made of 21.600 tiles, representing inhalations and exhalations of breath. The links and side joints symbolize the connecting veins.
The golden roof is made of 22600 tiles representing the number of breaths of a human being on a day, and fixed with 72,000 golden nails representing the 72,000 visible and invisible nerves of a human body! The roof is having 9 ornamental conic heads (Kalasas), representing the nine gateways or holes in a human body. There are five courtyards, representing five sheaths of a human body, kosas. The four gopurams, together with the golden dome of the central shrine are the five towers which represent the five faces of Shiva, with the Chit Sabha symbolizing the masterful face.
The five main steps at the entrance to the shrine stand between the devotees and the image of Siva, covered in silver – ‘Panchakshara’. They are the five seed words or syllables of the mantra, ‘ Shi Va YA Na Ma ‘. By chanting these syllables, the devotee can cross the ocean of bondage and attain to the Lord. The granite plinth of the shrine is called Parvadam, because it does duty for Mount Kailasa in providing a support for Lord Siva. On all special occasions puja or worship is performed to this plinth. The name, Hall of Consciousness or Hall of Wisdom, refers to the quality of wisdom which pervades the atmosphere, bestowed upon the worshippers by the Dance of the Lord. His boon is the experience of the Cosmic Dance.
A unique feature is that the structure of the actual Sabha is made of wood, which has so far not been botanically classified. It is rectangular in form and here Siva is worshipped in his three aspects:
As Form – Nataraja the murti or image of Siva
As Formless-form – The crystal linga called Chandramaulishvara
As Formless – The yantra which is the Akasha Linga
From the platform opposite the Sabha one can see the image of the Dancing Siva, situated in the middle of the it. Siva is facing south, unlike most other Hindu deities. This signifies he is the Conqueror of Death, dispelling the fear of death for the humanity.
The Crystal Linga called Chandramaulishvara is Siva as Formless-Form. Crystal Linga was formed from the essence of the crescent moon in Siva’s matted hair, for the purpose of daily worship. This murti is taken from its keeping place at the feet of the Nataraja six times a day, and abhishekam of holy ablution is performed to him in the hall called Kanaka Sabha in front of the Chit Sabha.
Immediately to the proper right of the Nataraja is the Chidambaram Rahasyam, the ‘mystery’ of Chidambaram. Here, behind a silk curtain which is black on the outside and red on the inside, is the Akasha Linga, in the form of a yantra. An abstract geometrical design, on which the deity is invoked. Behind the curtain, before the yantra, hang a few strands of golden vilva leaves. This signifies the act of creation. One moment nothing exists, the next instant the All has been brought into existence. At regular timings the curtain is removed to allow the devotees to worship the Akasha – the Ether which is the vehicle of the Absolute and Consciousness.
The Chit Sabha houses one more unique form of Siva. This is the Ratna Sabha Pati, the Ruby Lord of the Sabha: a replica of the Nataraja murti in ruby form. This murti appeared out of the fire of the sacrifice in response to the devotion of the Deekshithars. Once a day, as part of the 10.00 o’clock morning puja ritual, after the abhishekam of the Crystal Linga, abhishekam is also performed to the Ruby Siva. As conclusion of this ceremony the Ruby Nataraja is placed on the edge of the Parvadam of the Kanaka Sabha and Mangala Arati is offered (burning of camphor on a special plate which is shown both in front and behind the Ruby Nataraja). This brings out the special quality of translucence of this murti, creating a mystical spectacle for the onlookers.
Nobody knows when the worship of Nataraja was established here, or when the Chit Sabha was build. The original wooden structure is doubtless the oldest structure in the temple complex, as the shrine of the Mulasthana Linga is a later construction under the Chola Kings. The Sabha has no features that could help to date it. It is unique and no other structure is known like it anywhere else in Indian architecture. Analysis by the C 14 method (Carbon dating) would be unreliable because it is known to have been regularly renovated during the centuries. But the origins of the temple of Siva’s Nataraja in Chidambaram definitely lie back in prehistoric times.
Immediately in front of the Chit Sabha is the Kanaka Sabha, or Golden hall. Its roof is made of copper, although Kanaka means gold. This is the gold of spiritual treasure: to experience Shiva’s dance from so near. In this Sabha are most of the daily rituals of worship for Nataraja performed. The Yagna of the morning rituals. Rituals with lamps and ritual objects. And the abhishekam of the Crystal Linga and Ruby Nataraja. The public can enter certain areas of the Kanaka Sabha for worship of the Nataraja and the Akasha Linga at specified hours of the day. It is a controversy whether this Sabha was originally constructed together with the Chit Sabha, or some time later.
In the innermost courtyard, at a right angle with the golden Sabha, we find the shrine of Vishnu, as Govinda Raja. Reclining on the Cosmic Snake (Shesha), he is in the yogic state of consciousness, enjoying the vision of Shiva’s dance. The coexistence of the worship of both Vishnu and Shiva within one temple is unique. The worship of Vishnu was established in the earliest times and was originally performed by the Deekshithars themselves. In the later medieval period, with a shifting political situation under pressure of Muslim invasions, there was possibly a discontinuation of the worship for a
long period, after which it re-instated by the king Achyuta Raya (1539) of the Vijayanangara empire. The worship of Vishnu Govinda Raja has since then been in the hands of Vaishnava priests, and was no longer performed by the Deekshithars.
Within the inner courtyard, to the east of the Sabha, we find a small shrine which houses the murtis of both the Creator God Brahma, of the Hindy Trinity, and Chandikeshvara, a deified saint. The presence of Brahma (a deity almost never worshipped) establishes the worship of all three deities of the Hindu Trinity with-in the
Next one, we are going to experience is the Nritta Sabha. Here the shrine is in the form of a Ratha or Chariot, pulled by two stone horses. It is situated opposite the Chit Sabha, in the third courtyard. It is the place of the dance contest between Nataraja and the goddess Kali. Siva conquered the goddess, who would not calm down after she destroyed a powerful demon, by lifting his right leg straight up towards the sky. This dance is called the Urdhva Tandava. Then and there Kali suddenly remembered who she really was, the peaceful Parvati, consort of Siva, and she was able to leave her furious mood and returned to her peaceful self. This scene is depicted in the sanctum inside the Sabha. We see here, Siva performing his Urdhva Tandava, his leg lifted straight above his head, Kali calmed down in one corner, both accompanied by Vishnu playing the Talam, the instrument which is used to accompany dance. The chariot form of the Sabha commemorates Siva as Tripurasamhara murti, the Destroyer of the Three Demon Cities. Several divine powers joined together to create Siva’s chariot. Thus the sun and moon became the wheels, the Vedas the horses etc.
After destroying the Three Cities, the Lord descended from His chariot, having landed opposite the Chit Sabha, and ascended into the Sabha to commence His Dance. From this the Nritta Sabha is also called Edir Amabalam or opposite hall. This Sabha has several distinguishing features aside from its shape and its function. Its columns are unique to the chariot hall. They are square, and although carved from the hardest granite they are covered with exquisite miniature relief’s, depicting dancers, musicians and all kinds of mythological figures.
One other feature sets this edifice apart from any other hall within the temple complex and from all other temple halls in India. This Sabha is mysteriously connected to the Sphinx (is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion). Just under the floor surface of the raised platform which is the body of the Sabha is a belt or pattika, surrounding the whole Sabha. Here we see lions and sphinxes alternating in pairs, girdling the Sabha. Also the pillars of the two pavilions on the western side of the Sabha are supported by four sphinxes which function as caryatids (Draped female figures).
Nritta Sabha is considered by tradition the second oldest building in the complex, without any real indication of its age. It is reported in inscriptions as having been renovated by the Chola King Kulottunga I in the 11th century.
The Deva Sabha can be found in the third prakara or courtyard. The festival deities are kept during the year, and worship is performed for them daily. This is done inside the Sabha, and is not open to the public. The age and history of this Sabha is also hidden in the mists of time. There is some evidence the Deva Sabha was once used as an audience hall by visiting kings of the different governing dynasties of the Cholas, Pandyas and others during the several phases of history. No other information is available.
Altogether, the inside views are so fascinating to the eyes and beyond our imaginaton. Visuals of highly intricated, massive pillars, modern era paintings at the top on ceilings, stunning architecture of the main sabhas (some works have to be related with the Vijayanagara style (14th – 16th century)), thrilling golden roof of Chit-sabha etc are very interesting. Coming to the outside, its time to open the eyes of my camera, and the first scene was this…. The South Gopuram of Chidambaram temple….
Near to this Southern gopuram, Mukkuruni Vinayagar temple is located in the southwest corner….
From there, we can see the earliest gopuram of the all four, the one made by the Chola kings, The Western Gopuram of Chidambaram temple….
Its a shame, if one mentions Lord Siva without mentioning His loving consort, Goddess Parvathi. Likewise, there is a temple for Goddess Shivakamasundari, consort of Siva, situated on the west side of the Shivaganga tank. A flight of steps leads down into its courtyard. The goddess is worshipped here as the Jñana Shakti: the energy and power of wisdom. On the frontal portion of the pillared hall, on the ceiling of the right and left wings, the finest eye-capturing fresco paintings of approximately a thousand years old, illustrate the Leelas or Sacred Deeds of Siva.
The galleries surrounding the temple are decorated with a procession of dancers and musicians, sculptured in relief. This temple was possibly build in the 11th century under the Chola king Kulottunga I.
In the north side of Chidambaram temple, one can see the sacred ‘Sivaganga Pool’ …. Most of the infamous shots of the Nataraja temple, Chidambaram are really originated from here…. Its time for me to achieve something like that….
You can see an elongated massive hall to the east of Sivaganga pool …. Its name is Raja Sabha or 1000 Pillared Hall…..
It is first mentioned as the place where the medieval poet Sekkilar premiered his great work on the lives of the 63 Nayanmars or Saiva saints, the Periya Purana, before the Chola king Kulottunga II or III, in the 12th century.
Interesting images of two elephants (not monolithic ones) with their trainers, found on the either sides of Mukhamandapa, placed in front of the Raja Sabha or 1000 pillar hall. It looks like the elephants are trying to pull this enormous Raja Sabha….
And there was this last shot from Chidambaram Nataraja temple, dedicated to my fellow companions; Sreejith and Lakshmy….
Its been four long hours, since we had done our breakfast from one of the nearby vegetarian hotel. I was totally famished at this time…. So, needed a proper lunch to satisfy my stomach. Thankfully, there were free offerings of food, daily, for devotees, from the temple administration. Felt like a boon, granted by the Lord for our efforts. It was a good traditional Brahmin meal and really enjoyed myself, having it.
Time to say goodbye to this infamous Nataraja temple (a unique one in entire South India) and move onto the next destination. Its a place where one gets enlightened, both physically and mentally. A place where Creativity meets the Divine. The Divine grace transforms our consciousness in to a superior level, beyond our imagination. A moment of realization about the ignorance living inside us. And His ‘Dance of Bliss’ can clear this ignorance and bring the eternal happiness.
As mentioned earlier, the next destination on our list was Gangaikonda Cholapuram, situated 45 kms to the southwest of Chidambaram, in the Udayarpalayam taluk of Ariyalur district, Tamil Nadu. The nearest railway station is at Kumbakonam and Ariyalur. But, the simplest way to reach Cholapuram is by road, with the help of state transport and private buses. You need to travel via Kaattumannarkudi or kovil, which is 27 kms from Chidambaram. From there, local buses and auto rickshaws are available at reasonable rates, to cover the final 17 kms. Locally, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is known as Jayakondam (please, remember this). So, lets know more about the Cholapuram temple …..
Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
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. The Great Chola King, Rajaraja I, crowned in 985, carved out an overseas empire by establishing a second capital at Pollonaruva in Sri Lanka. The Brihadeeswara (Big temple of Thanjavur), built by him (995 – 1010) at his capital Thanjavur, though he did not live to see it completed is a product of this success. Temple inscriptions make clear the triumphal nature of the edifice.
Just a couple of years after Rajaraja I built the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, his proud son Rajendra I (1012 – 1044 AD) became the Chola ruler. Rajendra ruled jointly alongside his father, until the latter’s death in 1016 AD. Having served as a general under his father, Rajendra was an accomplished warrior who led many successful military expeditions. He had his army march northwards, all the way to the Ganga, to bring home pots of holy water from the river. Defeating enemy armies along the way, his men returned victorious, earning Rajendra the title ‘Gangaikondachola’, meaning ‘the Chola who conquered the Ganges’.
He established a new capital city called Gangaikondacholapuram (also called Gangaikondacholeshwaram) about 70 km from Thanjavur, and had a royal temple by the same name built in it. The temple is commonly called the Brihadisvara Temple now (the one we are going to explore). Rajendra also built a lake in the town called Cholagangam to mark his victorious expedition. It was fed by the Cauvery river, and some water from the holy river, Ganga was poured into it as well. Today, people call it Ponneri lake.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple is the pinnacle of the achievements of Rajendra I, the mighty Chola King, who established his new capital here with the magnificent city and temple dedicated to Lord Siva. The temple is massive and richly carved with sculptures. The architecture has complex carvings on the hard granite stones unlike the customary simple style of the Cholas. The sculptures that adorn the walls and ceilings of Gangaikonda Cholapuram are exquisite.The temple is famed for its bronze sculptures, artwork on its walls, the depiction of Nandi and the scale of its tower. As well as its notability for having been built by Rajendra I, the temple is also noteworthy for its numerous inscriptions, although none of them are his.
History of Brihadisvara temple, Cholapuram
The Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple is smaller yet more refined than the Thanjavur Big temple. Because of its delicate appearance and gentle curve, this temple is often called the feminine version of the one in Thanjavur. The temple was constructed in 1035 AD by Rajendra Chola I. Some experts believe that the temple was built during 1020, during the 6th regnal year, but inscriptions indicate the 20th regnal year, which is 1035 AD. Rajendra wanted to emulate the temple built by his father after his victory in a campaign across India that Chola era texts state covered Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Bengal. After his victory, he demanded that the defeated kingdoms send pots of Ganges River water and pour them into the temple’s well. The well was originally called Cholagangam as it was filled with water from Ganges.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram remained the Chola capital for the next 250 years. Rajendra I built the entire capital with several temples using plans and infrastructure recommended in Tamil Vastu and Agama Sastra texts. These included a Dharma Sasta, Vishnu and other temples. However, these structures were destroyed in the late 13th and 14th centuries except this temple. The other Chola landmarks, clearly shown by soil covered mounds and excavated broken pillar stumps and brick walls, are found over a large area nearby. The earliest inscription that mentions this city by name is dated 1029, while the earliest reference to Rajendra I’s expedition towards the Ganges river in the north is dated 1023. The first gift to the newly built Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple is dated 1035. Rajendra I, must have involved the same craftsmen used by his father and transferred them from Thanjavur. Archaeological excavations have revealed fort walls and palace remains a few kilometers from this temple. It is believed that Kulothunga Chola I, Rajendra’s successor, built fortifications around the city.
The reasons for the city’s destruction are unclear. The Pandyas who defeated the Cholas during the later part of 13th-century “may have razed the city to ground” to avenge their previous defeats. However, it is unclear why other temples were destroyed and this temple was spared, as well as why there are around twenty inscriptions from later Cholas, Pandyas and Vijayanagar Empires indicating various gifts and grants to this temple if they previously razed this place. An alternative theory links the destruction to the raids, plunder and wars, particularly with the invasion of the capital city and the territories, that were earlier a part of the Chola and Madurai Empires, by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate led by the army commander Malik Kafur in 1311, followed by Khusrau Khan in 1314, and Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1327. The period that followed saw many wars from the Delhi Sultanate and they carved out new states such as the nearby Madurai Sultanate (1335–1378). The Vijayanagara Empire defeated the Madurai Sultanate in 1378 and this temple, along with other Chola era temples, then returned to the control of South Indian kings who repaired and restored many of them. The temple was added to the list of Great Living Chola Temples in the year 2004.
According to available evidences, the last Chola, King Rajendra Chola III’s rule did not end due to defeats in war. There are signs of some devastation that hint at some major catastrophe that happened around Gangaikondacholapuram which brought to an end the Chola rule. The temple, unfortunately, was looted several times. It was also used as a garrison and fortified cantonment by the Pandyas and later on by the British as well.
Floor Plan of Brihadisvara temple, Cholapuram
Though the temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram follows the plan of the great temple of Thanjavur in most details it has an individuality of its own. From the remains it may be seen that it had only one enclosure wall and a gopuram while the Thanjavur temple has two gopurams and enclosures. The prakara follows the Thanjavur lay-out in that it had a two storeyed cloister running all around. Only a part of this has survived in the north. The stones from the other portions were utilized to build the Lower Anaicut across the
Kollidam, during British rule in 18th century. The pillars of cut stone are severely plain throughout as in Thanjavur.
Second session of Day 2 – Exploring the Great Living Brihadisvara temple, Gangaikondam :
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple of Lord Shiva is really grand and is regarded as the reproduction of Brihadeeswara temple built by Rajaraja Chola, father of Rajendra Chola I. It surpasses the Thanjavur Big temple sculpture as, by the time it was built, Chola sculptors and artisans had perfected the art of temple architecture. It is a tribute to the magnificent architects and artisans.
As one steps in, the great Sri Vimana (superstructure) arrests the visitor’s sight. The Vimana with its recessed corners and upward movement presents a striking contrast to the straight-sided pyramidal tower of Thanjavur but with octagon shape of Dravidian architecture. As it rises to a height of 182 feet (55 m) and is 9m shorter than the Thanjavur tower (as a mark of respect to his father’s masterpiece) with larger plinth, it is often described as the feminine counterpart of the Thanjavur temple.
A Flag post or Dvaja Sthamba is placed in front of the temple, near the eastern entrance….
In front of the flag mast, one can see a “Couchant Bull” facing west, towards the main sanctum…. Don’t you know his name ?
The building to the north of Nandi, called Alankara mandapa, and now housing the executive office of the temple was in all probability constructed in the 19th century. On the northeast corner of the temple complex, you can see a circular well adorned with a lion structure at the entrance…. “Simhakeni”
The superb architecture of the temple boasts of a 9 storey Vimanam that extends to the height of 185 feet. Not less than 54.86m in height, the temple structure follows the style of
Thanjavur big temple. Whole temple is thrived with rich and intricate carvings that are exclusive to Chola style of artistry. Known to comprise a little northern style, the structure embraces intricate carvings in the Vimanam. The colossal shrine also addresses several significant bronzes of the Chola age.
The structural difference of this Srivimana with that of Rajaraja-I’s Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur is that; this Srivimana is of feminine structure and the Thanjavur Srivimana as masculine in nature. The main difference, that is obvious, is this Srivimana has 8 sided (Octagonal) in structure and Thanjavur Srivimana has 4 sided (Quadragonal) in structure.
The main temple consists of a sanctum tower called Sri Vimana or Sri Koil, a big rectangular mandapa called the mahamandapa with an intervening vestibule called mukhamandapa. The entrances are guarded by big dvarapalas (7 ft high monolithic Gatekeepers) of remarkable beauty….
Dvarapalaka on the left side of the eastern entrance to Mahamandapa.
Dvarapalaka on the right side of the eastern entrance to Mahamandapa.
Just look at the Dvarapalaka figure on left side. The position of his right hand index finger, which is pointing upwards, indicates that ‘There is one and only God’ (Thatva Concept). And now look at his upper left arm, which is showing Abhaya mudra, indicates ‘He (The God) is the savior of all forms’.
The front entrance to the great mandapa is approached by steps from north and south. As the flooring of the mandapa is on a high elevation, the steps rise to a considerable height forming a high platform in the front. It is said that there is a subterranean passage with steps under this platform. Some claim that this passage leads to the royal palace, while others assert that it leads to the river Kollidam. Yet a third tradition says that it leads to an underground treasury wherein invaluable properties belonging to the temple are preserved. None in the living memory has set foot on this passage for fear of darkness, poisonous gas and wasps. It is not unlikely that the empty underground space below the great mandapa and the space between the steps were utilized as store houses.
Beyond this, photography is not allowed, especially inside the Mahamandapa, the ardhamandapa and the main sanctum or Garbhagriha….
So let me explain the inside of this structure, The Mahamandapa….
If the original mahamandapa had been preserved, it would have retained the grandeur of its conception and beauty. But as it is, only the portion up to the main base is original. The side walls, the pillars and the ceilings have been reconstructed; probably in the 18th century AD. Obviously the superstructure should have crumbled due to neglect and vegetation. However a part of the original has survived up to the ceiling at the western end. From the surviving portion it may be seen, the roof (prastara) of the mahamandapa was in level with the prastara of the ground floor (adi bhumi) of the main Vimana. Like the walls of the main Vimana, a horizontal cornice divides the outer walls of the mahamandapa into two parts. They carry a series of niches both in the upper and lower courses.
As mentioned earlier, the adibhumi of the main Vimana has two floors inside the sandhara passage (the intervening passage), the intervening cornice forming the intermediate floor level. The mahamandapa should have been a two storeyed pavilion, quite fitting with the mahaprasada of the temple. In view of the tall dvarapalas guarding the entrance to the mukhamandapa, the central passage should have had only the upper ceiling without the intermediate flooring. Thus the central passage was flanked by two storeyed structures, resembling the storeyed cloister of the enclosure. It would have presented a most spectacular sight when the deities were taken out in procession through the mahamandapa.
As it stands today the inner side of the mandapa has a central passage, leading from the front to the sanctum flanked by two raised platforms and a passage running around. Two massive dvarapalas are noticed at the western and guarding the entrance to the mukhamandapa. A few sculptures and bronzes receiving regular worship are on the northern platform. The north eastern corner houses an interesting solar altar, now worshipped as Navagraha (nine planets).
Moving on to The Main Sanctum of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara temple…..
The sanctum enshrining the main deity is encased by an inner wall. Between the inner wall and the outer, there is an intervening passage-called sandhara running all around. The two walls are joined at the top by a series of corbelling. They are provided to support the massive super-structure. No painting is noticed in the inner passage. The inner sanctum houses a very big Siva Linga, rising to a height of thirteen feet. It is said to be one of the biggest Siva Linga enshrined in a sanctum in any South Indian temple. The entrance to the sanctum is guarded by massive doorkeepers, dvarapalas. The mandapa immediately preceding the sanctum is approached by steps leading to it from the north and the south sides and also from the great mandapa in the east. The entrances are guarded by big dvarapalas (15 ft high) of astonishing beauty….
The mandapa is supported by massive plain and square pillars. The eastern walls flanking the opening to the great mandapa carry groups of small sculptures illustrating Shaivite themes. The following are the themes thus represented;
Though these group sculptures are carefully selected, they are imperfectly finished and lack the beauty and elegance of the sculptures of the main tower.
Coming to the outside from the main sanctum through northern entrance of the Ardhamandapa, you can see, one of the famous scenes sculpted in this Brihadisvara temple complex (near the Dvarapala on the left side wall)….
Lets explore the northern side of Brihadisvara temple complex…….
Two gatekeepers flank the entrance. In front of the gatekeepers, in the mahamandapa, are images of Saraswati in the north and Gajalakshmi in the south. One of the Dvarapalas is shown here…..
It is significant that the mahamandapa of this Amman temple has steps to it, only on the side. In ancient times, steps were always provided on the sides and not in front of the sanctum. The beautiful image of Goddess now enshrined in the sanctum of this temple should be a later installation. Originally the temple should have enshrined a Siva Linga, like the southern Kailasa. Though separate shrines of Goddesses came to be built in the main temples only from the reign of Rajendra I, no Devi-shrine was built originally in this temple, the present one being clearly a later institution.
Back to the details about Great Sri Vimana of Brihadisvara….
According to architectural treatises, basements (upa-pithas) are introduced in temples to increase the height of the main tower; to add to structural stability and to make the temple tower majestic.That these purposes are magnificently fulfilled by the basement of Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, may be noticed even by a casual visitor not conversant with architectural principles. Besides the purposes mentioned above, the basement also provides, a space to walk around the tower. In this temple, the basement is ornamented with sculptures of lions and leogriffs with lifted paws.
The main base adhishtana is decorated with well defined courses, consisting of the lotus moulding adaspadma, and the kumuda moulding, topped by a frieze of leogriffs and riders. This constitutes the main base, the top of which forms the flooring level of the inner sanctum. That portion of the structure rising above the main base up-to the roof cornice is called ‘the wall’ (bhitti or kal). It is the principal element that encases the main sanctum and carries on it a number of niches housing various deities. The wall in this temple is divided into two horizontal courses by an intervening cornice. Lower and upper courses have an equal number of niches, on all the three sides except the front
The sculptures in the lower courses, of the Sri Vimana depict various aspects of Siva and also the subsidiary deities who include Ganesha, Vishnu, Subrahmanya, Durga, Brahma, and Bhairava, supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Durga in the niches of the great mandapa. The sculptures were made separately and fitted into the niches. They are flanked by a group of small sculptures, carved in situ, illustrating the theme the niche sculpture seeks to represent. The sculptures on the upper courses represent, besides some aspects of Siva, the guardian deities of the eight quarters.
Lets examine the sculptures on the lower courses (north side of Sri Vimana)…..
The interesting thing is that, one can see ancient inscriptions (Grantha script) imprinted on the basement part below these sculptures. Together, they called ‘ Chola Prasasthi ‘. Prasasthi is a poetic way of expressing the extol of the king and his various heroic activities. 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 donations, land details etc.
Time to move on to the Western side of Great Sri Vimana of Brihadisvara….
This basement of Srivimana is 100 feet by 100 feet and the foundation is square in structure and raises 20 feet above the ground level. The courtyard in 566 ft in the length and 318 ft width and has a transept at the west in line with the main sanctum.
Above this rises the main tower, consisting of nine stories including the ground floor. The upper stories of the main tower carry the same type of ornamentation, consisting of square and oblong pavilions except a change; the central wagon-shaped pavilion is flanked by square ones instead of “the nests”, the whole being projected forward than the rest. Now, look at the different sculptures shown in the lower course niches of West side (Sri Vimana)….
It is from the southwest corner that, one gets an infamous view of the Great Srivimana of Gangaikondam Brihadisvara temple…….
Coming to the Southern side of Sri Vimana of Brihadisvara…..
You can see two other interesting images on side walls of the southern entrance leading to the ardhamandapa of main sanctum (near the 15 ft Dvarapalas on south side)……
The shrine, south of the main Vimana and called the Southern Kailasa has a sanctum preceded by a mandapa which in turn is fronted by flights of steps from south and north of which the basement alone remains.
A little to the north-east of this temple is a granite basement, probably the ruin of a mandapa. It is now called the Alankara mandapa. To the west of this is a well, probably coeval with the temple.
And here come the final moments of a memorable day of my life….
Its the moment to remember my companions, who were supporting, without any hesitations, throughout the entire sessions of explorations, happened on this long day….
The symmetry, geometry and symbolism of these temple architectures simply leaves you spell bound. Visualizing the stories of more than 10 centuries, oh! that’s something you can’t just imagine. looking at these marvels, one must appreciate the brilliance of Chola artisans. How skillful, they were! And can say, in every block of stone, there is a story inside and the task of the sculptor is to discover it. Another memorable day of discovering creations, enlightenment by the divine and touching the depths of eternal happiness.
Day 2 – Itinerary
First Destination : Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.
Starting Time : Morning 4.30 am.
Transportation : By State transport; Via Pondicherry (91 kms from Mahabalipuram); then to Chidambaram (65 kms from Pondicherry)
Travel Time : 4 hours in total.
Duration of exploration : 4 hours.
Second Destination : Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Starting Time : Afternoon, 1.30 pm.
Transportaion : In a private local bus; Via Kattumannarkudi (27 kms from Chidambaram); then to Gangaikondam by auto rickshaw (17 kms)
Travel Time : 2 hours in total.
Duration of exploration : 3 hours.
Next Destination : Brihadeeswara Temple (Big temple), Thanjavur.
Thank you for the patience…
********************************To be continued*************************************
‘Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness’ – Frank Gehry.
Architecture is a study of forms: about plans, designs, motifs and how they have evolved over time. But built spaces are a medium to study societies as well. Architectural spaces, both sacred and secular have a functional aspect, in the sense that they fulfill the need for what they were created. A temple or a mosque is a house of worship and a king’s tomb or a palace has royal connotations, a commemorative edifice proclaims what it is meant to, and houses are built to protect people and communities. Through these physical types, we get to know the technical knowhow of the times, the processes of their creation, patterns of patronage, and a given society’s metaphysical system as the architectural forms draw upon contemporary cultural and philosophical discourses. Power and authority are as much reflected in these built spaces as are notions of aestheticism that are otherwise embodied in contemporary literature.
In this Journey, we are experiencing some of the most celebrated examples of Dravidian architecture which include ‘Group of monuments in Mahabalipuram’ (Pallava dynasty) and some of the ‘Great living Chola temples’ (Chola dynasty). A 5 day exploration was needed for this mesmerizing journey, through the celebrated landmarks of north Tamilnadu. The trip happened during the Onam vacations of Kerala (from 26th sept – 31st sept), a perfect time for enjoying the marvelous works of dravidian culture. And my trusted companions were Sreejith PV(my brother) and his wife Lakshmy SJ (my sister).
By profession,they are college lectures (Politics and History), passionate ones and true lovers of ancient Indian architecture. Perfect pair for accompanying my expeditions. Because of the vastness of the monuments that we visited and numerous amount of views, I was forced to divide this journey in to 3 parts;
Part 1 – “Mahabalipuram: Wonders of Pallava dynasty”
Part 2 – “Great living Chola temples: Chidambaram and Gangai konda Cholapuram”
Part 3 – “Great living Chola temples: Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur”
As a part of cost reduction, depended mainly on public transport systems like Indian railways, State transport buses, local private buses and even in auto rickshaws (share autos). And that was a huge success, because the overall cost of this 5 day trip, got reduced to under Rs 4000. Just, keep that in your mind. Now, moving on to the main subject…
Part 1 – “Mahabalipuram: Wonders of Pallava dynasty”
The first shrines in the Tamil country in South India were cave shrines, derived from the Buddhist tradition. These came up during the rule of the Pallavas (600 – 900), under whom the foundations of the Dravidian style were laid. The Pallavas belonged to Andhradesh but their centre of activity was the lower reach of the Palar river and their chief architectural remains are mainly found in the country around Kanchipuram, their seat of power and in the seaport of Mamallapuram, built by them in the present day state of Tamil Nadu. The port had been a centre of trade from Roman times and Kanchipuram, 40 miles away, a major cultural centre. The Pallava rulers sent expeditions to Sri Lanka and traded with China and South East Asia. They were great patrons of art and architecture, which was driven by a systematic ideology. They used architecture to legitimize their rule by richly endowing the shrines and by naming the edifices after their kings. As a result, a complex relationship began to grow between the temple, community and the king.
Mahabalipuram is a virtual poetry in stone, a temple of art. Not a mere picnic spot near Chennai, because its greatness can be realized only by those who go there in person and enjoy its splendor. As a shining example of the Dravidian culture and of the ancient civilization of Tamils, the greatness and exceptional universal value of the monuments of Mahabalipuram is recognized and confirmed by the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ and has included them in the UNESCO’s “World Heritage List”.
The history of Mahabalipuram dates back to 2000 years. It was a flourishing seaport even at the beginning of Christian era. There were references to it in the Greek work of the 1st century AD, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and by Ptolemy, the Greek geographer of the 2nd century. Many Indian colonists had traveled to South East Asia from this port town and this was a centre of pilgrimage for centuries.
History of Mahabalipuram
Starting from the 6th century AD, the Pallava dynasty ruled over parts of Northern Tamil Nadu for about 400 years. Their capital city was Kanchi or Kanchipuram. Mamallapuram was their seaport. In ancient times even before the Pallavas came on the scene, this place was known by the name Mallai or Kadalmallai. Vaishnava saint Bhoodhaththazhvar, the second of 12 azhvars of Vaishnavism, was born here. This has also remained a centre of pilgrimage and saint Thirumangai Azhvar has rendered hymns in praise of this place. Mahabalipuram was a trading centre even in the 1st and 2nd century AD, visited among others by the Greeks. Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller of the 7th century mentions that this place was the seaport of the Pallavas. It has also been referred in European literature of the 14th century as the ‘Place of Seven Pagodas’ or the place of seven temples.
Monuments and the temples of Mamallapuram were designed by the Pallava rulers during the 7th and 8th century AD. In the development of architecture and sculpture, their contributions are noteworthy. Mention should be made in this regard about Mahendra Varman (AD 580-630), his illustrious son Mamallan Narasimha Varman (AD 630-668), Mahendra Varman II (AD 668-672), Parameswara Varman (AD 672-700) and Narasimha Varman alias Rajasimha (AD 700-728). Mahabalipuram was essentially a victory memorial city. Mamallan Narasimha Pallavan defeated Chalukya King Pulikesi II in 642 AD and sacked his capital Vatapi. With the enormous fortune that he brought from his conquest, he embellished the city of Mahabalipuram with several beautiful buildings and monuments. Majority of the monuments belong to the times of Narasimha Varman. The name Mamallapuram itself is derived only from the title ‘Mamallan’ , ‘The Great Wrestler’ of Narasimha Varman. The rest of the monuments belong to the period of this successors Parameswara Varman and Rajasimha Pallavan. While the credit for designing the temples by scooping them out of living rocks, discarding perishable materials like brick, timber, metal or mortar, goes to King Mahendra Varman, it is the kings Narasimha Varman, Parameswara Varman and Rajasimha who were responsible for Mamallapuram attaining international fame for its sculptural splendor.
Temple Architecture under Pallavas
Temple architecture under the Pallavas resolves into two phases: The first phase (610 – 690), the Mahendra and Mamalla Group, is wholly rock-cut while the second (690 – 900), the Rajasimha and Nandivarman Group is entirely structural. In the first phase, the rock-cut structures took two forms: the mandapas (610 – 640), and the rathas and mandapas (640 – 690). A mandapa is an excavation, an open pavilion excavated in the rock. It takes the shape of a simple pillared hall with one or more cellas in the back wall. A ratha is a monolith, in the shape of a chariot or a car that is used to take the deity out but here it means a series of monolithic shrines in granite resembling certain wooden prototypes. A mandapa in all probability had other structurally attached buildings, but these have perished because of their impermanent material.
The Mahendra group (roughly 14 in number, 610 – 640), named after the chief patron, scattered all over Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, three being at Mamallapuram, represents the early beginnings. However, recent scholarship attributes most of these mandapas and the later rathas to the later patronage of Rajasimha. Each pillar of the rock-cut mandapa is about 7 feet in height with a diameter of 2 feet. Shafts are square in section except for the middle third which is chamfered into an octagon. Heavy brackets provide the capitals with no cornices above the pillars. Later examples become more ornate, when the pillars start becoming 4 storied, rising to a height of 50 feet. These changes can be seen at Bhairavkonda (Nellore district), where a distinctive Pallava order makes its appearance. This is seen in the sophisticated fusion of two forms of the capital and the shaft of the pillar. Another element, a typical Pallava feature of a lion, combined with the lower portion of the shaft and another introduced into the capital as well makes its appearance. This is the beginning of a pillar design that transformed into an elegant Pallava type with the heraldic lion beast standing for dynastic connotations as a symbol of the dynasty’s lion ancestory (simhavishnu).