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Brihadeesvarar Temple

Comprehension Questions on Description of Places - Brihadeesvarar Temple

Brihadeeswarar  Temple

The Brihadeesvarar Temple or The Big Temple as it is commonly called by the natives of Tanjore, is an architectural marvel of immense glory, that has astounded the world with its stupendous proportions and grandeur. Built in the year 1010 by King Raja Raja Chola, this monument of World Heritage has, for a thousand years, stood as a symbol of the flourishing sculptural expertise and rich culture of ancient India. Tanjore, ‘the Granary of Tamilnadu’ is also the home of Carnatic music, dance and traditional handicrafts. Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola kings, and the stylized bronze work for which the Chola period was famous, is still produced in this town.

Having overloaded myself with this and more information on Tanjore, I reached the palace in search of all the glory of the old Chola capital. The 16th century palace complex was built by the Nayaks and later renovated by the Marathas. Situated close to the old bus stand, the first of the museums I visited here was the Royal Museum. “Is this the might and valour of the Cholas I heard of? What am I seeing here?” I wondered; a scantily lit room with drums, urns, perfume bottles, wooden boxes, manuscripts, gifts, jewellery, weapons and other belongings of the Marathas.

A painting of a Maratha King welconnes you to the Durbar Hall. On the rear side of the painting an array of Pallava and Chola statues throws light on the craftsmanship of their era. The Art Gallery at the palace has an impressive line-up of granite and bronze monolithic statues, with details of excavation and century of origin clearly displayed: the gods, goddesses and other statues take you to a different era. The magnificent monolithic statues evince energy and life; the aura in their eyes beam a story of fine craftsmanship and effort. Vishnu, Ganesha or Nataraja look exactly the same as they look in today’s images and statues. I also did notice a Buddha statue from the Pallava era here.

From the palace, I moved to the Brihadeeswara Temple. The structure of the temple looks majestic. The temple occupies an area measuring about 750 feet by 400 feet, in a fort surrounded by a moat. It is a marvel of engineering, considering the technology of those ancient times. The towering vimanam is built up with stones with bonding and notching, without the use of mortar. The topmost stone, weighing about 80 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 vimanam 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 Shiva. Naturally, the shape had to echo the divine Mount Kailash. In its perfect geometry and distinct clarity of lines, this tower is unbeatable.

The shrine for Lord Muruga is an integral part of the temple. It is a beautiful, elaborately carved stone structure, a designer’s delight. To copy the unrepeated designs on each of the short pillars of this shrine would take an artist weeks if not months. One can just imagine how long the stone chiseller would have taken to complete each piece. I stood in awe, astonishment and reverence when I saw a walled fortress inside – a standing testimony of the Cholas’ opulence and vision. The enormity of the deities reflect the staunch reverence of the King to Lord Shiva. Rajaraja, his sister and queens donated their possessions of gold and silver to this temple. The gold the king donated came from his treasury. The Intricate carvings on the pillars and the inscriptions on the walls make the temple a delight for a historian’s senses. The script used in the inscriptions resemble Tamil, Thai or some of the South East Asian languages. The huge (8.7m height) Shiva Linga in the Sanctum Sanctorum and Nandhi Statue reflect the munificence of the Cholas. The pillared cloisters beside the main structure have a series of deities and Shiva lingas, worthy to be admired. The murals narrate the story of Shiva’s might. Among the things visible are the interlocks of the granite stones. The rocks so perfectly fitted into one another at a height of 1 metres seems to share a harmonious bonding, unnerved by the rains, winds and heat. Very well maintained, this structure will leave you with thoughts like, ‘Was it actually built in the 11th century?’

Unlike many temples, here the 58m tall and 13-storeyed Vimanam makes the Gopuram. The inscriptions of the Vimanam talk about Raja Raja Chola’s gifts to the temple. In its magnanimous idea, its grandiose vision, its display of the Herculean effort in construction, its portrayal of their glorious past of the Chola regime and their patronage for arts and culture, this temple stands as testimony for all and ever.

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 Shiva on the banks of the Kaveri. Many saints have sung in praise of these deities. But there is only one temple to Brihadeesvara , and it stands tall, a thousand years after a devoteeking climbed a ladder with a copper pot (kalasam) anointed with holy water from all the sacred rivers, to dedicate it to history. Our history!

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