Built by Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD, is an ancient temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. The deity of the temple is Lord Shiva—in his dancing pose—who is called the Nataraj. The temple is also known as Rajeswara Temple, Rajarajeswaram and Periya Kovil. The temple was built, like a fortress on the shores of a river, by the king to grace the Chola Empire. This thousand-year-old temple is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site adding to its exceptional historical and cultural value.
The Big Temple of Tanjavore is a stunning monument that speaks oodles about the architectural mastery of the Chola era. This 212 ft (64.8 meter) towering Shiva temple is home to one of the largest Shiva Lingas of the country. A majestic Nandhi (bull), measuring a gigantic 19.4 ‘ x 8.23’ x 12’ (5.94 x 2.51 x 3.66 in meters) stands guard over the temple. This is the second largest Nandhi in India and is carved out of a single stone. Everything about this temple is big, majestic. No wonder it is referred as The Big Temple.
King Raja Raja Cholan had the main temple built completely with granite. It is hard to imagine how, in that age, more than 130,000 tones of granite was brought to the temple site, especially given that there is no granite quarry within a hundred kilometers of the temple site. Another stunning architectural feat is the Vimana / Shikhara – the spire atop the temple. The beautiful lotus shaped stone of the Big Temple weighs a stunning 80 tons. We can but marvel at the engineering mastermind who managed to hoist an 80 ton carved rock up a 212 feet tower back in the 11th century.
The chief architect of the temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan. The layout of the temple is based on the principles of Vastu Shastra, the ancient Hindus science of architecture and construction and Agamas, the ancient scripts that define principles behind temple construction. The central temple site is surrounded by a rectangular boundary 885 ‘ x 450 ‘ (270 m by 140 m). The temple boundary holds many sub shrines besides the main temple and the Nandi.
The niches on three sides of the temple hold images of Shiva, Vishnu and Durga. The southern wall has sculptures of Ganesha, Vishnu with his consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi, Lakshmi, a pair of Dvarapalas, Vishnu anugraha murti, Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Dakshinamurti, Kalanta and Nataraja. On the west side there are images of Harihara, Ardhanarishvara, a pair of dvarapalas and two Chandrasekharas, one with and the other without halo. On the north, in the lower series, the depiction of Adhanarisvara, Gangadhara, a pair of dvarapalas, Virabhadra (with a sword and a shield), Alingana Chandrasekhara, Siva holding a Sula (spear), a pair of dvarapalas, Sarasvati, Mahishasuramardini and Bhairava. The north series shows a number of Tripurantakas repeated in each niche. In the small circular space of the top niches are present the carvings of Ganesha, Vrishabavahana, Bhikshatana, Narasimha and Varaha.
Besides these, each wall of the temple and the surrounding architecture are filled to the brim with carvings and paintings depicting the rich history of art, culture, mythology and science of the era.
“IF HAD A TIME MACHINE ,I WOULD GO BACK 1000 YEARS FOR CHOLA PERIOD TO SEE HOW THEY BUILT A BRIHADEESWARAR TEMPLE(BIG TEMPLE)“