It was only a sheer chance that took me to Tanjore. I was in Chennai and was scheduled to visit Mahabalipuram and had 2 days to spare. It was when I saw the pictures of the Brihadeeswar Temple at Thanjavur (also known as Tanjore). The photographs were enough for me to make a decision to utilize my 2 spare days at Thanjavur. After our visit to Hampi the month before, I am fascinated towards the architectural wonders. Well, meeting a friend at Trichy was also an added incentive! So there I was with my backpack all ready to board my bus from Chennai to Trichy.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

I reached Trichy Bus Stand early in the morning and from there took a bus to Thanjavur. After reaching there, my stop was the Brihadeeswar Temple or the Big Temple. I seem to have a special connection with all the old and heritage sites. These dull grey, old stony structures create a colourful canvas in front of my eyes. My heart skipped a beat as I approached the Big Temple.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

What is the Brihadeeswar Temple or the Big Temple of Thanjavur?

The Brihadeeswar Temple or the Big Temple as it is fondly called is a symbol of the power and might of the ruler of the Chola Dynasty. The temple was built by Raja Raja Chola I of the Chola Dynasty in the year 1010 AD. Under king Arunmozhi Varman, the Chola empire expanded in all directions and he was eulogized as the “Lion among the Kings” and Raja Raja Chola.The king’s territory extended uptoKalinga and Ezham (Sri Lanka) and Lakshwadweep. His trade and military exploits took him to various parts of this country and beyond. It is believed that the king came across various temples, most of the majestic and grand. This made the king desire to build such an equally massive temple dedicated to his favourite deity Lord Shiva. Thus the thought of the grand temple was born.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

The temple was indeed built by the king to display his power and vision to the world. The architecture of the temple was such that it could showcase the power of the mighty king. The temple was the site of major royal ceremonies and daily rituals towards the deities.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

This 1000 year old temple still stands as a witness to the might of the Chola emperor. The architectural marvel has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site. The complex has not one temple, but many other smaller shrines consecrated by the rulers of other dynasties also. But the jewel in the crown is the main central Temple.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

What is so special about the Brihadeeswar Temple?

An engineering marvel, a fascinating form of Dravidian architecture – all these paeans have been attributed to the Big Temple of Thanjavur. And if you do not visit the temple, you will not really understand why such praises are heaped on it.according to the inscriptions found in the temple, the engineer and architect behind this great structure were Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

The temple is an ambitious work of granite. It is said that 60,000 tonnes of granite was used to build the temple! The Big Temple has the tallest Vimana (temple tower) measuring 216 ft and the Kumbam (the dome or structure on the top) completely adorned with stucco figures weighs around 20 tonnes. No wonder this place is called an architectural feat! The Shiva Linga inside the temple is 3.7 metres tall.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

Main Temple

With every Shiva Temple, there has to be a structure of Nandi. Here too, the structure of Nandi was in front of the temple. The structure of Nandi carved out of a single stone measure 16 feet long and 13 feet high weighs around 20 tonnes and is the second largest sculpture of Nandi in India.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

The Brihadeeswar Temple is also one of the few temples that have Ashtadikpala idols (Guardians of the eight directions). Chola frescoes are found on the ceilings and the walls. These frescoes are exquisite and depict Shiva in different forms.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

There are many other shrines and structures strewn along the temple complex. All of these structures were not built by the emperor Raja Raja Chola I. The Chandikeshvara shrine was built by the Nayak’s in the 16th century and the Subrahmanya Shrine was also built by them in the 17th Century. Maratha ruler Sarabhoji had also added to the temple complex. The Nataraja Mandapam was built by the Maratha ruler Sarabhoji II in 1800 AD and the Amman shrine was probably built by the Pandyas around the 13th  Century.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

A few other important structures at the temple complex are the Maratha Complex, Keralantakan Tiruvasal and Rajarajan Tiruvasal.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

What is the Maratha Entrance?

This is the first gate that you will come across while entering the temple complex. This gate was built during the reign of the Maratha rule in this region. This is the simplest gate with a Gopuram on top. But the gate is extended surrounding the temple. Most probably, the Maratha Gate served as a wall of defence as the remnants of a moat could be seen surrounding the wall.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

The Maratha Entrance of the Big Temple at Tanjore

What are the myths related to the Brihadeeswar Temple?

There are so many myths and mysteries related to the temple.

  1. It is believed that the shadow of the temple tower disappears at the noon! But actually, the temple does cast a shadow, but it creates an impression that it does not. The tower is built in a cascading style. The shadow on the top falls on successive layers of stone resulting in an illusion that the tower does not cast any shadow.
  2. It is also believed that there are as many as 100 underground passages to various places at the Big Temple, some of which are also secret passages.
  3. I took almost an hour to roam around the temple complex, look at the sculptures, relook at them and marvel at the murals and frescoes. All this time I kept on wondering the might of the ruler Raja Raja Chola I who had the vision to create something so grand. The place is also referred as the “Great Living Chola Temples” and I think the temple is still living the life of the Chola ruler.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

Why should you visit the Brihadeeswar Temple?

  1. Simply because it is one of the best examples of Dravidian architecture. It is also the largest temple of its kind in the country. The temple is full of intricate stucco works depicting various figurines of Gods and Goddesses as well as other figures.
  2. If history and heritage is your thing, then a visit to this UNESCO world heritage site is a must.
  3. The Nandi idol in front of the main temple is the second largest in India.
  4. There are many high quality and beautiful paintings in the Big Temple that depicts a lot about the life of the King Raja Raja Chola I.
  5. The frescoes and murals at the ceilings of the temple are also of very high quality.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

How to reach the Brihadeeswar Temple?

The Brihadeeswar Temple is located at Thanjavur, also called Tanjore. The best way to visit Thanjavur is to take an overnight bus from Chennai. Distance from Chennai to Thanjavur is 341 km by road.

The nearest airport is at Trichy. You can also arrive at Trichy by train or bus from Chennai and then travel further to Thanjavur.

I had taken an overnight bus to Trichy, reached the Trichy Central bus stop at 5:00 AM, and then took a local bus to Thanjavur. The local buses usually drop at the New Bus Stand. From the new Bus Stand, I took another local bus that dropped me near the Old Bus Stand, and from there I walked my way to the temple. You can also take an auto to the Big Temple. Auto will take around 80 INR, but you have to bargain hard.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

Best Time to Visit:

Winter seasons are the best time to visit. As the summers in the southern part of India are quite hot, it becomes difficult to roam around the temple complex. Also, try to visit the temple early in the morning or in the late afternoon. At noon, the place becomes quite hot and you have to walk barefoot in the temple complex.

Bathing of Nandi is a ritual that takes place here every 15 days. This is also a spectacle to watch.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

Places to Stay:

Thanjavur has some decent hotels where you can stay. You can also stay at Trichy which is a bigger town and have better accommodation options. The distance from Trichy to Thanjavur is around 57 km and takes around an hour.

Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

Some useful tips:

  1. Wear light and comfortable clothes.
  2. Carry your water bottle
  3. Visit the temple early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the scorching heat.
  4. Photography is prohibited inside the main temple and the Ammam Shrine.

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Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

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