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Brihadeeswarar Temple Visit

by Lakshmi Menon
(Bangalore, India)

A Glorious Morning at Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple

Brihadeeswarar temple is located in Thanjavur in the south bank of River Kaveri, in the State of Tamil Nadu. It is also called as Big Temple and locally known as Periya Kovil. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with two other living temples - Gangaikondacholesvara Temple and Airavateswara Temple.

It was built by King Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 and 1010 A.D. King Raja Raja I was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. This temple, standing in the centre of Thanjavur, is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is known here as Rajarajeshwara.

The Chola kings and all the subsequent rulers of Thanjavur had one thing in common - patronage of the arts and crafts. They transformed Thanjavur into a distinguished cultural hub that continues to nurture artisans and performers.

As advised by some friends, we reached there by 9 a.m before the sun’s heat was unbearable. Otherwise it could become too difficult to walk barefoot on the stones. Like any other Hindu temples, all are required to remove the slippers before entering the temple. There is a long slipper stand at the entrance to deposit your slippers for free and collect the token. 

Gazing, I stood there for a few moments before the amazing structure of the mighty temple. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull) carved out of a single rock at the entrance. This monolythic  Nandi weighs 25 tons! 

The walls of the temple were built like a fortress, which were later built by the subsequent rulers.  There are several Lingas around the Praharam. The temple complex is called Rajarajesvaram which is encompassed by a smaller fort called Sivaganga fort. There are three main gopurams in the temple known as Keralantakan, Rajarajan and Thiruvanakkam. All of them are guarded by ferocious Dwarapalakas. The main gopuram is Keralantakan which leads into another gopuram (Rajarajan) which opens to a large central area where the main shrine and other shrines are housed. The gopuram on the northern side is Thiruvunakkam.

The temple is over 1000 years old and has withstood numerous earthquakes. It has the tallest vimana (temple tower) in the world, measuring 216 feet. The temple is covered in intricate designs and sculptures.This engineering marvel is the world’s first granite temple which portrays the temple architecture of Cholas. Other highlights are musical pillars and murals from the Chola dynasty. You can also find ancient Tamil scriptures in the gopuram.

The main deity of this temple is Lord Brihadeeswara (Lord Shiva - 13 feet huge Shivlingam) and Goddess Periyanayaki (Parvathi). The other deities here are – Lord Vishnu, Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Saraswathi, Goddess Mahalakshmi, Lord Subramanya, Lord Narasimha etc.

Though it is a Heritage site, regular pujas are performed here. The temple complex is open daily from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. However, the inner sanctum remains closed daily between noon and 4 p.m.

While leaving the place we were wondering what to buy from Thanjavur. Thanjavur is most renowned for its unique paintings and dancing dolls and we bought one from the shop in the temple premises. (next to the slipper stand).

A trip to Thanjavur is not complete without the visit of Brihadeeswarar temple.

Please note that there is no entry fee.

A video about our visit to this temple will be uploaded shortly.

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