Temple Name – Brihadeeswarar Temple (Big Temple)
Main deity – Brihadeeswarar (Lord Siva)
Location – Thanjavur(Tanjore), Tamil Nadu, India
Aptly described as the greatest Architectural Wonder of India, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The Brihadeeswarar Temple was commissioned by the Chola King Rajaraja Chola I and the sacred dedication of the temple was done in the year 1010 A.D. The Brihadeeswarar Temple is also known as the Big Temple. King Rajaraja Chola had named the temple as Rajarajesvaram.
Lord Shiva is the principal deity of the temple and is known as Brihadisvara or the Lord of the Universe. Chola King, Rajaraja Chola named the temple as Peruvudaiyar and it was the Maratha Kings who named the deity as Brihadisvara.
The other major deities worshipped in the temple are as follows:
o Lord Vishnu
o Goddess Durga
o Lord Ganesha
o Goddess Lakshmi
The inscriptions on the walls of the Brihadeeswarar Temple aptly records the contemporary age. A detailed account of the society as well as the economy of the age is discovered through the deciphering of the inscriptions. The representations of Gods and Goddesses can also be found in the inscriptions of the temple such as that of Tripurantaka, Ganesha, Nataraja and Devi. The architecture of the temple reflects the best aspects of both the Dravida as well as the Nagara styles. The entrance Gopura of the temple is especially lofty and exquisite in form. The shikhara of the Brihadeeswarar Temple is the tallest in the southern part of India. The walls of the Pradakshinapata in the temple once narrated the events of Chola King Rajaraja-I’s period through the usage of wall paintings.
As per the inscriptions found in the temple, the Brihadeeswarar Temple was built by the Chola King Rajaraja-I in Thanjavur, the capital of the Chola kingdom and was completed on 1010 A.D. Later a copper pot was added onto the tower of the temple by Rajaraja Chola-II. Even the Pandyas, the Nayaks and the Marathas have added value onto the temple. Built in accordance to the Makuda Agama Sastra, the Brihadeeswarar Temple’s chief architect was Veera Chola Kunjara Mallan, who was also known as Rajaraja Perunthatchan. The Keralaanthagan Gopuram was built by Rajaraja Chola after his triumph over Baskararavivarma, the King of Kerala. This gopuram essentially symbolizes the concept of the omnipresence of God.
The establishment of the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur by King Rajaraja Chola-I marked the advent of the Bhakti culture in southern India. The temple was at the epicenter of the Adavallan (Nataraja) worship of the Cholas. The temple also inculcated an ambience of dance and music in the society and therefore in the year 2010 a huge cultural event was organized in the temple premises to recollect the initial golden years of the temple. Owing to the immense cultural and universal significance of the temple, UNESCO had enlisted it to be one of the World Heritage Sites.
Spreading across an area of 750 feet by 400 feet, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is encircled by a moat and the area enclosed by it is also known as the Sivaganga Little Fort. The temple complex consists of the Garbhagriha, Ardhamandapa, Mahamandapa and the Mukhamandapa. The complex also hosts the Prakara, Outer Prakara and the Adhisthana. The three gateways or Gopurams of the temple are Rajarajan-Tiruvasal, Keralantakan Tiruvasan and the Outer Gopuram. With a pyramidical structure and a height of 60.96 meters, the Srivimanam is visible from the open courtyard of the Rajarajan Gopuram. The structure of the Brihadeeswarar Temple is thirteen storeyed. The primary features of the main shrine of the Brihadeeswarar Temple are as follows:
- Garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum- The inner part of this area is also known as Karuvarai, literally meaning the womb chamber. The Garbhagriha is essentially square shaped.
- Stapanamandapam- consisting the shrine of Thyagarajar
The Kumbam, which is a 60 tonne granite stone lofted onto the main gopuram is also one of the most attractive features of the temple.
The major festivals celebrated in the Brihadeeswarar Temple are as follows:
- Natyanjali – Celebrated annually in the month of February, this dance festival is organized to pay obeisance to Lord Brihadeeswarar.