The Peruvudaiyar Koyil or Brihadeeswarar Temple (Tamil: பெருவுடையார் கோயில்), also known as Rajarajeswaram,at Thanjavur in the Indianstate of Tamil Nadu, is the world’s first complete granite temple and a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Cholas kingdom Vishwakarmas in dravidian temple architecture. It is a tribute and a reflection of the power of its patron RajaRaja Chola I. It remains as one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture. The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples”.
This temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The ‘Vimana’ – or the temple tower – is 216 ft (66 m) high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. TheKalash or ‘Chikharam’ (apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is not carved out of a single stone as widely believed. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high. The entire temple structure is made out of hard granite stones, a material sparsely available currently in Thanjavur area where the temple is located.
Built in 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola in Thanjavur, Brihadishwara Temple also popularly known as the ‘Big Temple’ has turned 1000 years in 2010
The temple complex sits on the banks of a river that was channeled to make a moat around the complex’s outer walls, the walls being built like a fortress. The complex is made up of many structures that are aligned axially. The complex can be entered either on one axis through a five-story gopuram or with a second access directly to the huge main quadrangle through a smaller free-standing gopuram. The massive size of the main sikhara (although it is hollow on the inside and not meant to be occupied), is 63 meters in height, with 16 severely articulated stories, and dominates the main quadrangle. Pilaster, piers, and attached columns are placed rhythmically covering every surface of the shikhara.
The main temple is in the center of the spacious quadrangle composed of a sanctuary, a Nandi, a pillared hall and an assembly hall (mandapas), and many sub-shrines. The most important part of the temple is the inner mandapa which is surrounded by massive walls that are divided into different levels by sharply cut sculptures and pilasters providing deep bays and recesses. Each side of the sanctuary has a bay emphasizing the principle cult icons. Thekaruvarai, a Tamil word meaning the interior of thesanctum sanctorum, is the inner most sanctum and focus of the temple where an image of the primarydeity, Shiva, resides. Inside is a huge stone linga Literally the word Karuvarai means “womb chamber” from Tamil wordKaru for foetus. Only priests are allowed to enter this inner most chamber. In the Dravida style, the Karuvarai takes the form of a miniature vimana with other features exclusive to southern Indian temple architecture such as the inner wall together with the outer wall creating a pradakshina around the garbhagriha for circumambulation (pradakshina). The entrance is highly decorated. The inside chamber housing the image of the god is the sanctum sanctorum, the garbhagriha. The garbhagriha is square and sits on a plinth, its location calculated to be a point of total equilibrium and harmony as it is representative of a microcosm of the universe. In the center is placed the image of the deity. The royal bathing-hall where Rajaraja the great gave gifts is located to the east of the hall of Irumudi-Soran.
The circumambulation winds around the massive lingam in the garbhagriha and is repeated in an upper story, presenting the idea that Chola Empire freely offered access to the gods.
The inner mandapa leads out to a rectangular mandapa and then to a twenty-columned porch with three staircases leading down. Sharing the same stone plinth is a small openmandapa dedicated to Nandi, Shiva’s sacred bull mount.
The full view of the temple
The temple is made up of 130,000 tons of granite. The 60-metre tall vimana is the tallest in South India. A European-like figure which is carved on the vimana is believed to be an ancient warning of the arrival of the British. Later investigations by archaeologists proposed that this carving may be a hoax. It is widely believed that the shadow of the gopuram never falls on the ground. However, some scholars have dismissed this as a myth.
The shikhara of the temple is made from a single 80-tonne piece of granite. This magnificent temple was built in just five years, (between 1004 AD and 1009 AD) during the reign of Rajaraja Chola.
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