Tamilnadu in India is well known for its ancient temples which are no less than architectural gems, to say the least. It is home to more than 33000 temples. YES! You heard me right, 33000 temples which earned this state its label the “Land of Temples”. Out of these many temples, more than half of them are 800 to 2000 year old. Tamilnadu also boasts of housing most of the biggest temples in India. Among those, the Brihadiswara Temple or popularly known as the Tanjore Big Temple in Tamilnadu stands out with its ginormous structure and spectacular architecture. It is one of the ancient temples in India and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one among the Three God heads in Hinduism. A fine exemplar of the ancient Dravidian architecture, this piece of art was built by the great Raja Raja Chola I in the year 1010 AD. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.
History remembers the Cholas for their outstanding contribution to the ancient Indian architecture scene which puts even the modern architects to shame. The Brihadeeswarar temple is their masterpiece. It is declared as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO under the “Great Living Chola Temples” along with the other Cholan marvels such as the Airavateeswarar Temple and the Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple in Tamilnadu.
This 216 feet high structure is made of whopping 130,000 tons of granite. Considering the fact that there are no mountains or any rock formations for nearly 60 km around Tanjore city, it still puzzles the historians and the architects, the means by which these many tons of granite was brought to the site. How come these rocks ended up here? Some say a group of 3000 elephants were used to carry these granites from far off lands.
Another surprising fact about this intricate architecture is the technique used in building it. The whole structure is made by the interlocking method, which means one rock kept over the other. There is literally nothing between the stones, no cement or any kind of adhesives. Fascinating, isn’t it? There is more coming. You know the very foundation of this gigantic structure is made without digging a single grain of sand and yet is so strong that it kept the whole temple straight with 0 inclination for more than 1000 years.
The most striking feature of the temple is its beautiful carved out Vimana. The top of the Vimana, which is called the Kumbam weighs around 81000 Kgs. How could somebody place this heavy stone at the top? Well, as per the historians and the localites, a 6 km long ramp was made adjacent to the temple and with the help of horses this stone was carried to the top of the temple Vimana. Amazing! No words.
Apart from its massive structure and detailed well worked out sculptures, the Cholans have also made a large number Tamil inscriptions on the temple. These inscriptions detail the reader on the temple’s construction, the daily rituals to be carried out, the various offerings to be made to the deity and even the whole story of how the king Raja Raja Chola I planned and executed the construction of this splendid structure in granite.
No doubt, the Brihadeshwara temple is one of the most beautiful and biggest temples in the world. Make a visit to the Big Temple in Tamilnadu and see for yourself. Admire the brilliance of our ancestors while you explore and enjoy this architectural wonder on Earth.
More interesting facts about the Tanjore Temple
The Shiva Lingam of the Big Temple in Tamilnadu is the world’s largest of its kind. There is a 13 feet tall Nandi [Lord Shiva’s Bull] Statue located outside the main temple structure, which is carved out of a single stone. This is yet another brilliance of the Brihadeeswarar Temple. Adding more to its structural beauty, you would come across a lot of finely detailed paintings of Lord Shiva and other gods, Asuras [demons] and animals which inspired the world famous Thanjavur Paintings. Painted using natural dyes, these impressive work of art still remain intact even after 1000 years.
Also, on the main temple structure, we could spot 2 figures which definitely does not look Indian. As per the historians, those are of two European men, one English and the other of a French which indicates the overseas connection of the Cholas during the period.
By road: Tanjore or Thanjavur is 60 km from the city of Trichy or Tiruchirappalli and 350 km from the capital city Chennai. There are frequent buses connecting Trichy to Tanjore and Chennai to Tanjore. Else, hire a taxi and head to Tanjore city. From the city, it is 1 km to the Tanjore temple.
By Rail: Tanjore is connected to all major cities in India by rail. You can easily catch a train to Chennai and then to Tanjore.
By Air: There is no airport at Thanjavur, however, the Trichy airport is just 65 kms from Thanjavur. Fly to Chennai and board a connecting flight to Trichy. From there hire a cab to reach the Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur.