Thanjavur Temple Or Brihadeeswarar Temple
Sri Brihadeeswara temple, it is said , was the dream project of the great Chola emperor, Raja Raja (984-1014). And literally so, for the temple was the result of a command he had received from the Lord in a dream. Also known as Rajarajeswaram, after the emperor, the temple is built entirely of granite, which must have been transported from long distances, as the stone is not known to be available in the Thanjavur area. Construction of the temple no a World Heritage Site began in 1003, and was completed five years later, in 1008.
Popularly known as the Big temple, this shrine for Lord Shiva is an outstanding example of Chola architecture. The shrine also defies the usual temple-building norm of a tall gopuram at the entrance and a smaller vimanam (tower) over the sanctum. Here the vimanam soars to a hight of 66 metres (216 feet), while the main gopuram, the so called Rajagopuram, and the one immediately after it, are both stuned. The 14-tiered pyramid shaped vimanam rises form a square base and is topped by a huge cupola, carved out of an 81.3 tonne block of granite. The temple is a testimony of Chola power, grandeur and wealth. It was here that most major royal ceremonies, including the anointing of all the later Chola emperors, took place.
The two short gopurams at the entrance contain exquisite sculptures, notable among them being the depiction of Krishna with the gopikas, a favourite in most Vishnu temples, replicated here as well. Past these gopurams, opposite the temple proper, is the huge, shining nandi, seated in a specially-made mandapam, in front of the main temple. The nandi, 5.45m (18feet) tall, almost as long, and nearly 3m (over eight feet) wide, chiselled out of a single rock, is said to be the second largest in India. The nandi is a later addition, though: the contribution of Sevappa Nayak.
A flight of stairs leads us to the main temple, which can be accessed through side entrances also. Here again, as in Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the height is such that only a deluge of epic proportions would threaten the sanctum. There are in all six mandapas, including the maha mandapa and e vadya mandapa, and seven entrances. All the entrances are guarded by dwarapalakas.
The gigantic Mahalingam in the shrine is 3.7m tall, one of the biggest in India. The Lingam is said to be cast in granite, procured, reportedly, from the Narmada riverbed. Elegant sculptures of the Hindu pantheon are depicted in the central shrine in various proportions. The vimanam soaring over this is known as the Dakshina Meru. The inside of this mammoth vimanam is said to be hollow. The northern and southern walls, surrounding the sanctum, contain some exquisite frescoes the rival those in the Ajanta caves. The first floor is embellished with figures of dancers, depicting the 108 poses of the classical Bharathanatyam. As you come out through the side entrance, you notice giant-sized dwarapalakas flanking it everything about this temple is gigantic.
The sub-shrines for Ganesa, Subramanya and Goddess Brihannayaki, built asymmetrically flanking the main shrine, are said to be later additions. Considering everything, the symmetry, geometry, etc., one can describe the massively-fortified temple as a symphony in stone.
How to reach Tanjore
Thanjavur can be accessed by road and rail. Trichy (50km) is the nearest airport. Thanjavur is well covered by buses from all over Tamil Nadu. Its railway junction receives trains from Madurai, Trichy, Chennai, Bangalore, etc.
Accommodation: Plenty of quality lodging to suit all budgets.