Unlike other South Indian temples, Brihadishvara Temple, also called Rajarajesvaram in Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu is unique in many respects. Built by Tamil king Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 and 1010 AD, the temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Great Living Chola Temples” and is a true example of Dravidian architecture. Do you know why this temple is considered as one of the greatest achievements of our ancient architects?
This temple is a testimony to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. The Brihadeshvara temple plan and development utilizes the axial and symmetrical geometry rules.
Built out of granite, the vimana tower above the sanctum is one of the tallest in South India. It was, though not conclusively proved, one of the tallest structures in the world at the time of its construction.
A massive colonnaded prakara with sub-shrines dedicated to the ashatadikpalaks and a main entrance with gopura (known as Rajarajantiruvasal) encompasses the massive temple. The sanctum itself occupies the centre of the rear half of the rectangular court. The vimana soars to a height of 59.82meters over the ground. This grand elevation is punctuated by a high upapitha, adhisthana with bold mouldings; the ground tier (prastara) is divided into two levels, carrying images of Siva. Over this rises the 13 talas (storeys) and is surmounted by an octagonal sikhara. There is a circumambulatory path all around the sanctum housing a massive linga. The temple walls are embellished with expansive and exquisite mural paintings. Eighty-one of the one hundred and eight karanas, posed in Baharatanatya,are carved on the walls of second bhumi around the garbhagriha.
The sri-vimana towers above in thirteen talas. Above these talas is a single square block of granite weighing 80 tons, and 7.77 metres (25.5 ft) side. On top of this block, at its corners are Nandi pairs each about 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in) by 1.68 metres (5 ft 6 in) in dimension. Above the center of this granite block rises the griva, the sikhara and the finial (stupi) of Tamil Hindu temple architecture. This stupi is 3.81 metres (12.5 ft) in height, and was originally covered with gold but no longer. The sikhara at the top is cupola-shaped and weighs 25 tons.
Around the main temple that is dedicated to Shiva, are smaller shrines, most of which are aligned axially. The Nandi (bull) mandapam has a monolithic seated bull facing the sanctum. In between them are stairs leading to a columned porch and community gathering hall, then an inner mandapa connecting to the pradakshina patha, or circumambulation path. The Nandi facing the mukh-mandapam weighs about 25 tonnes. It is made of a single stone and is about 2 m in height, 6 m in length and 2.5 m in width. The image of Nandi is a monolithic one and is one of the largest in the country.
Thus, South Indian style is fully realized both in scale and detail in this temple of Chola era.