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Thanjavur Periya Koyil

Tanjore Big Temple
Tanjur Big Temple

Thanjavur (more popularly called Tanjore) is world famous for its World Heritage Brihadishwara Temple known by the locals as the Big Temple. Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola Kings who at the height of their power ruled over most of the Indian Peninsula and Sri Lanka and parts of the Malay Peninsula, and Sumatra. Thanjavur is known as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu and you will see numerous rice paddies as you drive to the town.

The Brihadishwara Temple was built by the great Chola Emperor Raja Raja in the later tenth/ early eleventh century. The Temple is a fine example of Dravidian temple architecture. The tower over the sanctum sanctorum soars high (64.5 meters) and is topped by a huge monolithic cupola carved out from an 80 tonnes block of granite. An interesting story goes that an inclined plane was built so that an elephant could roll the block all the way to the top to install it. As an elephant cannot walk backwards another plane was built on the other side for the elephant to return to the ground. Whether, it happened or not, it makes a great story. It is indeed a great feat of engineering. All the more as the construction, was done in such a way that the shadow of the cupola never falls on the ground. The sanctum sanctorum has a four meter high lingam with a circumference of 7 meters. The inner walls of the temple have the many mudras (poses) of Bharatnatyam (classical Indian dance) portrayed by dancing damsels. Perhaps the sculptors did this as Shiva the presiding deity is also the God of Dance (Natraja).

Tanjore Big Temple Tower
Tanjur Big Temple Tower


There are spacious grounds around the temple with 250 lingams along the outer walls. A huge Nandi (Shiva’s bull and favored mode of transport) sits facing the temple. Weighing over 25 tons, it is perhaps India’s largest Nandi. The temple is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India while worship is conducted by priests employed by the erstwhile rulers of Thanjavur.

You must visit the Thanjavur Palace and Museum which has a fine collection of royal memorabilia. Next to the Palace is the Art Gallery which has a wonderful collection of Chola bronze statues ranging from the 9th to the 18th century. Saraswati Mahal Library which lies in between the Palace Museum and Art gallery has over 30,000 palm leaf and paper manuscripts in several European and Indian languages. Scholars can visit the library to conduct research. The Royal Museum has the Epic Ramayana written on palm leaf a rare manuscript indeed.

Thanjavur or Tanjore is famous for the Tanjore Paintings – a unique style of paintings on glass with gold leaf and semi-precious stone embellishment. Krishna is the deity most often depicted in the paintings. The Tanjore Plate is also a good souvenir from here. It is a carved bronze plate with silver highlights.

The Schwartz Church (1779) dedicated to the Danish Rev Schwartz of the Danish mission seems out of place in this temple town as it sits in the Palace gardens.

A free cultural program is held at the Big Temple on every second and fourth Saturday (weather permitting) so if you are there for a visit don’t miss it.

Click here to see the Panaromic view of Tanjor Big Temple. (courtesy Hameermul, Ashok. http://www.thanjavur.com)

Click here to watch a video about Rajaraja the Great and Big Temple


 
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