Pankajnath Tiwari :-
The Brihadisvara Temple, also known as the Brihadeeswarar Temple or Peruvudaiyar Kovil, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. It is one of the most significant and largest temples built during the Chola dynasty in the 11th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is renowned for its grand architecture, intricate carvings, and the massive tower, or vimana, that dominates its structure.
The story of the Brihadisvara Temple is deeply rooted in the history and legacy of the Chola dynasty. It is said that the temple was constructed under the reign of Emperor Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985 to 1014 AD. The temple was built to commemorate the king’s victory over various territories and to showcase the Cholas’ power and devotion to Lord Shiva.
The construction of the temple was overseen by the renowned architect Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan, who is believed to have been a skilled and dedicated artisan. The construction of the temple took several years and involved the contribution of a large workforce, including artisans, sculptors, architects, and craftsmen.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Brihadisvara Temple is its towering vimana, which stands at around 216 feet (66 meters) tall. It is one of the tallest temple towers in India and is made entirely of granite. The vimana is a symbol of the grandeur and magnificence of the Chola architecture, showcasing their engineering prowess and devotion to Lord Shiva.
The temple complex itself is vast and includes several structures such as the main sanctum, pillared halls, courtyards, and various smaller shrines dedicated to different deities. The walls of the temple are adorned with intricate carvings depicting mythological scenes, religious stories, and various aspects of Chola life, making it a living testament to their artistic achievements.
One of the most famous sculptures within the temple is the massive Nandi statue, a sacred bull that serves as the vahana (vehicle) of Lord Shiva. This Nandi statue is carved out of a single stone and is positioned in front of the main sanctum.
Chola Dynasty and Rajaraja Chola I: The Chola dynasty was one of the most powerful and influential dynasties in South India, known for its administrative skills, military prowess, and patronage of art and culture. Emperor Rajaraja Chola I, also known as Raja Raja Chola I, was a prominent ruler of the Chola dynasty. He is credited with commissioning the construction of the Brihadisvara Temple, which was completed around 1010 AD.
Architectural Brilliance: The Brihadisvara Temple is a prime example of Dravida style of architecture, a distinctive South Indian architectural style characterized by its towering vimanas, intricate carvings, and pyramidal shape of the main shrine. The temple is constructed using interlocking stones without the use of mortar, a technique known as “dry construction.”
Unique Shadow Phenomenon: One of the most fascinating aspects of the temple’s architecture is its ability to create a unique shadow phenomenon during specific times of the year. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the temple’s shadow falls exactly in a straight line, without tapering, creating an awe-inspiring sight for visitors.
Great Living Chola Temples: The Brihadisvara Temple is part of a group of three temples known as the “Great Living Chola Temples.” The other two temples are the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram and the Gangaikonda Cholapuram. These temples collectively received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987, recognizing their cultural significance and outstanding universal value.
Preservation Efforts: Over the centuries, the temple has faced natural calamities and human interventions. However, significant restoration and conservation efforts have been undertaken by various authorities to preserve this architectural marvel for future generations.
Cultural Significance: Besides its religious importance, the Brihadisvara Temple has played a crucial role in the preservation and promotion of various art forms, including dance, music, and sculpture. The temple’s sculptures and carvings depict scenes from Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, providing valuable insights into ancient mythology and cultural practices.
Annual Festivals: The temple continues to be a center of religious activities and hosts several festivals throughout the year. The Mahashivaratri festival, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is celebrated with great enthusiasm and draws devotees from far and wide to participate in the festivities.
Granite Monolith: The main structure of the temple, including the towering vimana, is made entirely of granite. This is a remarkable feat considering that the nearest source of granite is located around 50 kilometers away from the temple site. Historians and architects are still in awe of how the Cholas managed to transport such massive stones and assemble them with precision.
Hidden Nataraja: Among the exquisite carvings on the walls of the temple, there is a unique hidden gem – a carving of Lord Nataraja. The famous “Dancing Shiva” sculpture is found on the inner wall of the main sanctum, not visible to the general public. Only during specific occasions or with special permission, visitors are allowed to view this well-preserved Nataraja figure.
Musical Pillars: Inside the temple’s mandapas (pillared halls), there are several pillars that produce musical sounds when struck. These pillars are known as “Saptaswara pillars” and are designed in such a way that they emit distinct musical notes representing the seven swaras (musical notes) of Indian classical music.
Floating Stone Mystery: One of the most intriguing aspects of the temple’s construction is the use of some stones that appear to be floating above the ground. The craftsmen placed these stones in such a way that a thin sheet of paper can be passed beneath them, leaving visitors astonished by the engineering prowess of the Chola artisans.
Preservation during Invasion: The Brihadisvara Temple faced several challenges during its long history, including the invasions by various dynasties and empires. Legend has it that when the Muslim ruler Malik Kafur invaded the region in the 14th century, he was so impressed by the temple’s beauty that he refrained from destroying it. Instead, he took away its valuables and riches.
Temple Architecture Influences: The architectural brilliance of the Brihadisvara Temple has had a lasting impact on temple architecture in South India. Many temples built in later centuries, including the famous temples in Madurai and Rameswaram, were influenced by the design and layout of the Brihadisvara Temple.
Astronomy and Astrology: The Brihadisvara Temple is believed to have been constructed with a deep understanding of astronomy and astrology. The alignment of the temple’s structures is said to have astronomical significance, with specific features designed to capture the first rays of the rising sun on certain important occasions.
No Shadow at Noon: An intriguing aspect of the temple’s vimana is that it does not cast a shadow at noon during certain times of the year. This phenomenon has sparked debates and studies on the temple’s architecture and its relation to celestial events.
Legend of the Missing Shadow: One of the most intriguing legends about the temple is related to its shadow phenomenon. It is believed that the temple’s architect, Raja Raja Perunthachan, constructed the vimana in such a way that its shadow never falls on the ground. According to the legend, Raja Raja Perunthachan achieved this feat by cleverly tilting the vimana’s shadow towards the gopuram (entrance tower) of the nearby Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, which he also built.
Symbolism and Cosmic Representation: The Brihadisvara Temple is believed to be a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical abode of the gods in Hindu cosmology. The vimana symbolizes the mountain peak, while the sanctum represents the celestial dwelling place of Lord Shiva. The temple’s layout and dimensions are meticulously designed to represent the cosmic order and the ancient Vedic concept of the universe.
Precise Alignment with Cardinal Directions: The Brihadisvara Temple is renowned for its precision in alignment with the cardinal directions. The main entrance faces east, ensuring that the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the main deity inside the sanctum during specific times of the year, such as the equinoxes.
Ritual Practices and Festivals: The temple follows ancient rituals and traditions, adhering to the Agamic texts (ancient temple manuals). Priests conduct daily rituals and offer prayers to Lord Shiva and other deities present in the temple. Various festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm, including Arudra Darshan, a special festival dedicated to Lord Nataraja, which attracts a large number of devotees.
Depiction of Social and Cultural Life: The temple’s intricate carvings provide a fascinating glimpse into the social and cultural life of the Chola era. The carvings depict scenes of daily life, including music and dance performances, various occupations, trade, and architectural marvels of the time.
Temple Inscriptions: The Brihadisvara Temple contains numerous inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha scripts, providing valuable historical information about the Chola dynasty, its rulers, and the temple’s construction. These inscriptions have been instrumental in understanding the political, cultural, and economic aspects of the Chola period.
Contribution to UNESCO World Heritage List: The inclusion of the “Great Living Chola Temples” on the UNESCO World Heritage List has not only recognized their cultural significance but also raised awareness about their preservation and protection. UNESCO’s recognition has led to increased efforts to safeguard and maintain these ancient architectural wonders.
Modern-Day Celebrations: In addition to its historical and religious significance, the Brihadisvara Temple plays a significant role in modern-day cultural events. The annual Natyanjali Dance Festival is held in the temple premises, attracting renowned dancers from all over India who pay tribute to Lord Nataraja through the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.