Brihadisvara Temple

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  • Topic: Shiva, Raja Raja Chola I
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By,
Pankaj Kumar Nanda
History of Art, 1st SEM

INTRODUCTION
The three centuries that followed the advent of stone as the fabric of construction of temples of vimana type in south and prasada type of north in India, witnessed remarkable strides in architecture and sculpture with the almost simultaneous collation and codification of the Vastu, Silpa and Agama canons, as developed and systematised by different guilds and schools of ‘Silpacharyas’ or Perum-tachchhars and the religions creeds that flourished developing thoughts, concepts, rituals and tenets. Thus in the period between the 10th-12th centuries A.D, some remarkably great temples that came to be built in different parts of India, including Tamil Nadu, which mark the crescendo in architectural and sculptural achievement. Peru-Udaiyar temple or the ‘Great Temple’ of Thanjavur, stands out , because of its great size as also the perfect balance between architecture and concomitant sculpture. THE first sight that greets a visitor to Thanjavur is the majestic ‘vimana’ (the tower above a temple's sanctum sanctorum) of the Rajarajesvaram temple. The vimana and the gopurams (towers above the gateway) soaring skyward add to the temple's resplendent glory. A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Monument, the 1,000-year-old temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Although it was originally called “Rajarajesvaramudaiyar temple”, it came to be known as Brihadisvara (brihan in Sanskrit means big), or the Big Temple, during the Nayaka and Maratta rule because of the gigantic proportions of its vimana, linga, Nandi (sacred bull) and dvarapalas (doorkeepers). Exactly 1,000 years ago, Emperor Raja raja Chola I, the greatest monarch of the Chola dynasty, ordered the building of the “imperial monument” of Rajarajesvaram. It was on the 275th day of his 25th regnal year (1010) that Raja raja Chola (who ruled from 985-1014 Common Era) handed over a gold-plated kalasam (copper pot or finial) to crown the vimana. An inscription in Tamil in the temple talks about the handing over of the pot.

The temple-complex is replete with inscriptions, and again, noted for the fine calligraphy, and wealth of details. They relate to the origin of temple and the varied endowments to it. TEMPLE COMPLEX

The temple complex is called ‘Rajarajeswaram’ after its founder, the great Chola monarch Rajaraja I It is encompassed by the smaller fort called the Sivaganga fort believed to have been built by Sevappa Nayaka. There are three main entrances to the shrine called the Keralantakam, Rasarasan and Tiruanukkam. All the three entrances are guarded by Dwarapalakas or ferocious doorkeepers of huge proportions, all monoliths. The main entrance called ‘Keralantakam’, so named to commemorate Rajaraja’s victory over the Chera king, leads to a majestic gopura measuring 90 feet in height. This second entrance, called ‘Rasarasan’ opens into a large central area housing the main shrine and the unique sub-shrines built during various successive stages of history. The outer part of the gopura contains the magnificent sculpture of Shiva seated in sukhasana and many scenes from the Shivapurana. The northern entrance to the temple complex is called ‘Tiruanukkam’. Though it does not have a gopura over it, some sculptures of women holding auspicious objects such as kalasams etc. can be seen here. It is thought to have been embellished in the Kerala style with wooden pavilions overlaid with gold leaf in ancient times.

The main shrine housing the unique and extraordinary shivalinga resonates with the serene power of its majestic scale and imposing proportions. It is divided into five areas, namely the Garbhagriha or the sanctum, the ArhdaMandapa or the corridor encircling the sanctum, the Maha-Mahamandapa or the open aisle-like area, the Stapana-Mahamandapaor the structure that houses the shrine of Tyagaraja and the...
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