General


Thanjavur Periya kovil (also known as Brihadeeswarar temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as RajaRajeswara Temple Rajarajeswaram and Brihadeshwara Temple. It is one of the largest temples in India and is an example of Tamil architecture during the Chola period. Built by Raja Raja Chola I and completed in 1010 CE, the temple turned 1000 years old in 2010.The architect and engineer of the temple, Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan is revered today as a father figure to all craftsmen in his homeland of present-day Central Kerala. The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Great Living Chola Temples”, with the other two being the Brihadeeswarar Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temple.

Period


The Brihadeshwarar temple was built to grace the throne of the Chola empire by the Tamil emperor Arulmozhivarman, popularly called Rajaraja Chola I, in compliance to a command given to him in a dream. One of the first great Tamil Chola building projects, the temple’s foundations were laid out in 1002 CE. An axial and symmetrical geometry rules the temple layout. Temples from this period and the following two centuries are an expression of the Tamilars (Chola) wealth, power and artistic expertise. The emergence of such features as the multifaceted columns with projecting square capitals signal the arrival of the new Chola style.

Architecture


The architect and engineer of the temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama Perunthachan as stated in inscriptions found at the temple. The solid base of the temple raises about 5 metres (16 feet), above which stone deities and representatives of Shiva dance. The big Nandi (bull), weighing about 20 tonnes is made of a single stone and is about 2 m in height, 6 m in length and 2.5 m in width. The presiding deity of lingam is 3.7m tall. The prakaram (outer precincts of the temple) measures 240m by 125m. The outer wall of the upper storey is carved with 108 dance karanas – postures of Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The shrine of Goddess was added by Pandyas during the 13th century, Subramanya Shrine by Vijayanagara rulers and the Vinayaka shrine was renovated by Maratha rulers. There were significant additions from the Thanjavur Nayaks.

Millennium Commemoration


Built in the year 1010 CE by Raja Raja Chola in Thanjavur, Brihadeeswarar Temple popularly known as the ‘Big Temple’ turned 1000 years old in September 2010. To celebrate the 1000th year of the grand structure, the state government and the town held many cultural events. It was to recall the 275th day of his 25th regal year (1010 CE) when Raja Raja Chola (985–1014 CE) handed over a gold-plated kalasam (copper pot or finial) for the final consecration to crown the vimana, the 59.82-metre tall tower above the sanctum.

Culture


Brihadeeswarar temple finds mention in many of the contemporary works of the period like Muvar Ula and Kalingathuparani. The temple believed to have emerged as a centre of social, economical and political activities. Cultural activities like music, dance and art in the form of bronzes were encouraged and staged in the temple.Experts believe that the Dravidian architecture attained its supreme form of expression in the temple and it successor, the Brihadeeswarar Temple, Gangaikondacholapuram. The temple is declared as a heritage monument and administered by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument. The temple is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Tamil Nadu. The temple is declared a CE UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Brihadeeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram that are referred as the Great Living Chola Temples. The temple was added to the list of Great Living Chola Temples in the year 2004. All of the three temples were built by the Cholas between the 10th and 12th centuries CE and have a lot of similarities. The temples are classified as “Great Living Chola temples” as the temples are alive in cultural aspects and worship practises in modern times. Kalki, a renowned Tamil novelist, has written a historical novel named Ponniyin Selvan, based on the life of Raja Raja Chola I. Balakumaran, another Tamil author has written a novel named Udaiyar themed on the life of Raja Raja Chola I and the construction of the Brihadeeswarar temple.