On the either side of the Highway are Lush green paddy fields far and wide, we are now entering the rice bowl of ‘Tamil Nadu’ and the roads lead to the ancient city of Tanjore. Named after an Asura who was killed at the place; this city even after a thousand years is bustling with activity and devotion. Tanjore is today identified for the Brihadeshwara Temple, a superstructure dedicated to lord Shiva.
Thanjavur first came to prominence as the capital city of Rajaraja, the greatest of the Cholas. At his peak he ruled over an empire whose area spanned more than that of India, conquering many south east Asian countries. The might of conquests led to prosperity of the Chola kingdom, in turn sponsoring many a grand temples. There can be found Chola temples in places as far away as Bangalore. It was in Thanjavur that the most magnificent and spectacular of their temples Periya Kovil also known as the Brihadeshwara was erected. A high domed temple with beautiful carving on it walls. The temple today still lies at the heart of the city like it must have at its heyday. Most of the structures standing today like the surrounding walls were not built by the Chola’s. They were added much later by the likes of the Nayaks and the Marathas. They do not figure in the list of architectural marvels, instead it is pretty ordinary when compared to any other South Indian temple. What stands out is the central granite complex with its towering Gopuram(the dome). The Gopuram rises with a tapering end, with a 13 ft Vimana carved from a single stone at the top. The slant of the Gopuram is decorated with carvings of mini Vimanas(tip of the Gopuram right above the inner sanctum) on layers of platform like protrusions. It is as if these are sub structures or lego parts of the whole. The sight of the Gopura even from a distance evokes a surreal feeling. The architecture rivals the gopuram of Madurai in size and sculptures of Belur in complexity. one wonders how such a structure could have been erected at such a height at a time when technology was very primitive. The secret of Brihadeshwara’s construction is simple but definitely not easy. Gradually ascending roads from as far as 9km away were built so that artisans could work at the desired height and required building material would reach through carts and horses. Taking into account that all this feat was achieved ten centuries ago makes this architecture a wonder to ponder over. The base of the sanctum is decorated with an inscription of records, laws and tributes. Much of what we know about the Cholas come from similar writings found in the various temples.This is proof to how life during the Cholas revolved around the temple.
Among the sculptures of the temples, an interesting one is that of the Buddha attaining Nirvana under the Bodhi tree. Something which immediately strikes as ‘out of place’. The story goes that RajaRaja built the Big temple after he had a dream when he was on a campaign in the Buddhist city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Hence the sculpture evokes the memory of the fateful dream. Dusk is the best time to visit the temple as the scorching south Indian sun would have calmed and the temple takes on a magnificent orange glow. To add to it are thousands of pilgrims who flock to the temple like their ancestors must have for a millennium. For them it is more of a holy site and less of a historical one. The center of their devotion is the 13ft Linga placed in the holy inner sanctum. The inner architecture of the temple follows a complete anti pattern of it external looks, made of plain uniform granite. As if intentionally kept blank to remind everyone that the all powerful lord would not care less for your grand structure of ego. Making way through a small crowd, one catches a glimpse of the Linga, the center of attraction in Tanjore for over a thousand years. It is at this moment one is transported back to the kingdom of the Cholas,and a city of Godliness and glory. Such is the Brihadeshwara that it is a place of spirituality interwoven with history with an almost mythical grandeur. With Vibes of Power, Ego and Tragedy, there is also peace to be found, if that is what one seeks.
Note:Thanks to Sharath,Ajay and Pai for the help with proof reading.