A study in Oriental architecture or history is certainly incomplete without a mention of the Tanjore Brihadeeshwara Temple or the Tanjore Periya Kovil (Big Temple). This imposing structure was built by Raja Raja Cholan and his sister Kundavai, both ardent devotees of Lord Shiva. It was constructed by the King at the height of the Chola reign to signify his power and strength. Here are a few facts not known about this Chola temple of Thanjavur:
a) The original name of the deity was Rajarajeshwar. It was the Marathas who gave it the name Brihadeeshwara or the Great Ishwara.
b) The main temple is entirely built of granite. More than 130,000 tons of granite is said to have been used to build it.
c) A long associated myth with this temple temple is that the shadow of the main structure does not fall on the ground. However, this has been proven wrong by scientists.
d) The statue of Nandi at the entrance of the temple is carved out of a single stone.
e) The main Vimanam, which is at about 200 feet is often called Dakshin Meru or Southern Meru.
f) The inspiration to build the temple came to Raja Raja Cholan during his visit to Sri Lanka and is a result of a dream he had.
g) The temple has a portrait of Raja Raja Cholan paying obeisance to Lord Natarajar. This is undoubtedly, the first ever instance of a royal portrait.
h) Inscriptions in the temple point towards Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan as the chief architect of the temple. His successors survive to this day and practice the art of Vastu or Vastu Shastra.
i) Depictions of nartakis or dancers showing eighty one of hundred and eight karanas (synchronised movements of hands and feet) in Bharata Natyam are carved here. These karanas are a part of karanas mentioned in the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni or Sage Bharata. There is also evidence that the temple was a platform for talented dancers to showcase their talent. These depictions are first of their kind.
j) The inscriptions also mention the different kinds of jewels used in the period. Each of these jewels are mentioned in detail. A total of twenty three different types of pearls, eleven varieties of diamonds and rubies are mentioned in these inscriptions.
What astounds historians is that there was not a single granite quarry in about 100 km radius of the temple. This means that transporting these stones would have been a herculean task. But Raja Raja Cholan insisted on the use of these stones. All of these features make this Chola temple of Tanjore, a magnum opus of the Chola reign.
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