• With the reign of this king a new epoch in the history of south Indian architecture started. From this period onwards structural buildings alone are met with.
• Temples in the style of Rajasimha are built of stone with sometimes bricks superstructure covered with plaster and decorated in stucco.
• On plan, the shrine is a small square cell surrounded by a circumambulatory passage and faces the east. All Rajasimha temples are dedicated to Shiva, presumably in the form of Somaskanda since they all possess fluted basalt lingas and have the Somaskanda panel carved on the back wall of the shrine.
• Externally, a lofty tower rising in tiers which diminish in size as they approach the summit, is built over the central shrine, in front of which is a small porch which leads into a large pillared hall or mandapa.
• Built up against the external walls of the central shrine, are usually three or more small attendant shrines containing fluted lingas.
• The bases of the pillars and the angles of the building are decorated with conventional lions mainly executed in stucco.
• Some of the famous temples of this style are:-
• The present Shore Temple is in fact a temple complex comprising of multiple temples. The complex is dominated by two rising towers, corresponding to two different temples, dedicated to Shiva. • These two temples are set up back to back, one facing east and the other facing west, however both are not in the same axial alignment. Sandwiched between these two temples is a temple dedicated to the anantsayana, sleeping form of Vishnu. • Though these two Shiva temples are connected with the Vishnu temple, however all the three are not in a straight line. The Vishnu temple appears to be the earliest among all the three. Both the Shiva temples were constructed during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE) as attested by inscriptions. • The temple with the taller tower, facing east, is entered through a small gopuram. It is referred as Kshatriyasimha-Pallava-Ishvara-griham in inscriptions. • The garbhagrha (sanctum) is guarded by dvarapalas. A Somaskanda panel is carved in its back wall. A tall, sixteen-faceted linga, broken at the top, is installed in front of this panel. The ardha-mandapa, preceding the sanctum, has sculptures on its north and south walls, Brahma in the south and Vishnu in the north. The outer-walls of the mandapa also has sculptures, northern side is better preserved. On the north wall, there is an image of Shiva as Tripurantaka and Durga as Mahishasuramardini. • The temple facing the west has smaller tower, consisting of three stories. It is referred as Rajasimha-Pallava-Ishvara-griham in inscriptions. However, it also follows the pattern of the taller tower. The garbhagrha (sanctum), like the other temple in the complex, also has a Somaskanda panel in its back wall. There is a socket for linga in front of the panel, however linga is missing at present. • The three temples within the complex were referred as, Pallikondaruliya-devar for the Vishnu temple and the two Shiva temples as Kshatriyasimha-Pallava-Ishvara-griham and Rajasimha-Pallava-Ishvara-griham.
The Kailasanatha temple was built during the time of The Pallava dynasty, more specifically when king Rajasimha was in power and used the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram as inspiration.
• Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the lord of Mt Kailash, the Kailasanatha Temple is among the most important temples in town. The large temple complex has 60 smaller shrines, but one of the most unique aspects is the main idol of Lord Shiva, which has 16 stripes.
• Kailasantha temple is known for its stone foundation and sandstone framework. the Kailasanatha temple is considered to be one of the oldest temples that exist today amongst the many temples in Kanchipuram.
• The Kailasanatha temple is oriented from east-west, is held together within a rectangular enclosure wall and contains a sandstone shrine. The pyramidal scheme, or sikhara, shows us the development of it from the Dharmaraja ratha and the distinctive feature of Southern temples.
• The miniature shrines that cover the courtyard walls are further broken down into east and west walls and north and south walls.
• The east and west walls contain images of Somaskanda, an image of Siva with his consort and son Skanda; the north and south contain interior images including Siva’s family group or Uma on her own, and “a shallow niche on their façades to accommodate further images” .
• Another feature of the temple is in the courtyard shrine along the bases, there are over 250 titles, or birudas, for Rajasimha, which are written four times on four separate levels of the building using various script styles.
• The temple contains a main shrine, which is home to an eight-foot-tall Siva linga, and seven connected sub-shrines, which surround the outside of the main shrine. The main shrine contains important images of Siva, some of which are ten feet tall.
Vaikuntha Perumal temple is situated at Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. It was built by Pallava emperor, Nandivarman Pallavamalla in the 8th century A. D.
• This temple is famous for its unique architectural grandeur and religious importance. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
• This temple has three vertically aligned sanctum-sanctorum (garbhagrihas) situated one on top of the other. There are circumambulatory passages (pradakshina patha) in all the three sanctums.
• In the Vaikuntha Perumal temple, the religious sculptures of various incarnations of Lord Vishnu can be seen.
• The style flourished during the second half of the 9th century. It is the intermediate style between the Rajasimha period and that of the Early chola.
• The lingas are cylindrical and generally smaller than those of Mamalla period. The doorkeepers have four arms. The gable-window ornament is different in style to that of the earlier period.
• The niches in the external walls of the sanctuary are generally filled with stone images carved in high-relief or in the round. The upper portion of the temple is built of brick with ornamentation in plaster.
• Some of the famous temples are:-
According to an inscription on the wall of this temple, this was built by the queen Dharmamahadevi of Nandivarma Pallava.
• It is built on a plinth raised about 10 feet (3 metres) from the ground level and reached by a flight of steps.
• Again here, the walls are decorated with sculptures of Shiva in various forms. Its lion-pillars and pilasters confirm the builders and its dating may lie around the last quarter of the 8th century CE.
It is identical in details with the Mukteswara temple. The inscriptions here do not indicate the builder but may belong to the same period as Mukteswara.
• The Cholas predominantly ruled over the southern region of Tamil Nadu. Though they seem to have been in power since the Sangam age, they rose to prominence in the ninth century and continued to rule up to the thirteenth century.
• Vijayalaya, one of the greatest rulers of the Chola empire founded a small kingdom in Tanjavur and made it his capital. Tanjavur served as the capital of the Cholas until the reign of Rajarajendra who shifted the capital to Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
• The Chola Kings, Rajaraja I (985 CE – 1012 CE) and his son Rajarajendra are known for their naval and military strength and for expanding their empire beyond the boundaries of South India. The Cholas were great devotees of Shiva.
• One of the earliest temples created by the Cholas was the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram. Rajaraja I, who ascended the throne in 985 CE made large donations and gave gifts to the temple at Chidambaram in the year 1004 CE. In gratitude, the temple authorities gave him the titles of ‘Sri Rajaraja and ‘Sivapadasekhara’.
• It is believed by some that it was at this time that he felt the need of a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at his capital, Tanjavur. Others are of the opinion that after Rajaraja expanded his empire, he came to be known as the ‘Lion among the Emperors’. He built this grand temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in order to commemorate this achievement.
• A typical niche in the earlier Pallava rock-cut temples is wide and the makara-torana decoration on the niche-top is flat, the floriated tail of the makara overflowing on the sides;but in chola niche ,the space is narrower and the decoration on the niche-top more round. The kudu which at the Mahabalipuram monuments has a shovel-headed finial, develops a lion head in the Chola Monuments and this continues thereafter.
The central shrine in Pallava temples is prominent and the gopura is quite dwarfish. In the early chola temples the shrine is magnifies and in the time of Rajaraja and his successors it becomes colossal. The gopura in the early Chola temples, though larger in size than Pallava ones, is still comparatively short, and it is only in the late Chola period that gigantic gopuras come into being and dwarf the central shrine.
• The earlier dvarapalas with a very natural look and mostly with a single pair of arms , are replaced in the Chola structures by those with a fierce mien and four arms. Mostly they carry the Trisula on their crowns, bear tusks protruding from their mouths and
strike terror with their knit eyebrows , rolling eyes and hands always in tarjini (threatening) and vismaya (wonder) attitudes.
• In the large Chola temples , long flights of steps from the sides lead to the platform , whence one enters the sanctum: the Balustrade is massive, curls up at the end and is decorated on the exterior.
• Alternating koshtha-panjara and kumbha-panjaras form a regular feature of the decoration, and the niches are flanked by pilasters crowned on the top by a curved roof-moulding adorned by two kudus with crowning lion-heads.
• The base of the entire series of yati decoration and at corners and intervals there are makara-heads with warriors in action issuing from their mouths.
• The pavilions are usually two panjaras flanking a sala (wagon-roof pavilion), the former with a single finial and the later with three.
• The kumbha-panjara itself shows stages of development , and the earlier and simpler ones, which we find in the early Chola temples, becomes more decorative and developed in the later ones.
Separate mandapas, which forms the feature in the late Chola and Vijayanagara temples , with a number of pillars adorning them, are not so prominent in the early Chola structures , though the front of the temple is a long mandapa for different forms of bhoga worship.
• A large courtyard and small shrine against the enclosure wall at the cardinal and intercardinal points for the dik-palas (guardians of the directions) form a feature in the early Chola examples.
• Devotion to Shiva was deeply embedded in the Chola dynasty as many of Rajaraja’s ancestors right from the Sangam age, were ardent devotees of Shiva and active builders of temples of Shiva. Aditya I , son of the first ruler Vijayalaya, was said to have built over hundred temples along the banks of the Kaveri right from Kudagu.
• Aditya’s son and successor Parantaka I proclaimed his devotion to Shiva by covering the roof of the Chidambaram temple with gold, because of which he earned the title of ‘Ponveindapperumal’. Nataraja built numerous temples for Shiva.Nataraja of Tillai (Chidambaram) became the tutelary deity (Kulanayagam) of the Chola family.
• Gandaraditya , who succeeded Parantaka, wrote hymns on Nataraja of Chidambaram, which are included in the Tiruvisaippa, a collection of hymns forming the ninth Tirumurai.
• Sembiyan Madevi, Gandaraditya’s wife was a celebrated patron and her religious endowments over a several decades are unmatched. She built or rebuilt a large number of temples during nearly six decades of patronage. She also ordered casting numerous metal images, which was her outstanding contribution to the religious art of Tamil Nadu.
• Rajaraja carried forward the staunch and unflinching devotion to Shiva, which he displayed in abundance, literally and figuratively. Like all his predecessors, he built many temples and made generous endowments to them. However, the outstanding example of his devotion is the construction of the Rajarajesvaram. The architecture of the temple is as grand as his unsullied devotion to Shiva, hence the conception of this temple , grand as it is unique and exclusively due to him.
• The one and only reason due to which Rajaraja, in spite of waging wars and taking care of the administration of a vast kingdom, he was able to devote time and involve himself in the construction of this temple till the end of his life; was his unflinching devotion to the ‘Lord of Dances’, Adavallan, which he manifested several ways in the temple.
• Adavallan’s cosmic dance, a reflection of his omnipresence, is pervasive everywhere in the Temple.
• Every linear, volumetric and mass measure was named ‘Adavallan’, while minor the weight used for measuring precious stones was called ‘Dakshinameruvitankar’,which is also the name of another image of Nataraja.
• Rajaraja’s staunch faith is further attested by his donations of an array of metal images cast in solid gold, silver and ususla bronze/copper. He donated metal images of Nataraja known as Adavallan and Dakshinmeruvitankar, Tanjaivitankar, Maha Meruvitankar and copper images of Chandraesvara Prasada devar group, Panchadehamurti , Subrahmanya , Dakshinamurti , Mahavishnu and Ganesa.
• Rajaraja took extraordinary care to register in minute detail all the endowments and gifts offered to the temple. He categorically states that the donations by all , including his own should be engraved on the walls of the Sri vimana.
• The list of ornaments, vessels , images and other donations to the temple by rajaraja and his sister, is a long one and it covered the entire jagati course of the Sri Vimana. Therefore, donations by others had to be engraved on the cloister mandapa, even though it was against the spirit of the order of the king. The meticulous ways in which the inventory was registered and engraved on the stone is astonishing and a standing testimony to Rajaraja’s systematic approach and clarity of his mind.
The Nataraja Temple Chidambaram is also referred as Thillai Nataraj Temple. • This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is in the southern state of Tamilnadu in India. The temple has a deep mythical connection.
• When the name of the town was Thillai, a Shiva shrine used to be there in the temple. Chidambaram is the name of the city where the temple is now situated literally meaning “clothed in thought” or “atmosphere of wisdom”. • The architecture of the temple represents the link between arts and spirituality. The temple was constructed during the 10th Century when Chidambaram used to be the capital of the Chola dynasty. • The Cholas considered Lord Shiva as Nataraj as their family deity. The Nataraj temple has undergone damage, renovation and expansion throughout the 2nd millennium. • Although Shiva is the main deity of the temple, it also represents major themes from Vaishnavism, Shaktism and others with all due reverence. • The Chidambaram temple complex proudly boasts of being one of the oldest temple complexes in Southern India. • The most unique characteristic of the Nataraj Temple is the bejewelled image of Nataraj. The temple has five main Halls or Sabhas namely the Kanaka Sabha, the Cit Sabha, Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha and Raja Sabha. • Nataraj happens to be one of the most momentous forms of Lord Shiva. Chidambaram is also amongst one of the most celebrated shrines of Lord Shiva in the country. • The place also bears a significant importance from both cultural point of view and historical perspective as well. Now R & D, Western scientists have proved that at Lord Nataraja ‘s big toe is the Centre Point of World ‘s Magnetic Equator.
• Ancient Tamil Scholar Thirumoolar has proved this Five thousand years ago! His treatise Thirumandiram is a wonderful Scientific guide for the whole world.
• Chidambaram temple embodies the following characteristics :
➢ This temple is located at the Center Point of world ‘s Magnetic Equator.
➢ Amoung the “Pancha bootha” temples, Chidambaram denotes the Skies. Kalahasthi denotes Wind. Kanchi Ekambareswar denotes land. All these 3 temples are located in a straight line at 79 degrees 41 minutes Longitude. This can be verified. An amazing fact & astronomical miracle !
➢ Chidambaram temple is based on the Human having 9 Entrances denoting 9 Entrances or Openings of the body.
➢ Temple roof is made of 21600 gold sheets which denotes the 21600 breaths taken by a human being every day (15 x 60 x 24 = 21600)
➢ These 21600 gold sheets are fixed on the “Vimanam” (Roof) using 72000 gold nails which denote the total no. of Nadis (Nerves) in the human body.
➢ Thirumoolar states that man represents the shape of Shivalingam, which represents Chidambaram which represents Sadashivam which represents Lord SHIVA’s dance!
➢ “Ponnambalam ” is placed slightly tilted towards the left. This represents our Heart. To reach this, we need to climb 5 steps called “Panchatshara padi ” “Si, Va, Ya, Na, Ma ” are the 5 Panchatshara mantras. There are 4 pillars holding the Kanagasabha representing the 4 Vedas.
➢ Ponnambalam has 28 pillars denoting the 28 “Ahamas “as well as the 28 methods to worship Lord Shiva. These 28 pillars support 64 +64 Roof Beams which denote the 64 Arts. The cross beams represent the Blood Vessels running across the Human body.
➢ Kalasas on the Golden Roof represent the 9 types of Sakthi or Energies.The 6 pillars at the Artha Mantapa represent the 6 types of Sashtras.
➢ The 18 pillars in the adjacant Mantapa represents 18 Puranams.
➢ The dance of Lord Nataraja is described as Cosmic Dance by Western Scientists.
Quite a number of legends are associated with that of the Chidambaram Nataraj Temple. A couple of annual festivals and traditions that are celebrated with utmost grandeur and pomp are Aani Tirumanjanam and Margazhi Tiruvaadirai.
DEVANATHASWAMY TEMPLE, Thiruvanthipuram
Devanathaswamy temple (also called Thiruvanthipuram Kovil) in Thiruvanthipuram, a village in the outskirts of Cuddalore in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.
• Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, the temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil canon of the Azhwar saints from the 6th–9th centuries AD. It is one of the 108 Divyadesam dedicated to Vishnu, who is worshipped as Devanathaswamy and his consort Lakshmi as Hemabhujavalli.
• The temple in its current form is believed to have been built during the Medieval Cholas, with later expansion from Pandyas, Hoysala Empire and Vijayanagara Empire.
• The temple has fifty inscriptions from Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120),Vikrama Chola (1118–1135), Rajaraja Chola III (1216–1256), Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251–1268), Vikrama Pandya, Vira Pandya III, Vijayanagar king Achyuta Deva Raya (1529–1542 CE) and Koperunjinga.
• The Epigraphical Department has found more than 50 inscriptions in the temple belonging to the Medieval Chola period.
This temple is under protection of Archaeological Survey of India. This small but majestic temple is considered as one of the finest specimen of the early Chola period art.
• The earliest inscriptions on the temple refer to the early Chola kings, therefore it may be surmised that it was constructed during the final decades of the ninth century CE.
• The temple faces east and is built as a dvitala (double storey) vimana structure. It consists of a garbha-grha (sanctum) followed by an antarala and an ardha-mandapa. • The antarala made this temple unique as this feature is absent in contemporary temples usually attributed to the early Chola period.
• Adhishthana is of vaprabandha type, composed of upana, jagati, vrtta-kumuda sandwiched within two lotus cusps (adhah- and udrhva-padma), kantha as prati-mukha with vyala-vari and sandwiched within two kampa courses and pattika or prati-vajana. Above the adhisthana rises a vedi or wall-kantha.
• Vyalas over the kantha are taken amongst the best such specimens produced during this period. At the corners are placed makaras with open mouth and a rider or animals inside. This vaprabandha adhishthana and its decoration scheme is taken as an original Chola style.
• Iconography of the Dakshinamurti icon is of great artistic acumen. He is shown seated under a vata (banyan) tree with one of his leg resting over apsamara demon.
• On the eastern karna-niche of the southern wall is found Shiva as Bhikhshatanamurti. He is shown wearing heavy sandals and is accompanied with a gana.
• The mandapa from inside is supported on four pillars placed in the middle. Another interesting sculpture is the depiction of Shiva as Gajasamharamurti, Shiva shown slaying the elephant demon.
This temple is a grand temple with rock-cut architecture dedicated to the Lord Shiva. Being one of the few remaining structures from the Chola Empire, Vijayalaya Choleeswaram is maintained and administered by the Department of Archaeological
survey of India as a protected monument and is said to be one of the oldest stone temples in South India. • The Vijayalaya Choleeswaram temple complex consists of a main shrine in the centre facing west and surrounded by six sub-shrines ,denoting the ashtaparivara concept to which only six are found at present.
• Among the six sub-shrines three are seen on the east, two on the north and one on the south.
• Attempt of a gopura is seen on the eastern side of the temple complex which has a upapitha, an adhishthana of padabandha type and a portion of wall above it. • The central shrine housing the Lingam is surrounded by eight shrines, out of which six are still present.
An important temple for Siva, wherein the deity is worshipped as Uma Maheshwara, is located in in the village of Konerirajapuram. This temple was called Gandaradittam. • This temple is one among the 275 Padal Petra Sthalams or temples praised in the Tamil verses of the Nayanmars or the sixty-three important devotees of Siva.
• The deity enshrined here has received the encomiums of the famous Nayanmars, Appar (Thirunavukkarasar) and Thirugnanasambandar of the 7th century AD. In his hymns, Appar mentions the name of the deity as Umaikku Nallavan and refers to this place as Thirunallam.
• This may have been a brick temple at that time and later converted into a stone structure in the time of a devout Chola queen named Sembiyan Mahadevi in the 10th century AD.
• This royal lady was the queen of King Gandaradiya Chola (949-957 AD) and the mother of Madhurantaka Uttama Chola (973-985 AD), the immediate predecessor of Rajaraja
Chola I. In fact, there is a sculpture of Gandaraditya, worshipping a Siva Linga, attested to by an inscription etched under it in this temple.
• Many inscriptions of the reign of Uttama Chola record donations, especially those given by Sembiyan Mahadevi.
• Goddess Parvati is worshipped as Deha Soundari and also as Angavala Nayaki. There are other sanctums including one enshrining Vaidyanatha Svami (Siva as the Divine Doctor).
• This temple is known for its stupendously beautiful and large image of Nataraja along with Goddess Sivakami (Parvati) of the Chola era.
• It is one of the best bronze images of Nataraja among the hundreds which were created in the Chola times. The front mandapam has paintings on the ceiling which belong to the last century. They depict the Sthala Puranam, festivals and other interesting details.
• There is a stone carving of King Gandaraditya Chola worshipping a Siva Linga.
• Rajaraja I, started the construction of the Brihadeswara Temple in the nineteenth year of his reign. A major source of information related to its building and construction has been the inscriptions that run throughout the temple’s plinth.
• One inscription reads, ‘The King, on the two hundred and seventy fifth day of the twenty fifth year of reign (A.D. 1010), presented a gold covered finial to be planted on the top of the vimana of the temple’. This means that it took a mere six years for this architectural brilliance to be completed.
• Rajaraja named the temple after himself and called it, Rajarajeswaram. The King installed a massive Shivalinga in the sanctum sanctorum and according to the inscriptions the linga was called by the names Adavallan, Dakshina Meru Vitankan and Rajarajaesvaram Udaiyar. For the longest time, even during the rule of the Pandyans who built the Amman shrine in the temple complex, the temple was known by the name given by its builder.
• It is said that years later, the deity came to be associated with the name Thiru Peruvudaiyar (the ‘Great Lord’ in Tamil) and Brihat-Ishvar was its Sanskrit translation. Amman was given the Sanskrit name, Brihat Nayaki or Brihan Nayaki (the ‘Great Lady’). This might have been the origin of the name Brihadeswara given to the temple, though none of the inscriptions or hymns of the time talk about the switch from Rajarajesvaram to Brihadeswara.
• Situated near the banks of Kaveri, the Brihadeswara Temple dominates the then capital of the Cholas, Tanjavur. Standing on the highest point in the area, this architectural marvel was built without the use of mortar or any other adhesive.
• The inscriptions record that the chief architect who executed the plan envisaged by the ruler was Raja Raja Perunthachan (perum meaning big and thachan meaning carpenter). He is said to have built some of the greatest temples of the time which shows that Rajaraja employed the best architects, artisans and sculptors to create this great temple.
• The surprising factor has been the use of Granite a type of stone not available locally. It is said that fine granite had to be brought from far off areas for building the temple.
• Though the exact place from where it was brought is not known, some believe it was quarried from a hillock, Mammalai, situated about 48 kms from Tanjavur.
• The King made numerous endowments for its construction. This temple is also a reflection of the glorious achievements of the Rajaraja.
• It is said that the enormous treasure that he captured after defeating the Chalukyan King, Satyasraya, was used to enhance the beauty of this temple.
• The temple inscriptions have detailed descriptions of the numerous ornamented gifts presented to the temple by the King’s queens, his sister Kundavai, noblemen and other officials.
• Many travellers and other visitors of the time have applauded Rajaraja and his architects for having constructed such a magnificent structure without compromising on its beauty.
• The temple and its components are situated on the east west axis. The plan of the Brihadeswara temple consists of the garbhagriha surmounted by the vimana and connected with the ardhamandapa followed by the mahamandapa, mukhmandapa and the Nandi shrine.
• Within the temple courtyard (prakara), are other shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesa, Subrahmanya, Goddess Brihannayaki, Chandikesvara and Lord Nataraja. There is also evidence of shrines dedicated to the ashta dikapalas out of which only few remain.
• Within a double walled enclosure, the Brihadeswara is a typical Dravidian style temple entered from the east through massive gateways called gopurams.
• This temple specifically has two gopurams, the first one called the Keralantakan Gopuram was built to commemorate Rajaraja’s victory over the Cheras. This gopuram has five stories and is comparatively less ornate than the second one.
• A few meters away, the second gopuram called the Rajarajan gopuram pierces the wall (Krishnan Raman Tiruch-churru-maligai) which runs along the four sides of the temple, enclosing the temple courtyard. This gopuram is elaborately decorated with scenes from Puranic texts and has two monolithic dvarapalas guarding the entrance. This gopuram also has carvings of scenes from Lord Shiva’s life.
Beyond the gopuram is the Nandi mandapa, a later addition to the temple. Built by the Nayaka rulers, it houses the massive monolithic Nandi (mount of Lord Shiva) almost 12 feet high and 8 feet wide. The ceiling of the Nandi mandapa is ornately decorated with paintings of the Nayaka rulers.
Following the Nandi mandapa, is the mukhamandapa and the mahamandapa. The mukhmandapa is entered by a flight of steps. The mukhamandapa houses the Bhairava sculpture which must have been a part of the ashta parivara shrines of the temple complex. Beyond this structure is the pillared hall called the mahamandapa. Further ahead, is the ardhamandapa which is connected to the garbhagriha. This structure can be entered from the front and through the massive gateways situated on the northern and southern sides. Situated on a high plinth, the gateways of the ardhamandapa flanked by dvarapalas are approached by a flight of steps. This structure is said to be the bathing hall of the deity as evident from the bathing platform situated in the centre of the hall.
The passage in the upper storey of the garbhagriha is lined by panels of dance figures depicting the Karnas of Shiva that have been mentioned in the Natya Shastra. • The sculptures depict 81 out of the 108 Karanas, while the other slabs of stone have been left blank.
• Over the garbhagriha is the most striking feature of the Brihadeswara Temple, the vimana. Over 200 feet high with thirteen stories, this gigantic vimana is called the Dakshina Meru named after the abode of Lord Shiva, the Mount Kailasa.
• With several tiers decreasing in size, this structure appears to be pyramidal in shape. According to the Vastu Shastras vimanas with more than five tiers (termed as mukhya vimana) were considered to be superior.
• With one of the tallest vimanas, the Brihadeswara temple showcases the might of the ruler and his dominance over the area.
• The vimana is said to have been built using the interlocking technique in which blocks of stones are strategically placed, evenly distributing the pressure throughout the structure.
• The base of the vimana is wide enough to withstand the weight of the towering structure on top. As a result the vimana stands tall without any traces of inclination.
• The entire tower is ornately decorated with each tier filled with niches at regular intervals and images of Gods. The highlight of the vimana is the stupika (large domed structure crowning the last tier).
• Over the years, engineers and architects have tried to understand how this stupika, which is a block of stone weighing over 80 tons was raised to such a height. It is believed that a ramp or an inclined plane was set up and almost a thousand captive elephants hauled the stone in order to raise it to the top of the vimana. For the ramp to reach such a great height, it had to be over four miles long commencing from a nearby village called Sarapallam.
• The stupika is decorated with two Nandi figures seated sideways but heads turned in front on each corner. On top of the stupika is the gold covered kalasam that has been mentioned in the inscriptions, marking the end of the construction of the temple.
• Other smaller shrines within the temple complex include those of Subramanyar and Ganesha who might have been a part of the ashta parivara devatas.
• Out of these, the shrine dedicated to one of the saints and the chief administrator Chandikeshwara, is the only shrine which was a part of the original plan envisioned by Rajaraja and continues to be in its original form.
• Situated close to the vimana, it is a small shrine containing some of the earliest inscriptions recorded by Rajaraja
. • Overtime, additions have been made to the temple complex including many small shrines and mandapas such as the one dedicated to Lord Nataraja and the Amman shrine or the Brihannayaki shrine.Rajaraja clearly turned Brihadeswara Temple into a hub where art and culture prospered and rose to prominence.
• It became the centre of dance and is said to be the place where Sadir Attam (today known as Bharatanatyam) originated. According to the inscriptions Rajaraja patronised four hundred Devdasis who were closely involved with the activities of the temple.
• He not only patronised dancers but also musicians who sang the Devaram hymns. It is said that Rajaraja revived the dying tradition of singing Devaram hymns. According to a legend, Rajaraja longed to recover the rich treasure of these hymns inscribed on leaves, locked in a room at the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram. It is believed that the room could be opened only in the presence of all the Tamil Nayanmars (saints). Rajaraja decided to conduct a festival in their name and placed their images in front of the room. Mysteriously, the lock broke open and they managed to recover these hymns. Hence, Rajaraja came to be known as the,” saviour of the Tamil Hymns “. He then decided to have musicians recite these hymns at his temple in Tanjavur for which he cast an image of Shiva (possibly Chandrashekharar) for whom he recited these hymns daily.
• Brihadeswara also has some of the best representations of Chola art. The beautiful sculptures cover all four walls adding to its grandeur and splendor.
• The sculptures are dominated by those dedicated to Lord Shiva. On the first two storeys of the vimana the niches house different manifestations of the deity. At this great temple, one of the most famous manifestations of Shiva is Nataraja.
• The Cholas were the greatest devotees of Nataraja (the Lord of Dance) where he is depicted in his classic cosmic pose with four arms, his left leg raised across the torso and the right leg placed on the demon of ignorance, apasmara. The upper left hand holds agni (fire), the upper right arm holds the damaru (drum) while the lower left hand is placed across the body pointing towards the feet and the right hand in abhaya mudra.
The Chandikeswara Shrine
Apart from the Shiva sculptures, the dvarapalas are a striking feature of this temple. Guarding the four entrances to the garbhagriha and the Rajarajan gopuram, the dvarapalas at the Brihadeswara temple are massive and are representations of typical Chola art.
Other than the technology and architectural skills employed in the construction of this temple, its detailed inscriptions are what makes the Brihadeswara exceptional and one of a kind. Rajaraja is said to have recorded the minutest details related to the maintenance of the temple.
• The Brihadeswara Temple at Tanjavur continues to amaze its visitors. The fact that the 200 feet vimana stands tall without any signs of inclination even after 1000 years is a testimony to the brilliant architectural skills employed.
• It is one of the temples in the Group of Chola temples that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1987. In 2010, Brihadeswara marked 1000 years of its existence and it continues to be one of the most visited monuments in India.