Big Temple of Thanjavur – The Symbol of Raja Raja Chola’s Sovereignty and Shiva Bhakti!

It’s been thirteen years since I had left Thanjavur with teary eyes and a heavy heart albeit I moved out for happy reasons. Yeah! I married a man who lived outside of Thanjavur which forced me to leave my hometown, parents, pets, my comfort zone.. ugh.. not an easy breezy thing you see, only women folks can do it. Keeping the pathos of vacating the hometown off the post, the point is since then even though I had visited Thanjavur on multiple occasions, they never happened to be vacations; there were for some focused travel purposes.

During these thirteen years I was off my native town, married life and a corporate career kept me busy nonetheless I managed to develop and deepen my passion on few of my never ending list of hobbies like writing, travelling and photography. I travelled to places; clicked pics and shared them with my friends in social media with captivating captions (I hope so, no throwing rotten tomatoes on me if that was not the case). Moreso, during these years, I also had the opportunity to live in a couple of states of India other than my home state which allowed me to explore the vibrancy and diversity of Incredible India.

While the exploration of new places was exciting, I have to admit that I also started to miss my hometown very much. The more I awed and clicked the architecture of historic monuments from other places, the more I craved to get to my native, which features some of the magnificent world heritage sites and longed to capture those unparalleled beauty through my lenses and present the same to my small world with some interesting anecdotes. Luckily, kids’ winter vacation paved way for it. I decided to make use of that opportunity not just to escape the cold snap of Delhi NCR but also to heal the melancholy of missing my hometown!

In that journey of reliving my Thanjavur days, my first pitstop was at Rajarajeswaram aka the Brihadeeshwara Temple aka the Big Temple. While the temple is identified by many names, I would love the temple to be always remembered as “Rajarajeswaram”. The reason being, the moment you are at the Big Temple, you will start to agnise, even if you haven’t read anything about Raja Raja Cholan from history books, you will start to wonder what a great emperor and an ardent devotee of Shiva he would have been and how big his thoughts and vision would have been to have conceptualised and crafted this classic piece of art and architecture.

Eight years ago, big temple marked its 1000th birthday. It keeps the archelogist wondering even today, how the temple managed to stand strong and stable in spite of having witnessed the ravages of countless monsoons, six recorded earthquakes and one major fire. The temple is 240m long and 120m wide and the Sri Vimana or the main tower soars majestically to a height of 60m (200ft). It is important to note that Thanjavur has been traditionally regarded as “Rice bowl of South India” for it’s agricultural abundance and so the place is predominantly plains and there are no rock formation in and around Thanjavur. Hence, it is believed that the rocks to build big temple would have been transported from quarries atleast 50kms away from Thanjavur. Just the visualisation of how the transportation of several tonnes of building supplies would have happened many centuries before the machine age itself is good enough to give us goosebumps.

While the conception and construction of the Big Temple by Raja Raja is iconic, the conservation and augmentation done by Nayakkas and Marathas who ruled Thanjavur following the Chola era must be applauded as well. In particular, the contribution made by Sevvappa Nayaka and Achyuthappa Nayaka requires a special mention. They replaced the small Nandi (Small? Yes, in comparison with the present one) constructed by Raja Raja with a massive monolithic Nandi which perfectly matches the large Shiv Linga that occupys the two storeys of the sanctum. The Subramanya temple is another masterpiece of the Nayakas within the Big Temple premises. Just like how the modern generation could take pride in replacing the earthen pot with a refrigerator, the Nayakas have superimposed their frescos on top of the frescos of Chola Period. While we do not berate the beauty of Nayaka frescos, we cannot help but feel anguished over the eclipsing of the Chola frescos. Archeological Survey of India, for the first ever time in is history has done de-stucco process to restore sixteen Nayaka paintings which were superimposed on Chola frescos.

The inspiration for RajaRaja to come up with such a stupendous temple, the intricate carvings and splendid sculptures, the vibrancy of frescos and murals, the beautiful line up of lingas at the Thiruchchurru Maligai and the matching sequencing of Nandis all through the temple corridor walls, the charming calligraphic inscriptions on the temple walls, detailed depiction of Natya Sashtra Adavus on the inside walls of Sri Vimana, stories around the construction of Nandi Mandapam of Nayaka Period and construction of Ammal (Devi) Mandapam during Pandya reign and the paintings of Marathas that beautifies the Ammal Mandapam, the folklores about the secret underground passages which are believed to connect various places in and around Thanjavur, there are too many facts and fables to tell which would be too exorbitant to be conveyed through one blog post.

More over, just reading the stories and visually perceiving the place through photographs will not do the justice to a place which needs to be cherished and honoured by visiting not just once but many times, recognising and respecting the brilliance of the past from the heart. Now, if you ask me if I feel satiated following my revisit to one of the most nostalgic places from my childhood, I would reflect Aristotle here, “The more you know, the more you don’t know”. And to more, you got to visit the place again. So am I eagerly looking forward to my next vacation to my native. 🤓

Presenting below, some of my camera works from the wondrous place!

4 Comments

  1. Very nicely captured visuals and well written mix of your experience and Chola kingdom history. Its is indeed an incredible balance our forefathers achieved between land (nature), labor (welfare), capital (material/intellectual) and technology. Chola kingdom is one of the fine evidence that humanity needs more visionary leaders, just not able administrators.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A good peep into the historical and architectural marvel called The Big Temple. When we have such beautiful and captivating treasures in our country why we crave for something beyond our shores? Have we explored all the wonders of our home-land? என்ன வளம் இல்லை இந்த திரு நாட்டில்?

    Liked by 1 person

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