In the course of history, certain regions have developed into cultural centres attracting people from all over the world. The Brhadisvara temple is acclaimed as the finest achievement of Chola art, built by Raja Raja I in 1010 A.D. Its artistic excellence lies in the perfect balance of the parts and the whole, its architecture, sculptures, paintings, bronze images, the idols and reliefs. It is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Great Living Chola Temples'. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple stands in the middle of a spacious rectangular court and can be entered from the east side of the temple through two gopurams widely separated from each other.
Inside the large temple courtyard has a pavilion, sanctuary, a Nandi, a pillared hall, a mandapa and many sub-shrines. There is a flight of steps leading to a pillared pavilion. The pavilion is a 16th century pavilion, facing the main temple. Fronted by a tall lamp column, it has a 6 m long granite Nandi carved out of a single block of granite 6 m long. It is considered as the third largest in the country.
The main temple, constructed of granite, consists of a square linga sanctuary adjoining an antechamber and a long pillared hallway on the east, followed by the ardhamandapa or half hall. The base of this sanctuary is 46 square meters. Above it, is the pyramidical tower rises to a height of about 66m. It's apex is exactly one third of the size of the base. The tower has 13 storeys with pilastered walls, parapets. The walls of the antechamber are triple storeyed. The temple's pilastered walls are raised on high basement decorated with yalis and makaras and also covered with inscriptions such as the origins, construction etc. The north and south doorways can be reached by steps flanked by balustrades with curved tops and figural side panels. The long hall is partly completed which has been roughly adjoined to the half hall. The eastern doorway is flanked by guardian figures and inside, the walls are decorated with 18th century Maratha portraits.
The sanctuary is flanked by guardians and the niche projections at either side are fully modelled figures, mostly figures of Shiva. The famous are Bhikshtanamurti, Natesha, Harihara and Ardhanarishwara. The sanctuary of the main temple is dominated by a black shivalingam called Adavallan, 'the one who can dance well', a reference to Shiva as Nataraja elevated on a circular pedestal.
The surrounding is the garbha griha, a passageway on two levels is divided into two chambers. In the lower passageway contains a large dancing Shiva, portraits of the royals, deities, celestials and mural paintings in two layers adorn the walls and ceiling. More than 81 miniature dancers in different postures, are sculpted on the basement of the upper passageway. Outside, the walls of the courtyard, there are lined with collonnaded passageways. Northern wall passageway is considered as the longest in India.
In the temple complex, besides the main temple is a south facing Chandeshwara Shrine. Even though, similar to main temple it is small in size and the tower is crowned with an octagonal roof. To the north west is the Subramanya Shrine which has a base finely decorated with sculptures of dancers some standing on pots and musicians. On the hall walls can be seen Ganapati and Durga and stone windows with geometric designs. The three storeyed tower is topped with a hexagonal roof. The Subrahmanga Shrine is entered on the east by a porch with side steps.
The long hall that extends east is a Maratha extension. Another Maratha addition to the temple is the hall in front of the Bhrihadnayaki Shrine. This can be approached through a porch on the south with piers displaying yalis and colonettes. The paintings on the ceiling inside illustrated Shaiva legends. Nearyby is the south facing Natesha Shrine.
The IGNCA organized an exhibition (between
24th September to 3rd October 2010), on the occasion of the celebration of
1000th years of the construction of the Periya Kovil, the great Brahadisvara
Temple at Tanjore, where blow ups of architectural drawings, selected paintings
from Chola period and paper impressions of the inscriptions (epigraphical
records) were displayed. Two computer kiosks were installed for preview of the
multimedia project on Brihadisvara Temple, under development.
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