Brihadeeswarar Temple (also known RajaRajeswara, Rajarajeswaram and Brihadeshwara Temple), lies in the heart of Thanjavur city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The city, known as Tanjore in British times, attained prominence under the Cholas, who used it as one of their principal capitals in 10th – 12th centuries. Thanjavur appears to have been the preferred residence of Rajaraja I (985 to 1012 A.D.), who is considered the greatest of the Chola monarchs.
The temple stands in the middle of a spacious rectangular court, which is entered through two gateways to the east.These are hugely impressive structures in themselves, dominated by vaulted roofs adorned with plaster sculptures, a later addition. Outsized guardian figures protect the east doorway to the inner gate, with smaller carvings on the basement illustrating Shiva legends.
A 16 columned pavilion in front of the main temple shelters a monolithic Nandi dating to the late 16th century.
The temple itself consists of a square linga sanctuary adjoining an anti-chamber and a long columned hall to the east.Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside, but the whole space was congested with visitors that quite frankly is wasn’t a viable thing to attempt to photograph anyway !
Back outside, the steeply pyramidal tower rises to a height of 66m, with 13 diminishing storeys with plastered walls. This ascends dramatically to the octagonal domical roof, with Rajaraja’s original gilded final pot still in situ.
Around the perimeter wall of the temple complex are a number of interesting shrines, paintings, and items that are clearly used during festival times. It’s well worth taking time out away from the crowds to explore these lesser visited areas of the temple.
Subsidiary buildings dating from the chola era stand freely in the temple enclosure. The south-facing Chandeshvara Shrine imitates details of the main temple but on a much smaller scale. Additions of the Nayaka and Maratha periods include the intricately worked Subrahmanya Shrine, assigned to the period of Raghunatha Nayaka.
Sadly my visit to this temple was part of an organised tour, something I don’t usually do whilst traveling around India. So time was limited, and rushed as a result. If you plan to visit this temple you need to set aside at least two hours to see everything at a measured pace, and to pick your moments when the crowds may be perhaps a little less dense !
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