Thanjavur Big Temple

The Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur is one of the greatest architectural creations in India. Popularly called as Thanjavur Big Temple it is a sculptor's dream, a historian's mine, a dancer's vision and a sociologist's scoop!The Thanjavur Big temple which recently completed its 1000th birthday 2010 remains the finest specimen of Chola architecture, sculpture, bronze casting and painting. There are several interesting legends, mysteries and even a curse associated with this thousand year’s old temple! 

Where is Thanjavur or Tanjore 

Thanjavur is an old city located in Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport to Tanjore is in Trichy. Thanjavur is also well connected by trains from Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Ernakulam, Erode, Karur, Madurai, Mysore, Palakkad, Rameswaram, Salem, Thrissur, Tiruchendur, Trichy, Tirunelveli and Tirupur. Bus is another convenient way of reaching Thanjavur from Chennai, Madurai and Trichy.  

Trichy to Thanjavur 

Trichy is just 54 KMs away from Thanjavur. One can reach Thanjavur from Trichy by Train, Bus or Taxi in a little over an hour.

Thanjavur Hotel 

Hotel Gnanam is located in Anna Salai on market road in Thanjavur. It is very close to the Railway Station and walking distance from the Thanjavur Big Temple. Tariff for an AC room is Rs.2000 onwards. Contact no is 04362-278501.

PLA Residency is on Srinivasam Pillai Road and is very close to the Railway Station and tariff ranges from Rs. 600 for a non AC single occupancy to Rs. 1100 for an AC double occupancy. Contact no is 04362- 278391.

Tanjore Hi is a heritage boutique hotel located in East Main Street. Tariff ranges from 6000-10000 depending on season. Contact no is 04362 252111.

Thanjavur Big Temple  

The Thanjavur Big Temple was built in 1002 by legendary Chola King Arulmozhivarman, better known as Raja Raja Chola-1. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, everything about the Big Temple is gigantic. Spread over 40 acres, The Thanjavur Big Temple is the largest temple in India. 


At the beginning of the Big Temple Complex is a giant statue of Nandi made from single stone. It is 2 meters in height and 6 meters in lengh and weighs over 20 tons.


 The Vimana or Temple Tower is 60 metres tall and one of the tallest in the world. The Lingam is housed in a 2 storey Garbhagriha. The temple staffs numbers more than a 1000! 

Thanjavur Big Temple also has an excellent collection of frescoes. These frescoes can be found on the walls around the sanctum sanctorum and they depict the legendary tales of Lord Shiva. Some of these were painted by the King Raja Raja Chola himself. It is believed that extracts from special plants were used to paint the same and hence the Thanjavur paintings have lasted for so many years. The Nayak rulers actually painted over the Chola specimens and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it preserved the earlier Chola frescoes forms the elements.  

Recently The Archaeological Survey of India restored the 16 Nayak paintings, which were superimposed on 1000-year-old Chola frescoes. This is a remarkable achievement and the application of de-stucco process is the very first instance in the world for this purpose.

During the Chola times, the Thanjavur Big Temple was the cultural nerve centre of the Tamil Empire. It was the favourite abode for musicians, scholars, craftsman and merchants. In fact the Thanjavur Big Temple also provided a platform for the performance of the traditional dance form Bharat Natyam.

Some Tips for Thanjavur Big Temple

Take note of 2 Ganesha statues on the way to the Sanctum Sanctorum. An interesting experience awaits you upon tapping them. You can actually feel the sound traveling through stone in one idol and through metal on the other!

Another rare specimen in the Thanjavur Big Temple is the temple of Ashta-dikpaalakas or guardians of directions. You will find statues of Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirṛti, Varuṇa, Vāyu, Kubera, Īśāna in this temple.

Make sure you spend some time observing the Vimana or the Temple Tower. Around the middle of the tower you will be able to spot a sculpture of a European! Legend says this was a warning about the arrival of Europeans! But the guide told me that it was a European traveller to the court of Raja Raja Chola. 


Thanjavur Paintings 

During the reign of Nayaks, the Thanjavur Big Temple provided a platform for the famous Thanjavur Paintings. Thanjavur Paintings follow a style combination of raised and painted surfaces. Lord Krishna is usually the protagonist of the Paintings.  


Did you know? 

The Thanjavur Big Temple is the first complete granite temple in the world. 


Some mysteries of Thanjavur Big Temple

The case of disappearing shadow at Noon- The design of the Vimana or the temple tower is such that it does not cast a shadow at noon during any part of the year! The architectural practice used to achieve this feat remains an unsolved mystery.

The Cap stone mystery-The Cap Stone in top of the Thanjavur Big Temple is another unsolved mystery. The question that remains unanswered is how the 80 ton structure ended up of top of the Temple in an era where no Cranes and other equipment were available. It looks unlikely that Elephants would have been able to do this job.


Curse of the Thanjavur Big Temple

There is an ancient belief that a visit to the Thanjavur Big temple through the main entrance invokes a curse on Statesmen and Politicians! Former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MG Ramachandran had visited the Temple in 1984 through the main Gate and tragedy stuck upon them both within a year. There is another rumour that it is for the same reason another former chief minister of Tamil Nadu always used the side entrance to visit the Big Temple. Whether the curse is true or not, common men need not worry as it applies only to the high and mighty!   

For my travelogue on other Pilgrim spots, please visit Great Pilgrimages.  

For my photoblog on Tanjore Paintings and other art forms of Thanjavur, visit India Travel Pictures.