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Brihadeeswara Temple


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This Peruvudaiyar temple, known as Brihadeeswara temple, also known as Periyakoil or the Big temple at Thanjavur was built by Rajaraja Cholan, the Great Chola king. In the twenty-fifth year of Rajaraja Cholan (A.D 1009-10) on the 257th day of the year the king handed over the copper pot for the finial at the top of the Vimana. It weighed about 235 lbs., and was overlaid with gold plate of the weight of 292.5 Kalanju or nearly 35 lbs. Troy. A 107 paragraph long inscription on the walls of the Vimanam records the contributions of Raja Raja Chola and his sister Kundavai to the temple.Brihadeswara Temple

Rajarajeswaram, as the temple was named by its founder, fills a large portion of the small Sivaganga Fort, which is encircled by moats on the east and west, the Grand Anaicut Channel (Putharu) on the south, and by the Sivaganga Garden on the north. An imposing gateway on the east is the entrance, on either side of which are two small shrine dedicated to Ganapathi and Mrurgan. Further passing through another Gopuram 90 feet high leads into an outer court. A second and magnificent Gopuram further leads into the main court in which the temple is built. The inner court is about 500 feet long and 250 feet broad, is well paved with brick and stone. The court is surrounded on all sides by a cloister. The western and northern wings have Siva lingams and there are frescos on these walls depicting the Nayanmars. The outer measurement of the temple are 793 feet by 397 feet.

The main shrine of Peruvudaiyar (Sri Brihadisvara - Great God - a Sanskrit rendering of the original Tamil name Peruvudaiyar) stands at the western end of the main court. It comprises of five divisions:

Main shrine has three portals named Keralantakan, Rasarasan and Thiru-Anukkan. These portals are guarded be Dwarapalakas (guardians of the gate) of huge proportions and of exquisite workmanship. There are several sets of these in the temple, seven of them 18 feet by 8 feet, all monolith and in some instances are of very high artistic merit.


The Siva lingam of Sri Brihadisvara was originally called Adavallan (the one who is good in Dance). Another name was Dakshina-Meru Vitanken. Both these name occur in Thiruvisaipa as the names of the deity at Chidambaram. Rajaraja Cholan called the image Rajarajeswaramudaiyar - The Lord of Rajarajeswaram.

The great Vimana is of the Dravidian style of architecture. It rises to a height of abut 216 feet, a tower of fourteen stories, finely decorated with pilasters, niches and images of gods of the Hindu. The sikhara or cupolic dome is octagonal in shape and crowns the Vimana. The gilded Kalasa or finial, over it is 12.5 feet high.

The octagonal Shikharam rests on a single block of granite weighing 81 tons. It is believed that this block was carried up a specially built ramp built from a site 6 kilometers away. Huge Nandis (bulls) dot the corners of the Shikharam, and the Kalasam on top by itself is about 3.8 meters in height. Hundreds of stucco figures bejewel the Vimanam, although it is possible that some of these may have been added on during the Maratha period. The Shivalingam - Peruvudaiyar, Rajarajeswaramudaiyar - is a huge one, set in a two storied sanctum, and the walls surrounding the sanctum abound with murals and sculpture.

The saint Karuvurar's Thiruisaippa lyrics, sung in praise of this temple and is presiding Lord is a classic on the subject and gives valuable information regarding the temple and its shrines.

The long prakaram surrounds the great temple (500 feet/250 feet), and the walls surrounding the prakaram again go back to Raja Raja Chola's period. The walls house long pillared corridors, which abound in murals, Shiva Lingams and Nandis.

The Periya Nayaki temple within the temple is a later addition from the Pandya period, and so is the Subramanyar Temple sung later by the Saint poet Arunagirinathar. The inscriptions on the basement and the pillars of the circumambulatory passage is referred to as thiruchutru maligai.


Incidents from the lives of the Nayanmars, several of the 108 Bharata Natyam Dance postures, manifestations of Shiva (Aadalvallaan - Nataraja, Tripurantaka, Dakshinamurthi etc.) are depicted in sculptured panels or in exquisite Chola murals. 

The sanctum, the ardhamandapam, the mukhamandapam and the Mahamandapam, although distinct, form a composite unit, imposing and awesome to visitors. Entrances to the Mandapams and the towered entrances to the Prakarams are majestic. The grandeur of the architecture and the sculptural finesse speaks volumes of the skills of the Imperial Cholas.

Inscriptions refer to Shiva as Dakshina Meru Vitankar and Aadavallan. The huge monolithic  Nandi, weighing about 25 tonnes and about 12 feet high, dating back to the Nayak period, is housed in its own mandapam.



Some interesting News items

English daily "The Hindu"
(Excerpts from an article by Mr. Theodore Bhaskar)

Mysteries surround this temple that appears to have been left uncompleted by the starter - King Rajaraja cholan and it was left to Nayaks of Madurai tBuddha sculpture in Thanjavur periya koilo complete it by building the main hall in front of the sanctum. The work on the temple appears to have stopped abruptly. Out of 108 Bharatha natyam sculptures 20 slabs are left un-carved. Why was the temple dedicated in that incomplete stage? What made Ranjendra cholan, son of Raja Raja cholan the builder, to give up the capital and move over to Gangaikondacholapuram and start a new temple there instead of completing the temple started by his father? Unmentioned by many, what is the significance of this Buddha sculpture in this Saivite temple? Lot of unanswered questions there....

(Hyperlink is of this site)



English daily "The Hindu"
Dated: Tuesday, May 31, 2005.

Cannon balls found in Big temple
Staff Reporter

FORTIFICATION: Cannon balls found in a locked room at the entrance 
of the Big temple in Thanjavur on Monday. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao


THANAJVUR: About 100 cannon balls were found in a locked room at Keralandhagan Gopuram at the entrance of the Big temple on Monday.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which maintains the temple, launched a massive cleaning operation a few days ago in the temple. When workers opened an old room at the base of the gopuram they found the canon balls.

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai circle, told The Hindu that the presence of the cannon balls indicated that the temple was used as a fort during war. The cannon balls would be handed over to a museum