Located in Thanjavur city of the Tamil Nadu state, Peruvudaiyar Kovil is one of the most popular temples in South India. Popularly known as Brihadeeswarar Temple, Rajarajeswaram and RajaRajeshwara Temple, this popular Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Erected by Raja Raja Chola I, this temple is a wonderful example of Tamil architecture. One of the largest and greatest architectures in Indian history, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as ‘Great Living Chola Temples’.
One of the country’s most prized possession, it stands safe amidst strong walls that were probably added in the 16th century. One of the temple’s tower, 66 m high, known as Vimana, is one of the world’s tallest towers. It is believed that the top part of the temple, called Kumbam, Chikharam or Kalasha, is made out of single stone carving.
Another single rock carving is the Nandi bull statue at the temple’s entrance. This sacred bull temples is 13 feet high and 6 feet long. The temple structure is made from granite. Commissioned by Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD, this temple is fondly called the ‘Big Temple’ and turned 1000 years old in the year 2010.
Placed on the banks of a river that is the source of a manmade canal, making a channel around the temple complex outside the walls, makes it look like a fortress. Along with the main temple in the complex, there are other structures too. One entrance to the complex is through a 5-storied gopuram and the second entry straight to the quadrangle is from one smaller gopuram. A colossal Shikhara, dominating the main quadrangle, is hollow from inside has 16-stories and is around 60 m high. Every surface of shikhara is carefully covered with piers, attached columns and pilasters. The main entry gopuram is 30 m high and is smaller than Vimana as happens in Dravidian style of architecture.
Entry Fee: No Fees
Duration of visit: 2-3 Hours approx.
Best time to Visit
At the time of the Hindu month of Visakha or May month according to the English calendar when the annual festival of the temple is celebrated for a span of 9 days, starting from Satabhisha star day. This star is known to be the symbol of the birth star of RajaRaja and this this festival is celebrated every month on Satabhisha star day.
The first rectangular wall that surrounds the main temples is 270 m by 140 m from the outer boundary. Main temple is placed in the heart of the expansive quadrangle that also includes of 1 sanctuary, 1 Nandi bull statue, 1 pillared hall, 1 mandapa (assembly hall) and a number of other smaller shrines. The important part of the inner mandapa, enveloped by gigantic walls, segregated with sculptures and sharp pilasters, making bays and recesses.
Both the sides of the sanctuary has 1 bay highlighting the main cult icons. The prime focus is the innermost sanctum that has the idol of the main deity, Lord Shiva. Another thing inside it is one big Linga in stone. Only the priests are allowed to enter this chamber.
The entrance of the Garbgriha is stunning decoration. This square-shaped Garbgriha inside chamber has the idol of the Lord, placed on a pedestal. The location of the idol is a representation of 1 microcosm of universe. The royal bathing-hall is towards the east of Irumudi-Soran hall, the place where Raja the great used to distribute the gifts. There is a circumambulation area around the Garbgriha that can be accessed by all and not only the priests.
From the inner mandapa, a path leads to the rectangle-shaped mandapa that has a 20-columned porch with 3 stairs taking you downwards to a small open mandapa, that has the statue of Nandi bull the vehicle of the Lord.
Deities of the Temple
The main deity or Moolavar of Brihadeeswarar Temple is Lord Shiva. The other deities, known to be just one step lower are on Koshta Moorthigal (outer wall) are Dakshinamurthy, Chandra and Surya, with idols in huge sizes. This temple is one of the temples that have idols of Ashtadikpaalakas (Guardians of directions) – Indra, Agni, Nirrti, Varuna, Kubera, Isana, Yama, and Vayu. Each has two 6 feet tall statues-one in past form and the other, their representation. All these statues are positioned in a separate temple as per their respective direction.
The main temple is surrounded by 2 walled attachments wherein the outer wall is the higher one, marking complex area of the temple. Gopuram or a huge gateway is right here. In these two walls are 1 portico, 1 barrel vaulted Gopuram with 400 pillars; 1 high wall circles it with massive Gopurams lining up towards the main temple.
The walls around the sanctum sanctorum has several frescos of Chola, representing Lord Shiva in different actions like dancing, sending white-colored elephant for taking a devotee to heaven and terminating fiend forts. After these murals were discovered, the people came to known about the journey of Saint Sundarar and Chera King to the heaven and the battle scene between Lord Shiva (Tripurantaka) and the Asuras (demon). An amazing feature of these paintings by Chola artists show even the Asura women appearing to be beautiful.
The paintings on the passage walls and in the sanctum sanctorum have suffered damage due to deposit of dust on them because of consistent exposure to the smoke from camphor burning and maps that have been there for centuries. It was around 400 years ago that some of the Chola paintings were replaced by the rulers of Tanjore Nayak. It happened for the first time in history around the world that Archaeological Survey of India used the original de-stucco process for the restoration of 16 Nayak paintings that are now collected over fiber glass boards and are placed in a separate area.
Attractions near Brihadeeswarar Temple
Constructed by a number of Thanjavur rulers, Thanjavur Palace is positioned quite close to Brihadeeswarar Temple. According to the historians, the foundation of this temple was laid down by Nayaks that led to its construction in the year 1550 AD. Along with exploring the temple, one can also visit the museum and the art gallery to have a look at some of the best items from the times of the royalty such as royal robes, arms and weapons, utensils, granite and bronze statues and musical instruments.
Around 65 km from the city center, Manora Fort was constructed by a Maratha Ruler, Serfoji II. The reason behind the construction of the fort was to mark the British win over Napoleon Bonaparte the ‘Battle of Waterloo’. This 8-storey construction, hexagonal in shape, was constructed in 1814-15. From the top of the fort, one can enjoy some amazing views of the surroundings area. The tourism department has started boating in the region.
Saraswathi Mahal Library
Positioned inside the elegant Saraboji Palace, Saraswathi Mahal Library is that place where one can find several manuscripts in Tamil and Sanskrit. It is believed that these valuable documents are old world pieces, considered to be priceless by various historians for being a source of important information on the life of the past rulers and their works. This palace library also has a space for paintings illustrating several old cities that were in existence at the time of King Saraboji. For its wonderful collection of books and art works, this library is a must-visit.
Around 200 years old, Schwartz Church is an old cathedral that was constructed by Reverend Schwartz. Though the church does not have any distinct architecture but it offers a quite spot in spite of being located in a busy area. Today, the church is under CSI Trichy-Tanjore and organizes services early morning.
Siva Ganga Garden
Small but well-maintained Siva Ganga Garden is a popular landmark that is sandwiched between Schwartz Church and Brihadeeswarar Temple. Popular as picnic spot, the garden also comprises of a children’s play area, toy train and a pond where visitors can enjoy boating.
Best Time to Visit
Thanjavur or Tanjore experiences hot as well as pleasant climates. The hot months are here from March to May when the temperature ranges between 25 and 40 degree Celsius. April and May are extremely hot and can be avoided. Monsoon comes to the city in the month of June and stays here till September. The rains bring respite from the heat and the place looks green but sightseeing during rains can be difficult. However, in the summer and monsoon months, hotel offers great deals. The winter months from October to March is the best time to visit Thanjavur. As the weather at this time is pleasant, sightseeing and temple tour is an easy activity. The temperature at this time ranges from 20 to 30 degree Celsius.
How to Reach
Reaching Thanjavur by air is easy as the nearest airport is in Trichy, which is just 65 km away. If your preference is going for an affordable option then Thanjavur has its own railway station. It is well-connected to important Indian destinations such as Trichy, Chennai and Madurai. The city is also connected by nearby cities such as Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kochi through a good network of roads.
The day of Ruling star or Satabhishag, every month, is considered as a day of celebration by people as this is a symbol of ruling star, the time when Raja Raja was born. The temple also becomes the venue of its annual festival that is celebrated in the month of Visaka. During this 9-day festival, the devotees make their Lord take a bath with water made fragrant from Champaka flowers.
The timings of Brihadeeshwarar temple is from 6 AM to 8.30 PM. The devotees and visitor start flocking the temple complex in queues from as early as 5 AM. As the temples is extremely crowded on Sunday, one can buy a ticket of INR 5, for special darshan.
Noon when the shadow disappears
One of the most amazing features about the architecture is that this temple has the tallest Vimana in the world and it does not even cast a shadow in the afternoon hours, all throughout the year.
World’s first all granite temple
The Brihadeeswara temple is not only the world’s tallest temple but is also that first temple that is completely made of granite. Even the location where the temple is, shows no sign of all-granite structure, not somewhere in the nearby areas. The place from where the stone was brought is still unknown. There is no place within the radius of 100 km from where granite can brought in and thus huge logistic would have been used for moving the stone to the construction site. Not only finding granite was quite a task but also carving on granite was equally tough. Built by the Cholas rulers, the temple contains of stunning carvings.
Even today the tallest temple
The construction of the temple took around 7 years including the transportation of the stone to the temple site. It is believed the on a daily basis around 50 tons of rock was brought here, carved and then aligned for the temple’s construction. The construction was completed in 1003 CE. Even today, Brihadeeswara temple is the tallest temple in India with a height of 216 feet. The Vimana or the airplane on the temple’s top weighs around 80 tons. The temple’s prime attraction is that the temple’s tower on the altars have a high elevation in comparison to the towers that are placed on gourami at the temple’s entrance. During twilight, when the light on the temple’s top is lighted, it looks like a shining planet.
The altar at the temple’s entrance has 2 idols of Lord Ganesha. When a person taps on any of the idols, the sound thus produced travels to the other idol meandering through the stone that is at one end and metal, that is on the other. The royal musicians and dancers used to perform for Lord Shiva in the main hall. It has been noticed that the pillars of the temple produce musical sounds.
Where to Stay
If you are planning a tour to Thanjavur, you can browse through our list of hotels in Thanjavur, and pick one as per your budget and desired location. Also known as Tanjore, Thanjavur is one of the most popular religious and culturally important destinations of the Tamil Nadu. To accommodate the huge influx of visitors, Thanjavur hotels are very well-equipped and offer impeccable hospitality services. The city has hotels to fit in every pocket-size and preferences.
Excursions from Brihadeeswarar Temple
Thiruvaiyur- The popular saint of southern India, Thyagaraja used to live just 13 km away from Thanjavur. At the location where he lived, an annual festival is organized in the month of January, to honor the saint.
Kumbakonam- Just 36 km away, Kumbakonam is that place that is going to be the venue of the next, very popular Mahamaham Fair in the year 2016. This fair is celebrate after a gap 12 years and holds a lot of importance. The semi erotic sculptures of 5 popular Kumbakonam temples are well-known.
Thirubuvanam- Located at a distance of 45 km, Thirubuvanam has a popular 13th century Shiva temple. Silk weaving produces of this place are also quite popular.
Manoram- Around 65 km away from Thanjavur, Manoram is a place that still carries its colonial era charm. One of the most popular attraction here is the Victory Tower, which erected in 1814 by an Indian ruler for celebrating the British victory over Napolean in Waterloo Battle.
Velankani– This place houses the famed Our lady of Health shrine, just 90 km away. This place attracts visitors of all faiths. One of the best features of this shrine is exquisite statue of mini gold and silver replicas depicted via an unwell body-part in the form of a representative structure.
Nagore- Placed at a distance of 88 km from Tanjore, Nagore houses the very popular Hazrat Shahabdul Hameed tomb that is 500-year old. This structure has 5 minarets and a golden tomb as well as a prominent tank carrying miraculous power. People of all faiths come here to get benefitted.
Tirunallar- About 101 km away, this place is known to have temples that are visited by devotees to ward off ill favors of Lord Shani.