Tamil Nadu in India is a home to many prominent temples and among them; the Brihadeeswarar Temple stands out distinctly. Thanjavur is located on the banks of the river Cauvery and has a rich historical heritage. It reminds tourists about the ancient and the modern south Indian civilizations. This temple being dedicated to Lord Shiva is considered to be one of the most beautiful architectural places in the sub-continent. It is a testimony to the achievements and the progress that the Chola dynasty had achieved during that time. The temple has a Tamil architecture and it reflects the power of the King Raja Raja Chola I who had built it during the 1010 A.D.
The major reason for the construction of the temple refers to the fact that it can be used for royal celebrations and to exhibit the king’s vision. The minute details and the intricacy that have gone into forming this temple speak volumes about the Dravidian style. And interestingly, this auspicious shrine has been built following the rules of axial and symmetrical geometry. The engineering part is so accurate that all the components of this holy place are aligned axially.
- Brihadeeswarar Temple or ‘Big Temple’ is located at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and is designed by Sama Varma.
- The deity was initially named as ‘Rajarajeshwar’. It was the Marathas who gave it the name Brihadeeshwara or the Great Ishwara.
- This holy shrine had been constructed to add charm to the throne of the Chola dynasty by the Tamil emperor Arulmozhivarman or Raja Raja Chola I in fulfillment to a command made to him in a dream.
- It is on the 275th day of his 25th regal year did the King handed over a gold-plated kalasam to mark the final sanctification of crowning the vimana.
- A popular legend about this temple refers to the Cholas who received help from a yogi named Karuvayur. This yogi had the idea of building a powerful energy center in a temple. However, owing to some disagreements over certain aspects of the temple, the Cholas abandoned the yogi and faced with a predicament of the big linga of Shiva not fitting into the peetha. It is then that the Cholas asked the yogi for help. Karuvayur spat in his spittoon and asked them to keep it inside the peetha so that the linga fits. Although it fitted peetha yet it became cursed forever which sent the dynasty to ruins.
- A large number of artistes, musicians and merchants visited this holy shrine. Additionally, it also served as a major platform for the dancers who practiced Bharatha Natyam dance form.
- The temple displays the emperor’s vision of power and his relationship to the universal order. The King was linked to its deity Shiva and the normal rituals of the deities were echoed by the king.
- The sheer brilliance of this place of worship point to the perfection that the Cholas had with regard to the sculpture, painting and bronze casting of the idols.
Significance of the Brihadeeswarar Temple
- Brihadeeswarar Temple has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the list of ‘Great Living Chola Temples’.
- An approximate of 130,000 tons of granite was used in the formation of this temple.
- The holy shrine has a temple tower (vimana) that is built at a height of 216 feet. Being the tallest in the world, it symbolizes Mount Peru. ‘Gopuras’ or the two gateways are located at the eastern entrance of the temple.
- The temple’s entrance has a large statue of Nandi (sacred bull) that measures about 16 feet in length and 13 feet in height. This statue has been carved out of a single stone.
- ‘Kumbam’ is the topmost component of the holy shrine and weighs about 60 tons. It has been also carved out from a single granite stone.
- A huge idol of Lord Shiva with three eyes is present inside the temple along with the 108 dance forms or ‘karmas’.
- The exterior part on the other end is decorated with sculptures. There are 250 lingams in the entire temple compound.
- This famous sanctuary is made up of a pillared hall and an assembly hall which is known as mandapas and many sub-shrines. The inner part of the mandapas is highly significant and is divided into various categories with the help of sculptures and pilasters.
- Being one of the rarest temples in India, the idols of ‘Ashta-dikpaalakas’ or guardians of directions can be found here. The six feet effigies of Agni, Varuna, Indra, Yama, Isana, Kubera and Nirriti are placed in a separate temple.
- Being a masterpiece in itself, the shadow of the tower over the gateway of the shrine never falls on the ground, more significantly in the premises of the temple.
- The altar situated at the entrance of this holy shrine has two idols of Lord Ganesha. When a person taps on any one of the idols, a sound occurs that travels towards the other idol slanting through the stone at one end and the metal to another. There are many pillars of the temple that produce such musical sounds.
- Pets are not allowed inside the temple premises.
- In order to mark the 1000th year anniversary of the Brihadeeswarar Temple, the state government of Tamil Nadu organized Bharathanatyam Yajna, a classical dance show under Padma Subramanian, a noted dancer.
Brihadeeswarar Temple Timings
- Brihadeeswarar Temple is open for pilgrims from 6 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. It again opens at 4 P.M. to 9 P.M. There are a lot of devotees who reach the holy shrine as early as 5 A.M.
- The main deity and the inner sanctum remains closed from 12:30 P.M. to 4 P.M.
- There are special darshan tickets for Rs 5 each that can be purchased during Sundays for a quicker visit. The temple becomes extremely crowded during Sundays.
Brihadeeswarar Temple Food Timings
- Devotees are offered Prasad in the temple post the mid noon ritual.
- Pilgrims can present their offerings to the deity during the pooja timings.
Festivals celebrated at Brihadeeswarar Temple
- Arudra Darshanam is one of the biggest festivals that is observed in this temple. As this holy shrine is a Chidambaram temple or a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is commemorated in the month of Margashis (December-January). The festival is meant to celebrate the cosmic dance of Shiva.
- Maha Shivaratri is an annual festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm during the month of February-March.
- Kumbabhishekam refers to a yearly festival when the dome and the gopuram are bathed with the sanctified divine waters. While Kumba denotes the Vimana or the Shikhara of the temple, Abhishekam is a ritual of bathing.
- According to the Hindu calendar, in the month of Visaka, an annual celebration is celebrated in this holy shrine for nine days. During this auspicious occasion, pilgrims bath their deity with fragrance soaked water of Champaka flowers.
Poojas and Rituals at Brihadeeswarar Temple
- In the Brihadeeswarar Temple, the deity is worshiped four times in a day.
- The Morning Pooja also called as Kala Sandhi takes place at 8:30 A.M. Utchi Kalam or the mid noon pooja happens at noon, 12 PM. The evening arati and the pooja are also called as Sayaratchai. This starts at 5:30 P.M. Artha Jamam or the night pooja happens to be the last ritual that is practiced in this temple. The pooja takes place at 8:30 P.M.
- Each of this pooja or ritual consists of three steps namely, ‘alangaram’(decoration), ‘neivethanam’ (food offering) and ‘deepa aradanai’ (waving of lamps).
- There are many weekly, monthly and fortnightly poojas that are observed in this temple. The pooja timings are subjected to alter during festivals.
How to Reach: Road, Rail, and Air
- By Air- In order to visit the Brihadeeswarar temple, the nearest airport from Thanjavur is situated at Trichy which is at a distance of 65 kms.
- By Train- It is one of the easiest and convenient ways to reach Thanjavur. As the city has its own railway station, it is well connected with other major cities in India.
- By Road- Traveling to Thanjavur is also a good alternative. It is linked with all towns of Tamil Nadu along with Ernakulum, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram. Even Bangalore has a proper connectivity with Thanjavur.
Hotels in Tamil Nadu: Where to stay
Thanjavur being one of the district headquarters of Tamil Nadu is located at 322 km away from Chennai. There are various hotels in and around Thanjavur for tourists of all ages. So, if you are traveling on a modest budget, there are retiring rooms available at the Thanjavur railway station. Apart from that, there are many luxurious hotels with all the modern amenities including private restaurants as well. Devotees can choose their preference and accordingly can book their rooms in advance.
Where to eat
Food lovers can prepare themselves for scrumptious lunch with the traditional South Indian food. From spicy curries to sambhar, rasam and curd, there are a lot of options to choose from the dishes served there. For people who love non-vegetarian food, there are many Chinese and Mughlai restaurants as well.
Tourists generally love gorging on the baked fishes and lassi before they leave Thanjavur. The food joints are located at major tourist points and are moderately priced as well.
- Thiruvayaru Temple– This holy shrine was built at the place where Thyagaraja, the famous saint resided. He is believed to attain Samadhi at this location. Every year in the month of January, a music festival is organized to celebrate the life of this great saint composer. It is located at a distance of 13 km from the main city.
- Darasuram Airavatheswar Temple– Darasuram is a small town, 8 km away from Kumbakonam is famous for the Airavatheswar Temple that was built by Raja raja Chola II in the 12th Being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Great Living Chola Temples’, this holy pilgrimage destination abounds with art and architecture. The vimana is 85 feet high and the front mandapam is built in the form of a chariot that is drawn by horses. The main deity’s consort Periya Nayaki Amman temple is located close to the Airavateshwarar temple. It is home to beautiful stone carvings and remains open from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M.
- Kumbakonam– It takes around 42 km to reach to this beautiful temple city of Kumbakonam. It is famous for Sarangapani temple which is a twelve storied 147 feet high Vaishnavite temple built by the Nayak kings in the 15th The Ramaswamy temple depicts the paintings of Ramayana and is the only shrine where Lord Hanuman is playing veena instead of reading the Ramayana. The Kumbeswara temple is huge and has astounding artwork. The Mahamaham festival is observed once in 12 years during the Tamil month of Masi. The Nageswaran temple was constructed by Aditya Chola in the 12th century and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Sunlight penetrates inside this temple only during the Tamil month of Chithirai for its unique design.
- Punnai Nallur Mariamman Temple- This sacred destination is only 6.5 km from the Thanjavur town. It is located in Punnai Nallur village and was built by the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur. It remains open from 6 A.M. to 8:30 P.M.
- Thirukandiyur– Being located at a distance of 10 kms, it has temples of Brahmasirekandeswarar and Harshavimochana Perumal.
- Swamimalai– It can be referred to as one of the six Abodes that are dedicated to Lord Subramanya and take 32 km to reach here.
- Darasuram (34 Kms)– This is another famous temple which takes 34 km to travel and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built by Rajendra Chola.