Have you ever heard about the Thanjavur Big Temple? Or the Temple With No Shadow? Yes of course this is real. Such temples exist in India. Located in the ancient town of Thanjavur (Tanjore), this ancient wonder the Brihadeeswarar Temple is a sight to behold. This is a destination of majestic architecture and mysteries, making it the most popular destination to visit in Thanjavur.
For long I have been waiting to visit this mesmerizing ancient beauty and I have finally made it here. The Brihadeeswarar Temple is carved from granite rocks that are not native to Thanjavur. In fact, there are no mountains in this city. The landscapes consist of fertile agricultural land only. The temple is created by an interlocking mechanism that means no cement no binding agent. This temple has various secret passages and doesn’t cast its shadows. Amazing right?
Stay with me as I take you through the history and amazing facts about this big temple in Thanjavur. Let’s decode a few secrets and demystify facts about the Brihadeeswarar Temple.
Brihadeeswarar Temple History
This temple is also known as the Peruvudaiyar Koyil or Thanjavur Kovil amongst the locals. The great Living Chola Temple dates back to the 11th century and was built by King Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. During the Chola dynasty, this temple was the center for all religious ceremonies and festivals and was called the Rajarajeshwaram. After the Nayaks and Marathas invaded Thanjavur, the majestic temple became popular as the Brihadeeswarar Temple. It is now a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the popular worship and tourist destination in Tamil Nadu, South India.
Brihadeeswarar Temple Facts
The architectural design of this temple seems quite mysterious to me. This is the reason I Have always wanted to explore the spot myself. With many intriguing stories and facts about the temple, my eyebrows disappeared into my hairline. Yes, they did!
Check some of them here –
- The Brihadeeswarar temple along with Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temple makes the ‘Great Living Chola Temple’ and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- This 1000 years old Hindu temple is proof of wealth, artistic adeptness, and the influence of the Chola dynasty.
- There are inscriptions on the third entrance of the temple that reiterate the work of Chola Kings and architecture in Old Tamil scripts. These scripts point towards the Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan as the chief architect of the Brihadeeswarar Temple.
- Brihadeeswarar temple is the first complete granite temple in the world. The main temple is entirely built from approximately 130,000 tons of granite rocks.
- The temple has the world’s tallest tower (Vimanum) and its capstone, the kumbham is a single rock that weighs 81 tons. Imagine how this stone was placed atop the Vimana – that too in those days? My guide explained that the architects created inclines stretching almost 8 km to reach the apex of the temple. And then place the capstone on the hollow Vimana there. Isn’t it exhilarating?
- The South Indian temples are famous for their intricate entrances (Gopurams). The Gopurams are always taller than the Vimana. However, the Chola king built the temple with exactly the opposite structure. All the Gopurams are smaller than the Vimana.
- The tall Vimana is built using interlocking bricks, yes you hear it right, and there is no binding material involved. The best part it the age-old technology has survived the test of time and many natural calamities like earthquakes and floods.
- The statue of Nangi (The Sacred Bull) at the entrance is carved out of single rock and it weighs around 20 tons.
- The presence of moat and various secret passages in the temple leads to a debate on whether this place was built as a temple or a watchtower. However, my guide came to rescue and explained that Nakayas and Marathas sought refuge within the temple during wars and consequently used the Brihadeeswarar Temple as a watchtower. These kings fortified the temple with these extra structures in the vicinity.
- The temple has several musical pillars that make different sounds when tapped.
- The temple hosts a portrait of King Raja Raja Cholan paying obeisance to Lord Natarajar. I guess this might be the first-ever portrait of a royal leader back in the 11th century.
- Various depictions of dancers showing movements of hand and feet in Bharata Natyam (eighty-one of hundred and one karanas) are carved in the temple. There is also some evidence that this Hindu temple was a platform for talented dancers around India to showcase their talent. These carvings are first of their kind.
- There are 108 small Lingums inside the temple. The tallest one being 3.7 m in height.
- The Big Temple is said to have hundreds of secret passages and underground tunnels that connect to various places. Today, most of the pathways are sealed but they were then used by sages, Kings, and Queens to stroll about various temples during festive seasons.
- The Brihadeeswarar Temple is one of the few temples in India that have Ashta- dikpaalakas (Guardians of the directions) idols carved on the walls. The walls of the temple adorn Chola frescoes, all of which represent Lord Shiva in different poses.
- Finally, do you know the most whooping fact about the temple? I was perplexed to hear this one. You never see the shadow of the Vimana fall at the ground at noon – no matter which season you chose to travel to Thanjavur. The fact is that the temple casts its shadow on the ground in the morning and evening, but the base structure is so big that the shadow is absorbed by itself at noon. Though some people say that the Vimana casts its shadow outside the periphery of the temple.
Check out my vlog of Brihadeeswarar Temple for a virtual tour of this divine place here.
Festivals Celebrated At Brihadeeswarar Temple
The birth of Raja Raja Chola I was marked by the day of the Ruling Star, Satabhishag. This day is celebrated as a festival every month in Thanjavur. The Brihadeeswarar Temple celebrates an annual festival in the month of Vishaka (or May according to Roman calendar) for nine days. During this festival, the lords and deities are bathed in water-soaked with aromatic Champaka flowers.
Apart from the annual festival and Satabhishag, the locals of Thanjavur celebrate the following festivals at the Brihadeeswarar Temple with full enthusiasm:
- Chithrai Bramothsavam – April to May Chithirai for 18 days
- Shivarathiri – February Maasi Day 1
- Natyanjali – The annual dance festival held in February
- Pongal – New Year
- Navratri – September to October
- Pradosham – Once in a fortnight
- Panchami Abhishekam for Goddess Varaahi – every Panchami in a fortnight
- Girivalam – every full moon day
Brihadeeswarar Temple Timings
The entry to the temple is free and the timings to visit the temple are as follows:
- Morning: 6:00 am to 12:30 pm
- Evening: 4:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Pooja Timings at the Thanjavur Big Temple are:
- Palabhishekam: 8:30 am
- Vucha Kalai Pooja: 12:00 pm
- Sai Rakchay Pooja: 6:00 pm
- Arthajamam: 8:30 pm
Nearby Temples and Other Attractions
Apart from the divine Brihadeeswarar Temple, there are other temples and amazing attractions tourists should visit while in Thanjavur. These include:
- Thiruvayur Temple
- Darasuram Airavatheswar Temple
- Subramanya, Swamimalai Temple
- Punnai Nallur Mariamman Temple
- Siva Ganga Garden
- Thanjavur Maratha Palace
- Manora Fort
- Schwartz Church
Thanjavur is easily connected via all means of transport. You can reach Brihadeeswarar Temple by the following routes:
Road Ways: Brihadeeswarar Temple is 1 km away from Thanjavur Old Bus Stand, 5.2 km from Thanjavur New bus stand, and 60.3 km from the Trichy Central Bus Stand. Alternatively, you can hire a cab to reach your destination or travel by private vehicle.
Railways: The nearest railway station is Thanjavur Railway Station which is 1.9 km from the famous Brihadeeswarar Temple.
Airways: The nearest airport to the temple is Tiruchirappalli Airport which is at the distance of 60.8 km.
I am sure you are intrigued by the interesting facts of the Brihadeeswarar Temple. The main temple where visitors are not allowed inside was going to open for public soon. So do plan your visit to the Big Temple Thanjavur soon.
Do share your experiences and let me know which temple in India you’ll love to visit again and again?
Frequently Asked Questions
Brihadeeshwara Temple is a respected temple for the Hindus, dedicated to Lord Shiva (The God of destruction). This temple is one of the largest temples of India, and the only one to be built in granite. It is known for the supreme brilliance of Indian architecture in the ancient era.
The Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar Temple does not cast its shadow on the ground at noon.
The King Raja Raja Chola I built the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur. The temple was built in the 11th century and we celebrated the 1000th year of this grand structure in September 2010.
This temple is famous for its architectural design and history. It is one of the largest Shiva Lingas in India as well as the location that commissioned the brass statue of Nataraja – Shiva the Lord of dance, in the 1010 AD.