Brihadeeswara Temple is also known as Peruvudaiyar Kovil and Rajarajesvaram kovil. This temple is situated in Thanjavur. This is one of the largest existing temple in South India. It is called as the Meru of south also named as the Dhakshina Meru. This temple was constructed by Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 AD and 1010 AD. It is famously known as the “Great Living Chola Temples.”
The Brihadeeswara temple is one most the most visited temple by tourists in Tamil Nadu and it is also a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The various features of the temple are the main temple tower, gopura, frescoes, sculptures, inscriptions, various monuments and mandapams which were added later.
Ponniyin Selvan and Udaiyar written by Kalki Krishnamurthy and Balakumaran speaks abouth the life of Rajaraja Chola I and the construction of the Brihadeeswara temple.
This temple stands as one of the best examples of Dravidian Architecture from the early 11th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is depicted as Linga measuring up to 29ft in height. The temple faces east and the main gateway also lies in east. The temple took only about 6 years to be completed. The main and the surprising architecture feature of the temple is that the shadow of the temple doesn’t fall on the ground at noon as the architecture of the temple is planned so cleverly and that is the factor which attracts thousands of people to the temple to unravel the architecture secrets. The whole of temple is built with about 60,000 – 130,000 tons of granite and it stands as a fabulous structure of architecture. The temple was built by interlocking of stones and not by binding them together. The tower above the sanctum is the vimana. It is one of the tallest tower in South India and it is built out of granite.
The sri vimana is the towering superstructure over the sanctum, the nandi mandapam is the Nandi hall in the front, the mukhamandapam is the main community hall, the mahamandapam is the great gathering hall and the arthamandapam is the pavilion that links the sanctum and the great wall. For circumambulation around the temple is the covered large pillared veranda inside its courtyard. The perimeter of the circumambulation prakara is 1480ft. There are two walls of enclosure outside the pillared prakara.
The temples main gopuram which is on the east end is barrel vaulted. The size of the main gopuram is less in size more than that of half of the temple’s main vimana, it measures about 100ft. After the 11th century more additional structures added to the temple such as gopurams, mandapa and also some structures and shrine were added before the colonial era started during the period of Nayaka, Pandya, Maratha and Vijayanagara. The towering vimana measures about 208ft in height built with heavy stones was accomplished by the artisans and architects of the Chola period. The temple comprises of many musical pillars where various musical instrument sounds can be heard when tapped. There are many underground passages like more than a hundred is situated with also some secret passages for access to secret places. The temple layout is constructed in such a way that it covers the principles of Vastu Shastra. Behind the construction of the temple the principles of its construction are been covered in the ancient scripts.
There are numerous inscriptions on the temple holding both Tamil and Grantha scripts written in the native inscription language like Sanskrit or Tamil. These inscriptions are written to give a brief introduction on the king who ruled it and also the temple gifts and personnel. These various inscriptions give detailed account on how the temple helped, supported and employed various peoples with different occupations. More than inscriptions frescoes of the Chola era took most importance in the temple. The Chola frescoes were mostly on themes of Shaivism. The total area of frescoes of the Chola period is about 7200 sq ft, of which about 1210 sq ft has been uncovered. These frescoes and paintings of the Chola and Nayak period are more than 1000 years old.