HISTORY OF SOUTH INDIA
Cholas were one of the three Adiraja (primary royal dynasties) of old Tamilagam (Tamil Nation). Tamilagam itself was defined as the land
South of the River Thungabandra bound by Thiruvenkadam
(modern day Thirupathi hills) in the North East and the Indian
Ocean in the South. The other two Adirajas
were the Cheras and the Pandyas. All the three Adirajas
feature in much earlier Indian epics of Ramayana and the
Mahabharata. The antiquity of these kingdoms is also available
Chinese, Roman, and Greek documents, literature, travelogues,
and anecdotes. Other ancient Tamil poetry and literature also
refer to these dynasties in glowing terms.
Chola history can be divided into three broad categories. One
is the period well before the birth of the Christian era (CE).
The sources of history are limited to Indian epics of Ramayana
and Mahabharata. The second period, known as the Sangam
period, is about two centuries before the birth of the
Christian era to about four centuries after. The sources for
this period are from Indian Sangam literature and external
documents of trading nations in China, Rome, Greece, and
Egypt. The third period is from the 6th Century CE.
There is a strange silence for about two centuries from the 4th
Century CE and 6th Century CE.
Just prior to this period of silence, is the
destruction of the port cities of Kaveripumpattinam and
Mahaballipuram by the sea. At that time, it was believed that
these port cities were destroyed by a cyclone.
based on modern data, it can now be deduced that the
destruction of these cities was due to a tsunami. While Sangam
talks about the destruction of Kaveripumpattinam in Chola
country, its forerunner Silapadigaram talks about the destruction of the Pandyan capital
Madurai due to a curse by Silapadigaram’s
heroine Kannagi as
that king had delivered a wrong verdict that killed her
husband. It is known from Manimekkalai
that Cheran Senguttovan (the Chera King and grandson to the
great Karikala Chola) conquered all the lands to the North up
to the Himalayas and constructed temples in many places to
further the legacy of Kannagi.
Thereafter, a civil war broke out in the Chola country
followed by a tsunami that destroyed that nation’s economy.
by two centuries of silence when South India was overrun by a
tribe called the Kalabharas, it was only after the Pallavas
assumed power in Kanchipuram that South Indian literature,
poetry, history, and art brought life back to this part of
India. The Pallava dynasty itself has unknown antecedents.
Some say that the Pallavas were Phalavas of Iran while others
say that they were the remnants of the Chola dynasty. The word
Phalavas or Pallavas is mentioned in the Mahabharata as one of
the countries that joined the Great War. What we do not know
is where this country was located.
we do know from the Saivaite literature Thiruvillayadal
(The Great or Holy Games of Shiva) that there was a Chola king
at Kachipuram called the Aayarithu
Parikonda Cholan (the Chola king with a thousand horses
meaning cavalry). Therefore, we could deduce that there must
have been a branch of the Chola family that lived in the North
of the traditional Chola country in the Kaveri delta who rose
to power with the vacuum of power further south. This is not
unlikely because several centuries later we see the rise of
Telugu Chodas or the Nayakas or the Wodeyars (or Udaiyars as
the Cholas called themselves) of Mysore emerging as local
kings with different names but with strong Chola antecedents
the golden age of the Pallavas, South India witnessed the rise
of the Cholas again with Vijayalaya Chola. From about the
mid-eighth Century to about the mid-Thirteenth century, the
Cholas ruled large parts of land as far as modern day
Malaysia, Sumatra, Bali, and parts of Myanmar (parts of the
erstwhile Sri Vijayan, Arakan, and Mataram kingdoms).
BACKGROUND OF THE TEMPLE
about a thousand years ago by Rajaraja Chola I, the Periyakovil
(Big Temple) is a monument dedicated to Lord Siva at
Rajarajeshwaram (now called Thanjavur). The name of the deity
as established by the emperor was Rajarajesvara
udaiya Paramasami (The Great God who resides at
inscriptions of this temple reveal that Rajarajesvaram was
exclusively a royal temple conceived, designed, and managed by
the Emperor himself. The
Emperor was also able to inspire the royal family, officers,
and feudal kings to voluntarily participate in this national
exercise; apart from their participation, their generous gifts
are also recorded in inscriptions of this temple.
to the inscriptions in the temple, Rajaraja gave away gifts to
the architects, workers, artists, artisans, and helpers. He
gave numerous gold vessels for the use in worship and jewelry
to decorate the Linga and other idols. He consecrated the Uttsava
Murthy (processional deity) and his sister, queens,
officers, and feudal kings consecrated other panchaloga
uttasava (idols made with five basic metals) idols and
gifted several jewels for them. Per the Emperor’s wishes,
the Commander-in-Chief of the Chola army, Krishna Raman, built
(an enclosure adjoining the inner wall) surrounding the garbha graha (sanctum sanctorum). The Emperor’s Rajaguru
(spiritual adviser), Esana Sivapanditar, helped the Emperor
through the consecration of the temple.
the far-reaching vision of ancient kings, the Chola Emperor
not only endowed the temple with capital and art, he also
provided a way for the temple to function through guaranteed
revenue. He gifted the revenue from several villages in a
scheme called the devadana (Gift to the God). The villages were responsible for
providing paddy, its shepherds to provide milk and ghee
(clarified butter) to light the hundreds of lamps in the
temple. In another scheme called Bhrahmadeya
(Protecting the God’s Honor), he assigned numerous villages
to depute guards to protect the wealth of the temple. Villages
were asked to provide men to serve as accountants, treasurers,
and cleaners. To promote poetry, he funded salaries and
expenses for 50 Thevaram
(old Tamil poetry created by the four great Nayanmars
or Shivaite saints) singers to be present and regularly chant
these hymns. To promote performing arts, he also appointed 400
dancers and over 100 instrumental players to perform everyday
at the temple. To promote drama and demonstrating his
non-parochial view of languages, he arranged for the
performance of Sanskrit dramas accompanied by Sanskrit and
Tamil musicians. By encouraging jewelers, gem setters,
tailors, architects, and other merchants to use these
facilities, he also made this temple a central market for
traders and merchants from all over the Chola country. He also
funded monthly (Pradhosham)
and yearly festivals (Chittirai
masa thiruvizha). An
office was also instituted to manage the inscriptions on the
Imperial Army and the feudal armies swore to support and
protect the Periya
udaiyar (The Bigger King) and the other ancillary temples.
While the officers of these armies held the responsibility of
the idols within the temple, the overall administration was
under Aditan Suriyan (also known as Tennavan Muvendavelan). He
was possibly the Commander of the Southern Army and came from
the family of Illagovellars of Kodumbalur (modern day
Puddukottai and Ramanathapuram). It is probably Illangovelar
Bhoodi Vikaramakesari himself. The Chief Acharya of this
temple was Bavana Pidaram. The chief architect and assistants
were Kuncharamallan (also known as Rajaraja
Permataccan literally Rajaraja’s Superintendent
Architect and also with the title Taccacaryam meaning
Architect’s Superintendent or Teacher), Nittavinota
Perumtaccan (possibly Deputy Superintendent
Architect—literal translation is the Architect who managed
the daily miraculous work), and Gandaratita Perumtaccan. Since
the titles took the name of the king, it is interesting that
one Architect from the time of former Chola Emperor
Gandharaditya (Rajaraja’s great uncle) is
mentioned—obviously a very old man.
or The Big Temple
Rajaraja I called the temple Rajarajeshwaram, it is now called
Brahadisvaram in Sanskrit and Peruvudaiyarkoil in Tamil
(meaning The Big Temple).
Brahadisvaram was a later name probably called from the
time of Maratta rulers of the 17th to 19th
historic Thanjavur city was a large fort at that time while
the Brahadisvaram temple is in a smaller fort surrounded by
moats. The Nayaka
rulers of Thanjavur created the present fortifications and the
moats of Brihadeshwaram during 16th century.
Situated in the southeastern corner of the small fort,
the Big Temple occupies an area measuring 800’x 400’. The
vast inner courtyard of the temple is 500’ x 250’ and is
surrounded by an outer courtyard.
Separating the two courtyards are two large gopuras
first gopura has five tiers and named as Keralanthagan
Tiruvayil by Rajaraja and the second gopura with three tiers
was named as Rajrajan Tiruvayil. In
addition to these two main gates, there are four more small
gateways without gopuras
in the thiruccurrumaaligai (the covered enclosures) along the inner
courtyard wall. In
the inner-courtyard is the tallest temple granite structure Srivimana
in the whole world stands gigantically. The mahamandapa
(the great enclosure) is attached to the Srivimana
structure. As per
the Agama shastra, the original Chola Chandikeshvara shrine is
located on the the northern side of the Srivimana.
Devi shrine located North East side of the Srivimana
was built by a Pandya ruler of the thirteenth Century CE. The nandimandapa
(the large enclosure housing the large Nandi) and the
Subramanya shrine are later additions by Nayaka kings.
The Ganapathi shrine located Southwestern side of the
Srivimana was the contribution of the Maratta ruler Serfoji in
the Chola times, the thiruccurrumaaliga contained 36 panchaloka or bronze idols. In
modern insecure times, these have been replaced by shivalingas.
The Nataraja mandapa (also known as or the Murti Ammal Mandapa
) further North East from the Srivimana
and the Mallappa Nayakar Mandapa in front of the Subramanya
shrine was built by are the mandapas of Nayaka period (16th
Tiruvayil (The Gateway of The King Of Kerala)
I conquered Kerala by defeating the Chera King
Bhaskararavivarma by destroying his seaport near modern day
Thiruvandapuram and by land invasion through the Palghat pass.
Inscriptional evidence shows that Keralanthan is one of the
titles of Rajaraja I to commemorate this victory.
gateway is a square, massive five-tiered structure adorned
with what is known in Dravidian Temple Architecture as salas,
rides and karnakudus in each tier (tala). The structure was made with a stone masonry foundation raised upapita
(base to the structure) element and an adhistana
(carved awning) with many moldings.
gopura is 90’x
55’ in the base and about 15’ wide. Granite is used up to
the middle of the second floor and the upper reaches are built
with brick plaster and stucco.
about 40’ from the ground, Rajaraja I has used two massive
single stone door jambs of granite measuring 5’x 5’.
There are two sub-shrines facing south and north. While
the one facing south is clearly Dakshinamurthi, the one facing north is a scholarly figure with a
beard speculated to be Brahma.
Tiruvayil (The Gateway of Rajaraja)
inscriptions found in the temples, this gateway is called
Rajarajan Tiruvayil or The Gateway of Rajaraja. This temple
three-tiered granite structure is full of sculptures and
stucco figures. In the raised upapita
there are sculptures from the puranas
(loosely called mythology).
The southeast corner features the story of Sundara and
in the right side of the eastern face are the stories if
Chandekeshwara, Siva’s divine marriage to Uma, and the story
Chandikeswara, was a great devotee of Siva who defied the
Vedic and Brahmanic traditions of his father to worship Shiva.
He would use up the milk from his father’s cows to bathe and
use up his father’s resources to decorate the Shiva Linga.
Once as he was bathing Shiva with milk, his father tried to
stop him. Not realizing that this was his father, and incensed
because he was stopped from worshipping Shiva, Chandesha cuts
the leg of the person who tried to stop him (his father).
Moved by his love for him, Shiva shows himself to Chandesha,
grants him an Eshwara (God) status, promises to makeover to
him a portion of all the offering made to him, and restores
his father’s leg. That is why, the Chandikeshwara shrine is
placed by the Lord’s shrine to receive part of the offerings
that come out of the garbha
the marriage scene of Shiva with Parvathi, Vishnu is shown as
giving her away and Brahma as the one who performs the
ceremony. Parvathi is born as Uma, the daughter of Himavan,
and is desirous of marrying Shiva. She undergoes the toughest
practices of worship in defiance of her father. Wanting to
demonstrate to the father the divinity of Uma and her love for
Him, Shiva shows up as a handsome man and performs many games
of love, bravery, and valor. After demonstrating to her father
the sincerity of his daughter’s love for Him, Shiva shows
himself in his manifest form to the world and marries her.
is born to an austere Rishi and his wife after many years.
However, on the day he was born, a voice proclaims that the
boy will die when he attains 16 years old. Although saddened
by the omen but overjoyed by the son that they got after many
years of worship, the couple raise him to be an ardent Shiva
devotee. The boy excels in study, philosophy, and above all
his devotion to Shiva. Nearing his sixteenth birthday, his
parents tearfully reveal the omens at his birth. The boy
cheerfully says that even death cannot take him away from
Shiva and enters the temple of Shiva at Thirukakavur (near
modern day Swami Malai). Yama’s, the God of Death, servants
try to enter the temple but are repeatedly rebuffed by Nandi
(Shiva’s first devotee) every time he tries to enter the
shrine. Smarting at this barrier, Yama come to the scene. On
seeing Yama, Markhandeya panics and hugs the Shiva Linga. When
he threw his Pasa Kayir
(rope of death) at the boy, the rope inadvertently goes around
the Shiva Linga too. Since he was trying to kill the Lord
Himself that cannot be done, Shiva in rage at Yama’s
insolence kicks him away.
the left side of the eastern entrance, miniature sculptures of
the story of Subramanya’s marriage with Valli, Kirardarjuna,
Kamadakana, and the story of Saint Kannappa are depicted.
defeating Sura Padman, Subrahmanya comes to >>CHECK Vralli
malai (near )<< to rest. At that point, He sees a
tribal girl called Valli intensely praying to Him seeking
marriage. Intrigued by this behavior, Muruga shows up as a
young handsome man and proposes marriage. He is rebuffed. He
shows up as many different forms but is always rebuffed.
However, he learns that this girl is not afraid of anything
except elephants. Muruga prays to his brother Vinayaka (The
God with the Elephant head) and asks him to help him win this
girl over. Vinayaka and Muruga hatch a plan. Muruga shows up
as an old man and seek the girl’s help. Respectful of older
people, Valli helps him around and gives him all the material
comforts he desires. The old man asks her to marry him
infuriating Valli. She threatens him of dire consequences and
praises Muruga. At that time, Muruga disguised as the old man,
prays to his brother who shows up as a large rutting elephant.
Valli panics and asks the old man to help him. The old man
promises to get rid of the elephant only if she agrees to
marry him. She agrees knowing well that she will go back on
her word. The old man makes the elephant disappear. With the
elephant gone, Valli tries to escape from the lecherous old
man. Muruga gets His Brother to confront her again. This time
Valli faints but into the hands of Muruga who brings her
around and reveals himself to her. Overjoyed in finding her
true love, she marries Him.
Kiradarjune scene is a bigger one and it depicts the Pandava
hero Arjuna performing austerities to obtain a Pasupatha
weapon. Shiva is shown as a hunter accompanied by Uma as a
Huntress and Ghanas as a host of animals. While Arjuna is
performing his penance, a Rakshasa, unknown to Arjuna takes
the form of a boar and comes to kill him. His concentration
broken, Arjuna takes up his bow, Gandiva, and fires an arrow
at the boar. At the same time, Shiva fires an arrow from his
bow, Pinaka. The Rakhshasa could not be killed by anyone
except Shiva but Arjuna does not know this. He picks up a
quarrel with the “Hunter” and gets into a fight. He shoots
his arrows at the Hunter but they seem to fall off the body of
the large man. Soon he runs out of arrows from even his
inexhaustible quivers. His arrows and his bow ineffective,
Arjuna fights with the “Hunter” using the Gandiva as a
stick. The Hunter plucks the Gandiva from Arjuna’s hand with
a laugh. Incensed with rage, Arjuna now tries to wrestle the
Hunter down but is picked off his feet as if he was a
weakling. In despair, Arjuna prays to Maheshwara to restore
his honor. The “Hunter” then reveals Himself along with
Uma and his retinue of Ghanas. Happy with Arjuna’s bravery
and devotion to Him, Shiva grants Arjuna tha Pashupatha weapon
and several other weapons.
the same eastern face of this gopura, above the panels
depicting puranic stories, there are two monolithic
Dwarapalakas (gatekeepers) measuring 20 feet each all the way
up to the level of kapotha.
These two sculptures have exquisite workmanship.
A huge snake is shown swallowing a mighty elephant
under the foot of the Dwarapalaka on the right side of the
in the Keralanthagan Thiruvayil,
there are also two monolithic door jams.
Similarly, this gopura also has a pair of two storey
vestibules with access to the second storey through simple
open staircases. The
massive architraves dividing the vestibules and the columns
that support them are plain.
are two sub-shrines facing western side of the gopura.
The southern one is a shrine for Nagraja (the
snake-King) and the northern one is supposed to be one for
Indra (the protector of eastern direction).
However, the image of Indira is missing. Three
sculptures on the Western side of the Indra sub-shrine are
identified as Tripurantaka, Gajasamhara and Bhiksadana. The
scenes from the story of Tripurantaka are carved in miniature
forms in the upapita portion near Nagaraja shrine. Shiva is
shown on a chariot driven by Brahma holding the arrow to
destroy the three Asura cities.
goshta images on the all four corners of the wall are
speculated to be the gods of eight cardinal directions.
Another theory, which seems less plausible, is that they
represent the eight vasus (Asta vasus).
The numerous stucco figures of this gopura belong to
the Nayaks and Maratta period (16th-19th
Srivimana or the Main Temple
main temple itself is made up of a grabhagraha (sanctum
sanctorum) on which there is a tower called srivimana or
srikoil. A big rectangular mandapa with an intervening
vestibule called mukhamandapa is placed before the garbhagraha.
The srivimana itself
is made up of a basement at the ground level (upapitha),
the base (adhistana), the wall (bhitti), the roof cornice (prastra),
the garland miniature shrines (hara), the storeys (tala), the
neck (griva) the crown (sikara) and the finial (stupi).
theory on the architecture is that the basement (upapitha) is
introduced in temples to increase the height of the main
tower, add to structural stability, and to make the temple
tower majestic. The
basement of Brahadisvara Temple with the height of 116 feet
magnificently fulfills these purposes.
main base is decorated with well-defined courses including the
lotus moulding adospadma, and the kumuda moulding. They are
topped with a frieze of leogriffs and riders.
On top of this base is the flooring of the grabhagraha.
The wall that rises above the main base to the roof
cornice is called the bhitti or kal.
This is the principal element that encases the main
sanctum and carries on it a number of niches housing various
wall itself is divided into two horizontal courses by an
intervening cornice. The lower course has an equal number of
niches on all the sides.
On the vertical axis the wall surfaces are well defined
by intervening recesses forming a rectangle in the centre and
squares at the corners. Each
is made up of a central niche housing a deity, flanked by a
group of small sculptures. Pilasters as simulating pillars in
turn flank these.
mukhamandapa abuts the eastern wall of the vimana.
There are two niches in the lower level. The sculptures
in the lower courses of the Srivimana depict various aspects
of Siva. The
entrance to the sanctum guarded by massive doorkeepers, Nandi
and mahakala. On the northern side niche near the Dwarapala is the image of
Siva in the form of Tripurantaka and on the southern side Siva
stands as Tatpurusha. Just
outside the mukhamandapa of the eastern wall of the srivimana
niches are found Surya and Vishnu Anugramurti.
row continues on the southern wall of the srivimana with the
sculptures of Bikshadana, Agora, Kalakala, and Nataraja.
The western wall niches are adorned by Harihara
Lingotbava, Satyojata, Chandrasekara and in the northern side
by Ardhanaresvara, Gangathara, Vamadeva, Gouriprasada and in
the northeastern side with Esana and Chandra.
On the top row of niches the beautiful sculptres of
Vidhyesvaras (Ananda, Sukshma, Sivathama, Ekanethra, Ekarudhra,
Trimurti, Srikanda and Sikandi), Murthiesvaras (Bavan, Sarvan,
Pasupathi, Ukran, Rudra, Bima, Esana and Mahadeva) and eleven
Rudras are found.
roof cornice consists mainly of three parts. The Bhutha Ghanas
(an Army following of Shiva) are at the bottom with a cornice
forming the out edge of the ceiling roof. This is topped with
a frieze of leogriff. The cornice is decorated with plain
spade like ornamentation.
main tower (called the Vimana), which has a pyramidal shape,
consists of 13 haras. The
Vimana converges upwardly by means of a square base of 26’ x
26’ width. The
tiers of the south, west and north are centrally adorned by
the sculpture of Daksinamurthy, Vishnu, and Brahma
the eastern side, the mountain Meru(parvatha) is decorated
with the seated figures of Siva and Parvathi, worshipped by
the Devas and Ganas. This
Siva form is called Mahameruvidanka.
neck is provided with four nitches in the cardinal directions
and eight bulls (which is the ride of Shiva) at the corners.
Four Siva figures adorn the niches.
The niches are topped by arch like embellishments
spherical element on the top (the capstone), called Sikhara
is, according to tradition, thought of being made with a
monolithic stone weighing 80 tonnes.
However, with the plaster coming apart, it has since
been found to be made by several pieces of cut dressed stones
made to appear as one stone.
finial (stupi) is a metal vase with a lotus bud design at the
top. It is plated
with gold and carries few inscriptions of Thanjavur Maratta
Kings and other donors. It is not known whether the stupi is
the original and probably plated by Maratta kings or is a
inner wall of 11’ width encases the garbhagraha enshrining
the main deity. Between
the inner wall and the outer wall of 13’ width, there is an
intervening passage running all around with a width of 6’.
The two walls are joined at the top by a series of
are provided to support the massive super structure.
the corridor of the ground floor (sandhara) and the first
floor there are four entrances in all the four directions.
There are deities that face the south, west, and
northern openings. The nine feet tall seated Rudramurthi face
the southern wall, Santhyanirthamurthi with ten arms faces the
western opening, and a seated Monomani face the northern
inner sanctum houses a very big Sivalinga, rising to a height
of 13’. The
lower half of the sripitha is of nine pieces with lotus
carvings. The upper half of the sripitha, with urthuva padma decoration
is a 60’ circle with the length of 6’ komugai in single
stone. Above this
linga bana stands. This
main deity is mentioned as Raja Rajesvaramudiya Paramasami in
the inscriptions of Rajaraja.
entrance to the sanctum is guarded by massive door keepers,
Nandi and Mahakala. In
the south and north entrances of vestibule (mukha mandapa) and
the south, west and north entrances of the sandhara there are
10 massive Dwarapala images.
These sculptures are the 10 Ayudapurushas (Vajna,
Sakthi, Dhanda, Dwaja, Sula, Ankusa, Gatha, Pasa, Kadga and
Chakra) of Siva. Out
of these 10 images five are in good condition without any
damage. Sakthi in
the south, Gatha and Sula in the west, Kaga nad Dwaja in the
north are of those images.
mandapa immediately preceding the sanctum is approached by
steps leading to it from the north and south sides and also
from the great mandapa in the east.
the eastern side of the southern stairway of the vestibule,
there are beautiful sculptures of scenes from the Tripurantaka
story and of the divine marriage of Siva with Uma.
The western side of the same stairway is adored by the
sculptures of Gangathara, Kamadhokana, Trimurti, Daksha with
the goat’s head, Narada, Indra, Surya and the ganas.
The western side of the northern stairway of the
vestibule has the sculptures from the complete story of Daksha
on the eastern side of this stairway depict scenes from the
stories of Chandesa, Kiratarjuna and Bikshatana.
a part of the original mahamandapa (the western half) survives
today. The current sidewalls, pillars, and ceilings may have
been reconstructed during the Nayaka rule in the 16th
Century. It is speculated that the original structure may have
been lost to vegetation growth from neglect or plunder from
invaders. From the surviving portion it may been seen the roof
(prasada) of the Mahamandapa was in level with the prasaa of
the ground floor (adi bhumi) of the main vimana.
Like the walls of the main vimana a horizontal cornice
divides the outer wall of the mahamandapa into two parts.
They carry a series of niches both in the upper and
is speculation that sculptures of Vidyesvaras, Vasus, Adityas
and other subsidiary deities were enshrined in those niches.
As mentioned earlier, the main vimana has two floors
inside the sandhara passage, the intervening cornice forming
the intermediate floor level.
There is a belief that the mahamandapa should have been
a two storeyed pavilion, quite fitting with the mahaprasada of
the temple. There
are large holes on the Srivama that probably housed crossbeams
to support this theory. Also, since the dwarapalakas guarding
the entrance to the mahamandapa are so tall, the central
passage should have had only the upper ceiling without the
intermediate flooring. Thus
the central passage was flanked by two storied structures
resembling the storied (now in ruined condition) cloister of
the front entrance of the mahamandapa can be approached from
the steps in the North and South. Serfoji added the steps found in the eastern side later in
entrance to mandapa is guarded by massive dwarapalakas.
The idols of Ganapathy and Durga near the entrance are
later installations. As
the flooring of the mandapa is on a high elevation, the steps
rise to considerable height forming a high platform in the
series of sculptures are shown with two arms, holding a sword
and a shield in the outside niches of the mahamandapa. They may be the eight vasus described in Agamic texts.
Ganapathy, standing Vishnu with Sridevi and Bhudevi,
Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Durga and Bhairava, enshrines the other
niches of the mahamandapa.
small temple to the northeast of the central shrine enshrines
Chandikeswara. It is a stone temple built on a raised
basement, with a storied superstructure.
The sanctum can be approached by side steps.
Inside the sanctum there are two small images of
Chandikeswara of later period.
The original image with suitable height of the
proportion of the shrine now is missing.
outer walls of this sanctum have niches on all the three
sides, carrying sculptures of standing Chandikeswara coeval
with the temple. Chandikeswara
is the principal subsidiary deity in Siva Temple and all the
transactions relating to the temple were made in his name.
Hence, a separate shrine is provided for him in the
temple complex. This
shrine is coeval in time and style with the main temple.
big prakara (courtyard) of the temple is about 500’ x 250’
and is surrounded by circumambulatory Tiruchchurru maaligai
(the sacred wall of enclosure).
There are three inscriptions found (same text) in two
places in the south wing and one in the west wing of the
They all confirm that this tiruchchurru maaligai was
raised according to the oral instruction of Rajaraja by the
famous military general named Krishnan Raman alias Mummudisola
Brahmamarayan who hailed from the village of Amangudi,
otherwise called Keralanthaka Chaturvedimangalam of
wall of enclosure rises to a height of 28’ and runs round to
the entire temple complex. Hugging the wall inside the
enclosure is a long corridor supported by two rows of pillars. It is two storied and rests on a upapita.
The different levels are demarcated by a cornice which
is about 10’ from the floor of the courtyard.
Over the flat roof of the upper storey of this
cloister, the wall of the enclosure rises another 9’.
A large number of decorative Nandis in stone are placed
at intervals over its ridge.
are 36 peripheral sub-shrines in the tiruchchurru maaligai
which can be divided into four types.
The first type consists of two small square sanctums
are symmetrically incorporated in the gateway and are
accessible from its inner face. The second type is a set of 27
small sub-shrines with square sanctums. The third type is a
set of nine larger sub-shrines in the rectangular sanctums.
Finally, there are four corner sub-shrines with small
square sanctums preceded by vestibules. The four gateways apart from the eastern gopura (Rajarajan
Tiruvayil) are perched in the enclosure wall.
The gateway in the north western side is mentioned as
Anukkan Tiruvayil in one of the Rajaraja’s inscriptions of
the four corners of the Tiruchchurru maaligai and also in the
middle of the three sides, there are seven shrines in the
decorative vimanas over them.
The seven shrines were meant for seven of the eight
Dikpalakas or guardian deities of eight directions. In the
cell of south east corner is Agnideva (fire), south is Yama
(Death), southwest is Niruthi, west is Varuna (Rain or Ocean),
northwest is Vayu (Wind), north is Soma (Moon), and northeast
Esana (Shiva) are found.
As mentioned before, the Indra shrine in the eastern
gopura does not have a deity.
Except the Dikpalas, Parivara Ganapathy, Nagaraja and
the Nagadevadas, several Lingas are housed in the
tiruchchrrumaaligai. They are the later additions of the Nayak and Maratta rulers.
The original deities housed in the 36 parivaralayas
during Rajaraja’s period were removed or ruined by the
looters in the 14th century.
amman (Goddess Periyanayaki) shrine which is in the north side
of prakara (courtyard), just opposite to the big Nandimandapa
is a later addition during 13th century by one of
the Pandya rulers (proably Jatavarma Sundrapandia).
We know from inscriptions that Rajaraja in one of the
shrines in the northern tiruchchurrumaaligai installed the
original Devi statue in the name of Parivaralayattu Uma
Pattaraki. The large entrance hall of the Amman shrine is a
later addition during Vijayanagar period (15th
century A.D.). The
inner ceiling of this mandapa is adorned with the Maratta
paintings of Serfoji’s period (1799-1835 A.D.)
large Subramanya shrine is located in northwest corner of the
courtyard. It is
one of the best examples of temple architecture of the Nayak
period. It stands in striking contrast with the main shrine
Nayak, the first Thanjavur Nayak ruler, constructed this
structure in the early half of 16th century.
This shrine consists of the garbhagriha, the
arthamandapa and the mukha mandapa.
The sculptures in the outer wall and in the mandapa
have unique features. One
can enjoy the complete iconography of Skantha (Lord Muruga) in
kudus of the kapotha (cornice).
front mandapa known as Mallappa Nayakar Mandapa of the same
age, was connected with the Subramanya shrine by steps during
19the century by Serfoji II.
This mandapa stands as one of the best art galleries in
Nandi and the Mandapa
the front courtyard (in the eastern prakara) before the main
temple is the Nandi Mandapa.
It is a plain open hall with a flat roof, housing the
recumbent mount of Vrishaba (bull), a prodigious monolithic
sculpture of realism and beauty.
has the measurement of gigantic 3.66 metres in height, 5.94
metres in length and 2.59 metres in breadth. The mandapa as a plain, uncluttered 16 pillared structure and
the bull is the contribution of Thanjavur Nayak kings in 16-17th
present Nataraja Mandapa is mentioned as Murti Ammal Mandapa
by one of the inscriptions of the Amman shrine.
It was the contribution of the Nayak ruler Sevappa in
the name of his wife Murti Ammal in the early 16th
the southwest corner of the couryard, the Ganapathyshrine is a
small temple built at the end of the 18th century
A.D. by Serfoji II. The
small sanctum opens to the east and can be entered through a
vestibule. The vimana is adorned with stucco figures.
last addition inside the courtyard is a small shrine built at
the beginning of the 20th century to on our
Karuvurdevar who write Tiruvisaippa, the sacred hymns to
praise the Lord of Rajarajesvaram during the Chola period.
famous series of paintings in the Rajarajesvaram are the fine
examples of the Chola, Nayak and Maratta skill in this art.
Chola fresco paintings of about 1000 A.D. and the
Nayaks tempora paintings of 17th century are seen
on the four sidewalls of the central cell along the
Maratta’s paintings (18-19th century) are
adorning (i) on the mahamandapa ceiling, (ii) on the west and
north walls of tiruchchurrumaaligai (iii) on the north, south
walls of the big mandapa in front of the Subramanyaswami
garbhagraha of the Rajrajesvaram has a circumbulatory hall
having a width of 6’ between the two parallel walls.
In 1930 A.D. some remarkable paintings were discovered
in the interfacing walls of that hall by the late Professor
S.K. Govindasamy (Journal of the Annamalai University, Vol II,
however, found on close scrutiny that the entire wall surface
was covered with paintings belonging to the days of the Nayaks
of Thanjavur and that in places the painted surface had
crumbled, exposing to view exquisite paintings of Rajaraja
Chola. Trying to
preserve both Chola and Nayak paintings, the Department of
Archaeology has done a remarkable conservation of
scientifically cleaning the exposed portions revealing the
excellence of the Chola paintings and at the same time
retaining in tact the upper layer on which the Nayak paintings
original fresco paintings, as far as they have been exposed
are mainly in the south, north and western walls.
On the southernside, a huge panel in which Siva as
Dakshinamurti under a banyan tree is found occupies major
portion of the wall space.
Bhairava with dog and the Sanagathi Munies (disciples
of Siva) are also seen in the panel with animals and birds.
the south side of the western wall the most complete and
chronologically arranged is the thematic panel depicting the
episodes in the life of the Saint Sundara.
The total panel is divided into three portions.
The lower most one is the marriage scene of Saint
Sundara. In this
portion one can witness the arrangements of Sundara’s
Siva as an old man appears with a document to prove his claim
to the beautiful bridgegroom Sundara, whom he brought away
with him to Tiruvennainallur Sabha, at the very day of his
examining the document the Sabha members confirms the old
man’s claim. Sundara
singing hymns in the temple of Tiruvennainallur is also found.
the middle portion of this panel we can see Sundara and
are traveling on Siva’s elephant Airavanam and a horse to
Mount Kailash. Celestial dancers and musicians are also depicted in this
the uppermost scene Siva and Parvathi are shown seated intiger
skinwith devas, ganas and other celestial dancers and
and Cheraman also witness the music and dances in Mout Kailas
a longwith Siva and Parvathi.
the next panel of the same wall is a large figure of Nataraja
dancing in the golden hall at Cidambaram with priest and other
devotees on one side and Rajaraja and his three queens on the
other side. The
entire Cidambaram temple with the four gateways (gopuras in
Chera style) is beautifully depicted.
the opposite wall, the scene of Rajaraja worshipping the Linga
in the Thanjavur Temple is found.
There are also some charming miniature figures of
next panel in northwest norner is the scene of four disciples
who are akasanthana Kuravars (Sanga, Sanathana, Saanathana and
Sanathkumara) of Lord Dakshinamurthy.
Among the four two were wrongly identified as Rajaraja
and Karuvurdevar by some scholars.
northern wall has the most magnificient of the murals. The
principal figure is Tripurantaka Siva on the chariot drawn by
the four Vedas transformed into horses, with Brahma as the
accompanies him on peacock, Ganesa on mouse and Kali on lion,
with Vrishapa in front of the chariot.
He is in a lidha pose of a warrior with eight arms, all
carrying weapons and in the act of using mighty bow to
overcome a host of aggressive and fearless Tripura demons with
their womenfolk clinging to them.
This painting is the greatest masterpiece of the Chola
artist distinguished by its power grandeur, rhythem and
composition and is unparalleled by any contemporary painting
or sculpture. One
can enjoy two bhavas (expressions) in the single face of
Tripurantaka i.e., the ferociousness in the eye and the sweet
smile in the lips.