The Great Living Chola Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and your day will start with a guided visit to the most amazing example of these, the Brihadishwara. This awe-inspiring Temple Complex is constructed solely of granite, a material so hard that no architect today, with all our current technology, would even dream of building a structure with the incredible detail and mammoth scale of the Brihadishwara. These are just a few of the reasons why this monument is one of India’s most treasured architectural achievements.
This ancient temple’s crown is a massive granite monolithic cupola. This temple was built by the great Chola King Rajaraja Chola 1. Construction commenced in 1003 AD and the height of the main structure is 216 feet, which means that the 80 ton cupola had to be raised about 200 feet and placed at the top of the structure. The temple itself is decorated with carved panels depicting mythological events. An immense Nandi (the Bull) stands in front of the main shrine - carved out of a single piece of granite and measuring 16 feet long & 13 feet high. The incredible detail and complexity of the carvings is matched by the vibrant colors and talented artistry of the elaborate frescoes inside the structures. The colors used are said to have lasted this long because they were achieved by locating stones in those natural shades and grinding those stones to a paste.
After your exploration of the Brihadishwara, if time permits, you can enjoy a guided tour of the Saraswati Mahal Library and Art Gallery. The Gallery houses a large collection of ancient Chola bronzes, and the building is an architectural marvel.
Sights in Tanjore
The celebrated Saiva temple at Thanjavur, appropriately called Brihadisvara and Daksinameru, is the grandest creation of the Chola emperor Rajaraja (AD 985-1012). It was inaugurated by the king himself in his 19th regnal year (AD 1009-10) and named it after himself as Rajesvara Peruvudaiyar. Architecturally, it is the most ambitious structural temple built of granite. It has been regarded as a ‘landmark in the evolution of building art in south India’ and its vimana as a ‘touchstone of Indian architecture as a whole’. The temple is within a spacious inner prakara of 240.9 m long (east-west) and 122 m broad (north-south), with a gopura at the east and three other ordinary torana entrances one at each lateral sides and the third at rear. The prakara is surrounded by a double-storeyed malika with parivaralayas. The temple with its massive proportions and simplicity of design provided inspiration for future designs in constructions not only in south India but also in south-east Asia.
The sikhara, a cupolic dome, is octagonal and rests on a single block of granite, a square of 7.8 m weighing 80 tons. The majestic upapitha and adhishthana are common to all the axially placed entities like the ardha-maha and mukha-mandapas and linked to the main sanctum but approached through a north-south transept across the ardha-mandapa which is marked by lofty sopanas. The moulded plinth is extensively engraved with inscriptions by its royal builder who refers to his many endowments, pious acts and organisational events connected to the temple.
The brihad-linga within the sanctum is 8.7 m high. Life-size iconographic representations on the wall niches and inner passages include Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Kalantaka, Natesa, Ardhanarisvara and Alingana forms of Siva. The mural paintings on the walls of the lower ambulatory inside are finest examples of Chola and later periods which depict the contemporaneous scenes with legendary ones.
Sarfoji, a local Maratha ruler, rebuilt the Ganapati shrine. The celebrated Thanjavur School of paintings of the Nayakas is largely superimposed over the Chola murals. The temple is rich in iconography as well as inscriptions which provide an account of events showing achievements, financial arrangements, donations and bearing an impression of contemporary society.
Two great Chola Temples of the 11th and 12th centuries have been added to the 11th century Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, inscribed in 1987. The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of South India and the neighbouring islands. The site now includes the three great 11th and 12th century Chola Temples: the Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram.
The Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. It has six pairs of massive, monolithic dvarapalas statues guarding the entrances and bronzes of remarkable beauty inside. The Airavatesvara temple complex at Darasuram, built by Rajaraja II, features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the Cholas brilliant achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.
Since 1918 the Saraswathi Mahal Library has been a possession of the state of Tamil Nadu. Its official name of the Library was changed to "The Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library" in honour of the great royal Marathan patron.
Read more about Saraswathi Mahal Library on Wikipedia.
In Thanjavur District, Papanasam is one of the historical cities. There are two Temples, one Pallavanatha swamy Temple constructed by Chola King another one 108 Sivalayam Temple. There are also a granary (Store House of paddy) Breath 86 feet height 36 feet capacity of 3,000 Kalam (measure) constructed by Nayaks in 1600 - 1634. State Archaeological Department declared it as a monument. There is also a famous Mullaivananathaswamy Temple at Thirukarukkavoor. One can see the 108 Sivalingam in one temple in Papanasam Town only.
Read more about Papanasam on Wikipedia.
This place is about 8 kms from Kumbakonam and 48 km away from Thanjavur. It is spelt in ancient books as Thiruvidaimaruthur. The village is also called Madhyarjunam. The presiding deity is Mahalingar and goddess is known as Brikatkunchautsa. People suffering from mental affliction visit the place for relief.
This place is 6 km, from Kumbakonam and 46 km away from Thanjavur. Lord Venkatesaperumal dedicated like Tirupathi Balaji "Oppil Upper" is the other name. It is connected by bus route from Kumbakonam to Nachiarkoil.
Read more about Uppliyappan Koil on Wikipedia.
The Poondi village is about 35 km from Thanjavur nearest Railway Station is Budalur. It is also one of the Roman Catholic Pilgrim centre another like Velankanni. It attracts more Pilgrims all over India. Accommodation provided to the Pilgrims by Church Authorities.