We are not makers of history. We are made by history.Martin Luther King Jr.
It is an unquestionable fact that our past does have an influence over us. The context and the degree of such an influence might be open to debate.
Keeping the aforesaid line of thought in mind, let me take this opportunity to provide some avenues in India, which are by far, extremely uncliche. The seventh largest country in the World can definitely not be limited to just Taj Mahal or Mumbai.
It has a lot more to offer – More than “a hundred thousand things to see”. Come, let us now explore one of those in this blog post, and open up another doorway to explore the rich cultural and architectural heritage of India.
One astounding facet of the uncliche in Incredible India is the Brihadeeshwara Temple in the city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, India.
In my opinion, the Brihadeeshwara Temple can be considered to be a testimony to the exemplary level of Indian architecture, construction and aesthetic finesse, which was present during a Millennium ago.
Yes, that is right. A Thousand Years back this marvelous gem of the Temple, was built, which would later become one of the symbols of the glorious cultural heritage of India.
And quite aptly was this monument accorded with the coveted “World Heritage Site” status by none other than UNESCO.
Take a glimpse of the temple and see for yourself.
Not impressed yet? Let me unfold things, piece by piece.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple is located in the city of Thanjavur, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Thanjavur, formerly known as Tanjore, is an important centre for art, religion and culture of India. The great architectural marvels of the Chola Kings are located in and around Thanjavur.
Thanjavur is also known as the “Rice bowl of India” owing to the extensive paddy cultivation carried out here. Thanjavur also has its claim to fame from the famous Tanjore silk fabric – a premium variety of silk which is globally acclaimed for its smoothness and glitter.
Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) International Airport: about 65 km
Trichy Airport offers direct connections to: Singapore, UAE, Malaysia, Sri Lanka
Coimbatore International Airport: about 266 km
Coimbatore Airport offers direct connections to: Singapore, UAE, Sri Lanka
Chennai International Airport: about 326 km
Chennai Airport is a major airport in India. It offers connections to several countries like Germany, Qatar, UAE, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, UK etc.
From Chennai, Trichy or Coimbatore, the visitor may board a bus, train or hire a taxi (expensive) to reach Thanjavur.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple was constructed more than a thousand years ago, in 1010 CE. The grandeur and magnificence of this temple considering the epoch of the timeline under discussion is simply unimaginable.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple was constructed by the Great King Raja Raja Chola or Raja Raja I.
The Chola dynasty ruled the Southern Region of India alongwith other dynasties. They had been ruling before 300 BCE and their rule continued till about 1280 CE. At the peak of their power during the ninth to eleventh century CE, the Chola Kings ruled almost the entirety of South India (present day Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana), alongwith the Indian East Coast and large parts of South East Asia like Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The Chola fleet represented the epitome of medieval India’s naval power.
The Chola dynasty is remembered for its legacy of patronizing art and architecture, in addition to offering an effective and disciplined bureaucratic administration to its people. Their temples not only served as centres of worship, but also served as centres of art and economic activities. The Indian culture was also spread in several areas of Southeast Asia by the Chola Kings.
This is the part where I can safely say to the uninitiated: Get ready to be astounded..!!
- This temple is a magnificence in granite. Yes, solid Granite.
- It largely remains a mystery how large chunks of granite were transported and lifted to heights of about 70 metres above ground level – all in c. 1010 CE. And it goes without saying, they were lifted without the help of Modern Machines or Cranes..!!
- The granite slabs have been meticulously cut and carved into blocks, girders and slabs, and joined seamlessly without cement, concrete, nails or glue. Though this sounds unbelievable for the modern times, such feats were more of prevalent norms than exceptions in Indian Architecture which predate the Modern era by more than several Millennia.
- UNESCO refers to the Brihadeeshwara Temple as one of the Grand Living Chola Temples. Its grandeur is unquestionable. It is living because for 1000 years and till date, the Temple serves not only as an Architectural Marvel to be awed, but also as an abode of daily prayers and rituals – carried out as per the traditions which themselves predate the very temple by several millennia.
- The Nandi or the Bull facing the temple has been carved out of a single rock (monolith) and weighs approx. 25 Tons and is approx. 2 metres tall. It is one of the largest in India. The Nandi is an important sculpture found in almost all the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in India.
Behold the personification of the sheer grandeur speaking for itself.
Art and Sculpture
As far as the Construction is concerned, you have already witnessed a marvel. How about we take a closer look at the art and aesthetics of the temple?
The efforts of the India artistes, sculptors and architects in the olden times deserve veneration. It is quite natural to get awestruck to find these intricately carved statues, made out of solid granite, a millennium ago.
Several well preserved centuries old murals can be found on the temple walls, which are nearly as vibrant as they were when painted. The work of the artistes speak volumes about their finesse.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Nataraja avatar of Lord Shiva, which depicts the Lord as a cosmic elegant dancer.
The temple contains depiction of the 81 of the 108 dance forms of Lord Nataraja.
It is worth noting that during its zenith, the Temple premises employed hundreds of professional classical dancers and musicians. Dance and music as per the 81 dance forms or Natya Sutras were dedicated to Lord Nataraja as a form of worship.
In 2010 CE, India celebrated 1000 years of the Brihadeeshwara Temple. To commemorate the occasion, about 1000 professional dancers from India and abroad came together to dance in the divine classical music composed by Karuvur Deva – the mentor of King Raja Raja Chola.
The grandeur of this temple and the empyrean feeling the traveler gets upon setting his / her foot in this temple is utterly inexplicable through words.
Come, explore this celestial wonder of a place yourself and be awed beyond imagination in this part of Incredible India.
.. Until Next Time ..
History does have an influence over the present. Whether that influence is manifested in some ritual, worship or in some seemingly as inconsequential a thing as clinking of beer glasses during “Cheers”, each of these actions do have a centuries, even millennia old background.
If one pays a visit to Tamil Nadu, one can easily see several beautifully constructed temples – some are modern and some are medieval. Upon close observation, the style may be considered to be inspired by the Brihadeeshwara Temple, among many other factors as well.
In-depth studies of these marvels is poised to unveil more secrets of India’s impeccable heritage of architecture and construction, which might even hold significance in the modern era. Questions about the survival of such colossal structures for a millennium at a stretch, building these with simple tools in hand by breaking none other than the near unbreakable granite are worth pondering upon considering the epoch of history we are discussing.
Hope that you personally explore the mysteries waiting to unfold in this and other equally incredible parts of Incredible India.
This, alongwith several other posts, is in line with the quest for the uncliche. Hope you find this blog post and the place delightful enough to make you pack your bags and go for a visit to this part of Incredible India.
India is not just Taj Mahal, Delhi, Goa or Mumbai. It has a lot more to offer. Over-tourism, or tourism concentrated to a very few places, overcrowds them and leaves the others unexplored, the latter having so much to offer themselves.
Click here to know about the need for the uncliche and how one can contribute his / her bit towards combating over-tourism, at the same time, extracting maximum benefit and pleasure out of his / her travel.
Click here to delve into a bit more detail of how some cities (like Copenhagen, Berlin etc) are doing their part and ensuring tourist delight.
You have now heard about architectural magnificence of the Brihadeeshwarar Temple, built more than a Millennium ago.
Take a close look at this seemingly nondescript mound in the state of Gujarat, about 2000 km from Thanjavur.
Seems that there is nothing to see in the middle of nowhere, right?
What if I told you that this seemingly nondescript mound is a part of a larger port city featuring punctilious urban planning, docks with lock systems, international business featuring manufacture of premium products and world class water, sewage, road and urban system – which predates the Brihadeeshwara temple itself by several millennia (about 1-2 Millennia BCE)?
Click here to read more about Lothal – A Port City of the Indus Valley Civilization, and be awed all over again in Incredible India.
© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.