Before venturing out to see the 1000 year old Brihadeeswara temple (also called Rajarajeswaram temple) at Thanjavur in central part of Tamilnadu state in India, I had read that its vimana - the tower over the sanctum sanctorum was visible from a distance. Out of curiosity and as the bus was nearing the town I was looking all-around eagle eyed to spot the monument but in vain. Disembarking the bus I asked someone about the temple. "Oh, the Big temple is in old Thanjavur some 4 km away from this place", he said guiding me to the local bus going there.
Finally, after about another 15 minutes or so the 65 metre tower was visible to me when the bus stopped at its gate. Obviously today the high rise structures and multi-story buildings are obscuring ancient monuments and heritage structures almost everywhere in India.
Temple architecture in India falls under a variety of styles depending upon the part of the country, the era, and taste of the rulers.
This marvel at Thanjavur (completed and commissioned in 1010 CE by a Chola king and now a UNESCO world heritage site) stands among the most magnificent and tallest done in the South Indian style.
The premises are spread over an area of 2.88 ha and the 13 tiered vimana
stands 64.82 m tall (including 5m cupola over the 59.82 m tower). Granite stone is used without any binding material. Stones are just interlocked. This being a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, a huge granite bull - Nandi, the mascot of Shiva, is placed in front just after the second entrance gate.
Life-size figures of Shiva among many other statues adorn the outer walls of the temple. One most talked about and prominent is the statue of one dwarpala (door keeper) holding a massive mace which is encircled by a python which in turn is swallowing an elephant. That clearly sends one’s imagination towards a massive dimension about the things associated with those times of kings and their valour. Inside, they say the sanctum sanctorum is hollow inside right up to the top. Since that one is a living temple and I don’t enter places of worship, I can’t describe the inside finery of the structure.
As a remarkable example of architectural stability of a high-rise structure, this temple has withstood many unrecorded and at least six recoded earthquakes till date. They say not even a minor crack or damage to any part of the massive structure has been observed over one millennium year history of the temple.
The main hall is said to have been used by the dancers and musicians performing in service of Shiva. There are some musical pillars producing different sounds when tapped. Someone told me that the one pillar with a sharp ringing sound was hollow from inside. I questioned him on this stating the wonderful and almost mystical musical pillars of Hampi where sounds of different types of instruments came out of pillars but they are not hollow, he was answerless.
60 Km from Tiruchirapalli, it has plenty of buses plying round the clock. They charge only Rs 20 and take an hour and a half. In Tamilnadu the bus service is very efficient and cheap.
There are many trains from Egmore, Chennai.
(I visited in January 2011)