Tanjore: Brihadisvara & Beyond…

Temple-towns of ancient era were not only about big temples, rather a kind of cultural hubs, practicing and showcasing multiple sorts of art-forms like music, dance, drama, literature, painting, sculpture, food, and textile and so on. History shows us how a stable and prosperous ruler with good aesthetic sense used to encourage all possible aspects of culture during his time; and the South Indian town Tanjore or Thanjavur was a perfect example of that. The best thing is that it still holds its tradition.

The big Brihadeeshwara Temple of Tanjore must be the highlight of your trip, but here I am presenting the other aspects too, that will help you to explore the place at its best.


Brihadisvara Temple of Tanjore

Of course your first choice! Before discussing in detail, let us have few glimpses:

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What you should not skip during your visit:

  1. Perceive the vastness. It is one of the largest temple-constructions of ancient India, built during the rule of the great Chola king Raja Raja Chola between 1003 and 1010 AD.
  2. Here, the Vimana (the tower-like structure over the inner sanctum) is as high as a 21 storied building and shaped like pyramid. Just imagine how they built this marvel more than thousand years ago with the ancient technique of putting stone blocks one over another, making slopes of soil alongside each layer of stones to drag wheel-cart full of stones over the slope. Isn’t it jaw-dropping?
  3. Before entering, take your time to notice the two gates meticulously. These are densely covered with numerous figurines, though plastered by stucco for preservation, but creating the most gorgeous parts of the entire temple-structure.
  4. You will see a big black statue of a bull in front of the main temple. He is Nandi, a guardian deity whom you can find in front of all Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, but remember that here you are standing in front of the second largest Nandi of the world.
  5. The main temple is a massive example of Chola architecture, but the surrounding shrines are built later, during the reign of Pandya, Nayaka, Vijayanagaram and Maratha rulers. Therefore, this temple complex has become a kind of an open air museum displaying architectures of different era. Even if you have zero knowledge on South Indian temple-structure, here you can compare one with another, learn new things and get some insight. Do it. It will be fun.
  6. Don’t forget to notice the murals on the ceiling of Nandi-Shrine, Parvati-Temple and the inner side of the walls encircling the temple complex. Here also, you can pursue your comparative observation.
  7. The lower parts of the main temple are covered with ancient inscriptions. You may not be an epigraphist, but remember that these inscriptions are full of facts regarding the building of Brihadisvara Temple and contemporary reign.
  8. The figures of different deities like Nataraja, Ardhanariswara, Saraswati, Mahishasuramardini, Kartikeya are important to notice, and especially numbers of Dwarpals, that will be found on both sides of every gate or gate-like structure. Even a half-figurine of a European is there on the northern side of the main temple, depicting the trade-connection with Europe in late medieval period.
  9. Unlike most of the other ancient temples built during that time, Brihadisvara is a living temple, still full of devotees. And unlike other living temples of South India, Brihadisvara is not a multi-colored temple; rather eye-soothing sepia maintains its ancient aristocracy. In fact, this is an UNESCO World Hertitage Site, so things are bound to be kept as unaltered as possible. Even after that, you can find colors on the walls, reminding the fact that it was actually colorful in past days.
  • Opening hours: 6 AM to 8 PM. The inner sanctum is closed from 12-4 PM.
  • Estimated time to visit: 1-3 hours
  • Get in: It is situated in the heart of Tanjore. From Chennai, Tanjore is just 7-8 hours journey by train/bus. From Puducherry, it will take 3-4 hours by road.


Brihadeswara Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Yes! There is another Brihadisvara Temple, built in Gangaikonda Cholapuram, about 70 kms away from the city of Tanjore and 25 years later of the earlier one. This temple-structure was financed by the Chola King Rajendra Chola I, who was the son of Rajaraja Chola I, the founder of the former temple. Just like the name, the temple also looks similar to its namesake, only far smaller in size. If you are coming here after visiting the Brihadisvara Temple of Tanjore, you may find it repetitive and of course less massive; though don’t forget to notice the figures on the wall.

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  • Opening hours: 6 AM to 8 PM. The inner sanctum is closed from 12-4 PM.
  • Estimated time to visit: 1 hour
  • Get in: Hire a car from Tanjore and to visit this temple along with the temple of Darasuram. If you are coming from or going to Puducherry, then Gangaikonda Cholapuram will be en route.


Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram

The Brihadisvara Temple of Tanjore, The Brihadisvara Temple of of Gangaikonda Cholapuram and this Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram – together they are called the Great Living Chola Temples. Airavatesvara is the youngest and smallest among all, built more than 100 years later of the former one during the rule of the King Rajaraja Chola II. Darasuram is about 36 kms away from Tanjore. Though smallest one, but Airavatesvara has unique features:

  1. This is a chariot-temple, just like the sun temple of Konark or chariot-temple of Hampi.
  2. Numerous columns are there, along the inner side of the wall and in front of the inner sanctum. If you notice minutely, you will get amazed to see the diverse collection of column-shapes, column-heads and column-bases. More to this, columns are full of very intricate reliefs exhibiting mythical scenes to scenes related to the daily life of common men. The big temple of Tanjore is a massive structure, but I must say that the intricacy of Airavasvara is unparallel.

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  • Opening hours: 6 AM to 8 PM. The inner sanctum is closed from 12-4 PM.
  • Estimated time to visit: 1-2 hours
  • Get in: Hire a car from Tanjore to visit this temple along with the temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram. If you are coming from or going to Puducherry, then you can visit both of the temples en route.


Tanjore Dance Festival

During the era of the King Rajaraja Chola I, every evening people used to gather in the Brihadisvara Temple complex to cherish classical music, dance and Vedic chants. Beautiful evenings of that bygone era come alive now-a-days for one week. Every year, on the day of Mahashivaratri (falls during February-March) and following seven evenings, classical music and dances are performed here in the temple complex. It is not a big deal to see this type of performance on stage, but experiencing Indian tradition on an age old stone stage inside an ancient temple-complex…it is something different, may be a lifetime memory for you!

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  • Contact Brahan Natyanjali Foundation to get the program-schedule before your visit. Contact No – + 91 98424 55765.


Tanjore Painting

Your visit to Tanjore will be incomplete unless you are exposed to the art-forms originated or related to this area. The famous Tanjore painting comes first. I always love to see artisans doing their work, therefore visited one of the art galleries (Contact: +91 80989 95652). Let us see how Tanjore paintings look and how they make it.


Tanjore Silk Saree

You will see many lady devotees visiting the Great Living Chola Temples in very shining colorful sarees. These are famous Tanjore silk. If you are not a saree-lover or you don’t like the extreme gorgeousness of Tanjore Silk, even then, you should visit a weaver’s house to perceive how complicated the entire weaving process is. I always consider textile as an art material, therefore, when a man standing in front of Airavatesvara Temple provoked us to visit weavers’ homes just beside the temple, we followed him. There is another town called Ayyampettai on the way to Darasuram from Tanjore; there also you will find many weavers’ house. Usually Tanjore Silk is very expensive, but if you buy it directly from weaver’s home, you have to pay much less.

Tanjor Silk – The Handloom & the Weaver

Tanjore Dolls

This is a bobble-head doll having the figure of a dancing girl. Due to a simple but unique making, this doll continuously makes dance-like movements with slow oscillations. Initially it was of terracotta material, but now-a-days they use paper mache.

You can buy these dolls in many shops in Tanjore including souvenir shops of Brihadisvara temple, but if you want to see how it is prepared you will have to go to the village named Ammapet, 22 kms east of Tanjore.



Tanjore Lost Wax Bronze Art

The entire procedure is similar to Dokra art. The artisans of the art gallery (Contact: +91 80989 95652) we visited demonstrated us as follows:

Tanjore Thali

Are you a foodie? Then let your taste-buds get exposed to Tanjore Thali, a meal with vegetarian side dishes that can go up to 10 to 15 in number.

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Tanjor Thali

Belonging from the eastern part of India, Tanjore Thali was a unique gourmet experience for me. There are restaurants in Tanjore and surrounding area with the names ending with –Bhavan, like Saravana Bhavan, Vasanta Bhavan etc where you can get Tanjore Thali from 11 AM to 3 PM only.

A Route Map for Tanjore and the Surrounding Areas

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