Bharat Virasat-Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjavur

Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjavur

Place of Worship. Hindu


The Brihadeeshvara Temple, also called Rajarajesvaram, and known locally as Peruvudaiyar Kovil, is a Shiva temple built in a Chola architectural style and is located on the south bank of the Cauvery river in Thanjavur. It was built by Chola emperor Rajaraja I between 1003 and 1010.

The temple stands in a fortified compound, complete with a moat (fed by the Grand Anicut canal) and bastions. There are three successive gates to the temple, beyond the moat. The first of the gates is known as the Maratha gateway. It is an arched gateway with plain walls, but topped with beautiful stucco figures of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Kartikeya, etc. There are two shrines on the left and right of the entrance door, dedicated to Ganesha and Subramanya. The second gate a towering gopuram, the Rajarajan Thiruvasal. It is richly decorated with sculptures. The third gateway, the Keralantaka, is a smaller gopuram, also richly decorated with sculptures. This third gateway forms part of the inner compound wall which forms the large courtyard (240 m x 120m) within which the temple stands. This compound wall features a number of nandi (bull) sentinels in various poses mounted on top of the wall.

There are four main sections: the sanctum with the towering superstructure (sri vimana), the main community hall (mukhamandapam), the great gathering hall (mahamandapam), and the pavilion that connects the great hall with the sanctum (Antrala).

The complex has, in addition to the main shrine, five sub-shrines, for Chandikesvara, Amman, Subramanya, Ganesha, and the royal priest, Karuvar. There are two open pavilions, one each for Nandi, and Nataraja.

There are a number of martial figures adorning the wall of the main shrine, with sword and shield in hand, especially as dwarapalakas flanking each entrance way. The niches of the lower wall of the main shrine depict various deities such as Ganesha, Ardhanariswara, Vishnu, Chandrashekhara, Kalantaka, etc. However, the upper wall has only the figure of Tripurantaka. The shikhara which rises above the wall is adorned with floral motifs, along with nandi figures and minor divinities. The center of the faces of the pyramidal shikhara also has mini-shrines at intervals, with various forms of Shiva, including Nataraja.

The walls and plinth (adhisthana) are covered with inscriptions of Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara, Nayaka, and Maratha rulers who administered the temple over the years. These inscriptions inform us of the endowments made by various rulers for the upkeep of the temple. The temple was fortified, the Subramanya shrine added, and the colossal Nandi installed during the rule of the Nayakas.

The ardha-mandapa and mukhamandapa of the temple have carved pillars lining a central nave. The patterns on these pillars are geometrical, and the pillars are mounted by capitals bearing lion figures. Some of the the granite pillars are paired with pillars of black stone, giving the pillar a rectangular contour. The sanctum has a pradakshina-patha (circum-ambulatory) around it. The lower circum-ambulatory has exquisite paintings of the Chola period, while the upper one is covered with relief work depicting various dance poses.

The first structure one encounters when one enters the temple complex is the Nandi mandapam, which houses a giant nandi (bull), about 3m high. The pillars of this pavilion are intricately carved, with both devotional and floral themes. The ceiling of the pavilion is elaborately painted, with geometrical patterns and winged gandharvas.

The Amman temple is on the right of, and slightly further from the Nandi mandapam. The presiding deity here is Brihannayaki. Inscriptions in the complex indicate that this shrine was created in the 14th century CE, during the Pandya period. It is understood that this shrine has replaced one that stood along the cloistered wall behind the present shrine. This shrine was constructed in multiple phases - with the mukhamandapa being a later day addition during the Nayaka period, whereas the garbha-griha, mahamandapa, and the ardhamandapa are from the Pandya period. The columns of the mukhamandapa have sculptures of Veerabhadra, Ganesha, and Murugan, in addition to other nymphs and demi-gods. The orientation of this shrine is north-south, with the main entrance being on the south.

The Subramanya Shrine was built by Sevappa Nayaka in the 17th century, CE. It stands a little behind and to the right of the main temple. The east-facing temple has a traditional garbha-griha, ardha mandapa, and a mahamandapa, with an elaborately decorated shikhara. The presiding deity in this shrine is Subramanya in Shanmukha form (with six faces), seated on a peacock. This scultpure is carved out of a single stone. The mahamandapa has an elaborately scuplted multi-pillared hall. The pillars are covered with floral and geometric patterns. There are two flights of steps leading up to the raised mahamandapa, one on each side, which show elephants trampling enemy soldiers in battle. A multi-pillared hall in front of the shrine is called the Mallappa Nayaka mandapa and has paintings of famous Maratha Kings on its walls. The pillared entrance to this hall shows martial figures carved into the corners of square-shaped columns, instead of the usual figures carved into the face of the pillars.

The Ganesha Shrine was constructed by the Maratha king, Sarbhoji II, in the 19th century CE. It is behind, and to the left of the main shrine. It has a garbha-griha, ardhamandapa, and mahamandapa, too. The architecture is stylistically closer to Maratha period than the earlier Chola architectural style. It is similar in structure to the Subramanya shrine, but smaller in scale. The shrine has a large Ganesha statue, which is also of the same vintage as the temple itself. The Ganesha shrine has frescos on the walls of the outer portico. There are two other Ganesha statues in the complex dating back to the Chola period - one in the southwest cloister being the Parivaralayathu Ganapathi, and the one in front of the muhamandapa of the main shrine being the Alayathu Ganapthi.

The Karuvar Shrine is set directly behind the main shrine. This shrine is dedicated to Rajaraja-I's guru and royal priest, Karuvar, who is known for having composed and sung the Tiruvisaipa. However, the shrine was not built by Rajaraja-I during the construction of the main temple. It is a later addition. It is a low structure, with figures of various saints in padmasana posture on its roof, with a central depiction of Karuvar himself. Five kalasas adorn the long arched roof of the shrine. A painting on the circumambulatory on the first floor has a painting of Rajaraja-I with his guru.

The Nataraja mandapa or Sabhapati mandapa is in the northeast corner of the courtyard, facing south. It is a square pavilion with a small cell at the rear of the pavilion which houses a bronze Nataraja image. This image was gifted by King Rajaraja-I, as informed by inscriptions in the temple.

Constructed in:

11th century CE


60.96 m


Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014 CE) first established Thanjavur as a center of economic and royal power, with the construction of the temple in 1003.

The capital of the Cholas was shifted to Gangaikonda after Rajaraja-I's death.

Thanjavur passed into the hands of he Marathas in 1675CE.

Thanjavur was annexed by the British in 1855CE when the last Maratha king had no male heir to succeed him.


The main Vimana (Shikhara) is a 16-storey high tower of which 13 are tapering squares. It sits above a 30.18 metres sided square, tapering to 7.77 metres square at the top. The tower is elaborately articulated with Pilaster, piers (a raised structure), and attached columns which are placed rhythmically covering every surface of the vimana. The sikhara, a 25-ton cupolic dome, is octagonal and rests on a single block of granite, itself weighing 80 tons.

The temple is made of granite which was quarried about 50 kms from the temple site.

There is a 2-tiered wall which supports the towering height of the temple.


Muvar Koil

(72.02 kms)


Thirumayam Fort

(72.54 kms)