Dakshina Meru! 216 ft. Tall Brihadeeswarar Temple !!


Compiled by London swaminathan

Article No.1919; Dated 8 June 2015.

Uploaded at London time: 19-22

The Shiva temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu (South India) is full of wonders. It was built 1000 years ago by Raja Raja (985-1014 CE), one of the great Choza kings.

The name of god in the temple is Brihadeeswarar meaning Great Lord or Lord of the World. Raja Raja rightly named it as Dakshina Meru—the Meru Mountain of the South. It is also known as Big Temple.

The Brihadeeswara temple represents the climax of south Indian temple architecture. The pyramidal tower that rises above have 13 storeys that steadily diminish in size. The temple is built entirely with granite blocks, laid one upon another without any mortar!  The temple stands in the middle of a vast rectangular walled courtyard lined by colonnades accommodating smaller shrines.


Painting of Raja Raja and his spiritual Guru Karuvur Thevar

There are five wonders in the temple:

a)The tall tower

b)The colossal Shiva Lingam which is 13 foot tall  (Lingam means formless shape)

c)Colossal Bull (Nandi, Shiva’s Vehicle) 12 feet  tall

d)Top most stone weighing over 80 tonnes

e)Thousand year old paintings

Scholars have speculated about how the blocks were lifted to the upper storeys of the sanctuary tower. Some 9 miles North West of Thanjavur is a village called Sarapallam. Here they began a ramp supported on bamboo scaffolding that led to the summit of the sanctuary tower. Another theory postulates a spiral earthen ramp winding upwards around the tower, along which blocks were hauled.

The plaster work that ornaments the granite tower elements was added in 18th-19th centuries under the Maratha rule. Nayaks of the 17th century added the outer wall, Subrahmanya shrine, goddess shrine and some mandapas. But the greatest achievement rests with Raja Raja and his master architect.


Colossal Shiva Linga

The sculptures of men guarding the door to the main sanctum – the Dwarapalakas  – demonstrate the Choza sculptor’s versatility in creating masterpieces regardless of size. To emphasize their scale, the sculptor has used an innovative imagery, a serpent swallowing an elephant. The serpent, which then must have been of monstrous proportions, is curled around the mace of the Dwarapalaka/gatekeeper, like a small worm. For all this incredible size, the guardian is holding his hand in Vismaya Mudra, which suggests that still he is not the tallest amongst all that is within the temple. The sculpture is 12 feet high, but he indicates that the taller being was the deity in the sanctum of the temple!

There are some beautiful paintings from the Choza period.

Names of some of the dancers, found in inscriptions, who lived around the temple 1000 years ago: Cheran Mangai, Chozakula Sundari, Thillai Azaki, Ravikula Manikkam, Thennan Mahadevi, Thilaka Chudar, Aaraa Amuthu, Kamakoti, Mazalai Silambu, Chithira Valli, Sundara Chozi, Uttama Sundari, Kunjara Malli


Top of the temple


1)Height of the Tower – 216 feet tall

2)Unique feature – unlike other temples, tower is just over the sanctum sanctorum

3)Over 85 inscriptions starting from Raja Raja period are in the temple

4)Inscriptions give us the names of 600 staff with their salary details!

5)Four hundred of them are dancers! We have all the 400 names!

6)Over 50 singers were employed by the temple

7)Sanctuary tower 25 m sq. 60 m hig


8)Hemispherical roof 7 m diameter, 7 m high

9)Walled courtyard 241X 121 m

10)Materials – dry stone masonry of granite blocks

11)Decoration – carved granite covered with polychrome plaster work

12)Plinth of the central shrine – 45-72 sq.mts

13)Shikara – the top most circular stone weighs 81-284 tonnes!

14)Shivalinga – 4 mtrs high and 4-5 mts diameter (13 feet tall)

15)The Nandi/Bull is 3-66 mts tall (12 feet high), weight 12 tonnes!


Big temple paintings

16)Total volume of masonry work – 49000 m3

17)No mortar was used in the construction!

18)Sculptors – Kunjaramallan and Raja Raja Perunthchan

19)Spiritual force behind the temple – A saint by name Karuvur Thevar

20)Family inspiration for the temple – Kundavai, Raja Raja’s sister

21)Military force behind the Temple – Chief Commander Krishnan Raman

22)Renovations – 17th and 19th centuries.

birdseye view


The Seventy Architectural Wonders of Our World

Thanjavur – A Cultural History by Pradeep Charavarthy with phtos by Vikram sathynathan

Thanjavur Inscriptions by Dr R Nagasamy

Tamil Nadu, Madura welcome

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1 Comment

  1. R Nanjappa

     /  June 9, 2015

    With all this grandeur and magnificent sculpture, it is sad to think that the Big Temple has not attained any religious significance ( much like the other temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajaraja’s son Rajenndra chola)! They say in Tamil: small in size, great in merit.! But the merit here is inversely proportional to the size! Every time something big is attempted here, there is some unfortunate event. There is even a belief that a politician visiting this temple before election will not succeed! Wish someone could explain this!

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