Brihadishvar Temple, Thanjavur

Thanjavur was the capital of the Chola Empire from the 8th to the 13th century. During that time some of the greatest work of Tamil literature and architecture were born. The Cholas continued the temle buliding tradition of Tamil Nadu started by Palava Empire. They constructed many temples all over the Tamil Nadu but the most important is the famous Brihadishvara Temple  (in tamil: peruvuḍaiyār kōyil)  in Thanjavur.


This magnificent temple, made up of 130,000 tons of granite, the main example of the mature Chola arhitecture, was built in 1003 AD by king RajaRaja 1 Chola. The main shrine is dedicated to the Lord Shiva. In the inner sanctum is the lingam 3.5 meters high. It is said that when the lingam was taken out  from the Narmada river it kept increasing in size which is why it is called Brihadishvara.

The main entrance

In the fornt of the main entrance there is a giant Nandi sculpture which is about 4 meters high and weighs about 25 tons. It is said that it grew in size  just like the lingam.

Nandi shrine


The temple is unique because it’s arhitecture doesn’t resemble traditional South Indian arhitecture style with tall entrance towers and small tower over the inner sanctum. Vimana (the tower over the inner sanctum) is about 65 meters high while gopurams (entrance towers) are small.




Inside the temple complex there are minor shrines dedicated to Jvaraharesvara (Deity who controls fever) and Lord Subrahmanya. There is also a 100-pillar hall with small lingams and paintings which portray the life of king RajaRaja.

Pillar hall

Inside the pillar hall there are eight shrines dedicated to the eight dik-paalakas, Lords of the eight directions: Indra, Varuna, Agni, Ishana, Vayu, Niruthi, Yama and Kubera.

Varuna : Controler of the west direction

There are many inscriptions engraved at the temple walls. They are the evidences about the daily life of that time.  They are also telling us that Brihadishvara temple complex was  a very popular place where traditional dances like Bharata Natyam were held.

Inscriptions on the temple wall

The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Great Living Chola Temples.

Temple complex


6 thoughts on “Thanjavur : History in stone

  1. This is one place I would love to go one day. It is so beautiful and has such a calming vibration in the photos. I haven’t been here yet, unless I was taken there as a child and just don’t remember. 🙂 I love the natural stones at this temple and that they haven’t been painted over. I didn’t realize that the lingam was so tall. Is this still an active temple?

  2. That is so beautiful and incredible. 1000 years of poojas and prayers. It is mind boggling to imagine the different people through the 1000 years who came here, prayed and meditated, and then passed on to be replaced with another generation of people, and on, and on. This is when you realize how immersed India is in its spiritual heritage and I hope that it never loses its spirituality, even as each generation experiences its own concept of modernity.

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