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