Brihadeeswarar temple: The colossal Shiva Temple of Thajavur!

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Last Updated on January 26, 2022 by asoulwindow

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About Brihadeeswarar temple

The Tanjore temple or the Brihadeshwara temple located in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu is a grand temple that reflects the best of Chola architecture and culture. I was astonished when I visited the Brihadeeswarar Temple during a trip across South India in the Golden Chariot, the luxury train run by the Indian railways.

Apart from Tanjore temple, I also visited the Sri Rangam Temple of Trichy on the same day. These are some of the top places to see in Thanjavur and Trichy. This is the most information packed travel guide on Brihadeshwara temple ever.

There are many secrets and mysteries associated with the Brihadisvara temple, the shadow theory being one of the most popular. We will unearth all the interesting facts about the originally named Peruvudaiyār Kōvil one by one.

The Great Living Chola Temple deserves a detailed article. This blog is as grand as the Tanjore Temple.In fact, it is the most comprehensive travel guide to the ‘Big temple in Thanjavur’ which you will ever read! Brihadisvara temple is the top place to see in Thanjavur Tamil Nadu.

Welcome to one of the grandest Shiva temples of the world!

Where is the Tanjore Temple located?

Brihadeshwara Temple or the Tanjore temple is located in the southern direction of the Kaveri River (spelt as Cauveri by British) in Thanjavur town in Tamil Nadu, a state in South India. The grand Tanjore temple which is situated right at the mouth of the Kaveri delta is also located in close proximity with the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean.

Nomenclature of Thanjavur

Thanjavur is named after a demon or asur known as Rakshas Tanjan. He was annihilated by Vishnu Bhagwan. Thus, Thanjavur is derived from ‘Than-sei-oor’, the literal meaning of which is: ‘a place surrounded by rivers and green paddy fields.’

Nomenclature of the Brihadisvara Temple

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world famous Tanjore Temple is also known as

  • Tanjore Temple
  • Rajarajeswaram
  • Thanjavur Temple
  • Peruvudaiyār Kōvil
  • Gangaikondacholapuram
  • The Big Temple (aptly named)
  • Dakshina Meru (or the Meru of South)
  • The Great Living Chola Temple

Thanks to its sheer size and grandeur, this grand Hindu Temple devoted to Shiv Bhagwan is also known as ‘The Great Living Chola Temple.’ The Brihadisvara Temple was originally named as Rajarajeswaram after the Chola emperor, the great Raja Raja Chola I who built it as well.

It was known as Brihadeeswarar Temple, only after it fell under the rule of the Great Marathas.

The popular name of the living Chola Temple is Brihadeshwara Temple which is also spelt as the Brihadeeswarar Temple or Brihadisvara temple.

Clarification on name of Brihadeeswarar Temple

In this blog, I have addressed the Grand Tanjore temple, one of the oldest Hindu temples of the world and India, as below names. All of these alternate names of Brihadeeswarar Temple are used here interchangeably and mean the same.

Native names of Brihadeshwara Temple

  • Tanjore Kovil
  • Dakshina Meru
  • Rajarajeswaram
  • Peruvudaiyār Kōvil
  • Thanjai Periya Kovil
  • Brihadisvara temple
  • Thanjavur Periya Kovil 
  • Breedheshwra Temple
  • Brihadeshwara Temple
  • Brihadeeswara Temple
  • Brihadeeswarar Temple
  • Gangai Konda Cholapuram
  • Gangaikondacholapuram
  • Sri Brihadeeswarar temple
  • Gangaikondacholapuram Temple
  • Shiva temple at Gangaikondacholapuram

English names of Tanjore temple

  • The Big Temple
  • Tanjore temple
  • Thanjavur temple
  • Tanjore Big Temple
  • Big Temple of Thanjavur
  • The Great Living Chola Templeetc.

I am mentioning this to avoid confusion to readers since they all mean the same. So many names indicate that the Big Temple was one of the major places of interest in Tamil Nadu throughout centuries. Though, today Brihadeeswarar Temple is a tourist attraction for many, it still retails a spiritual aura of its past! Tanjore Big Temple is the corrupted western name for Sri Brihadeeswarar temple.

Thanjavur or Tanjore?

Also, Thanjavur is the original name of the town where Brihadeeswarar Temple is located. Tanjore is a corrupted version of Thanjavur, spelt thus by the British invaders who were not smart enough to get the spelling and pronunciation right!

Soul Window Observations

I prefer the indigenous name whether it is India or Africa. For example, I was appalled to see that they still call a Wildlife National Park as Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda in the continent of Africa. It is high time that liberated Governments globally reclaim their indigenous cultures from the clutches of shrewd colonial regimes and rename the Anglicised places to a local name.

Let us stop saying, ‘How cute’ to mispronounced Hindi and Sanskrit words by foreigners! Learn people! Evolve!

Etymology of Brihadisvara Temple

Did you know this interesting fact about the Tanjore Temple? The literal meaning of the word Brihadisvara Temple is Great Lord Big Shiva Temple. Brihadisvara is a Sanskrit word.

It is made from two words viz. Brihat and Ishvara. While Brihat stands for big or great or massive. Ishvar means Lord Shiva– The supreme soul or atma.

Undoubtedly, the Brihadisvara Temple is one of the most visited tourist attractions of Tamil Nadu.

How old is Tanjore temple?

So, when was Tanjore temple built? Tanjore temple is at least a thousand years old Hindu temple. It is one of the oldest surviving Shiva Temple of the world. TheBrihideshvara Temple was commissioned by Raja Raja Chola I, the famous Chola emperor between the years 1003 and 1010 C.E.

Soul Window Facts

In fact, the big temple completed its 1,000 years in the year 2010 C.E.

It is one of the oldest Hindu temples of the world. To add, it is still a practising temple where devotees still worship! Of course, it is the best place to visit in Thanjavur aka Tanjore.

Brihadeeswarar Temple Facts 

Do you know about these interesting unknown facts about the Brihadeeswarar Temple?

Ashtadikpala idols

The Tanjore is one of the few Hindu temples where you can see the idols of Ashtadikpala. They are the guardians of the eight directions as prescribed in the Sanatan Dharm.

The other Brihadisvara Temple

Did you know that another Brihadisvara Temple, also known as The Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple is located just 70 kms south west of the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur? It is a Shiva temple, which is smaller (yet refined) than the Tanjore temple.

It was built in the year 1035 AD by Rajendra Chola I (1014-44 CE). He was the son of Raja Raja Chola. Do visit this offbeat place of attraction in Tanjore. One sculpture here shows Lord Shiva garlanding the King.

Gopuram and Vimana Size

Unlike other South Indian temples, the size of Gopuram is smaller than that of the Sri Vimana. It is still a mystery why this exception was made. Do read my detailed explanation in the Gopuram section below.

The later additions

During the rule of Marathas, the Tanjore temple also served as a watchtower, much like the Shore temple in Mamallapuram in TN. The Marathas and Nayaks added other fortifications such as new temples, walls, gates, gopurams, moats etc.

Who is architect of Brihadeshwara Temple?

Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan is being credited as the Chief architect of Brihadeshwara Temple in Tanjore. The spellbinding architecture will take days to appreciate the temple in its entirety.

The small details of Tanjore Temple can be easily missed if not alert. By building this masterpiece of a temple, Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan recorded his name in the annals of the Chola history.

Why Tanjore temple is world famous?

What is special about Tanjore temple?

Known for Thanjavur dolls, Chola Bronze collection and 3D paintings done in gold leaf, Thanjavur also houses Brihadeshwara temple complex. A UNESCO World heritage site, the 11th century temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Later we visited Sri Rangam temple near Trichy. Its sheer scale left me agape mouthed. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the world along with Cambodia ‘s Angkor Wat in South East Asia.

Brihideshvara Temple is famous for its grand scale.  In fact, the Brihideshvara Temple has the tallest tower or the Shikhara in Tamil Nadu. Of course, I am not counting the modern ugly skyscrapers! The area around Tanjore is rich in fields such as art, architecture, religion, dances, paintings etc. Now you know why Brihadeshwara Temple is so famous?

Sanatanis must take pride in the magic of Hindu tradition and people of ancient India. There are only few parallels in the world.

This is why Sri Brihadeeswarar temple is a major sightseeing attraction in Tamil Nadu. In fact, Tamil Nadu tourism is incomplete without visiting the Tanjore Big Temple.

Soul Window Thoughts!

I have seen many South Indian Hindu Temples over the years. Except for the ancient Hindu temples of nearby Trichy and Meenakshi temple, both in Tamil Nadu, none have been able to match the grand scale of the Tanjore temple.

The campus of the Tanjore temple is punctuated with hundreds of Shiv Lingams, especially in the pillared cloister.

This is why Tanjore temple is so famous across the world!

What is the Speciality of Brihadeshwara Temple?

Everything about the colossal Brihadeshwara Temple is grand, whether it is the Shikhara (tower), sacred Nandi bull, the Shiva Lingam, the garbhagrihaor the sanctum sanctorum or even the outer wall. One of the oldest living languages of the world can also be found written on the walls of the Brihadisvara Temple.

What are the mysteries and secrets of Brihadeeswarar Temple?

There are many mysteries and secrets associated with the Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur. Some of the well-known mysteries of Brihadeeswarar Temple are listed as below:

  • Mystery of Shadow of Brihadeeswarar Temple
  • The secret of Granite!
  • How did they build Brihadeeswarar Temple?
  • What is a European man doing on walls of Brihadeeswarar Temple?
  • Secret underground passages of Tanjore Temple

I have elaborated on these topics in great detail in my separate blog. Do read my comprehensive blog on secrets of Brihadeeswarar Temple.

Underground passages

Much like the Underground passages of Taj Mahal in Agra, there are similar structures in Brihadeeswarar Temple as well.As many as 100secret underground passages are located in the basement of the Tanjore Temple. These passages are connected to the palace of the King and different nearby places and were used by the members of the royal family to move around the destinations.

I was unable to see what lies beneath because much like Taj Mahal in Agra, the passages have been sealed and public access is not allowed here.

Brihadeeswarar Temple History

Brihadeeswarar Temple has an interesting history which can be traced back to hundreds of years ago.

The Cholas first gained prominence during the 9th century C.E. They rose to unprecedented power after winning battles from the Pallavas in the 8th century C.E. The Chola empire flourished in South India as late as 13th century when they were defeated by the Pandyas.

The Cholas reigned over the land for 5 centuries which meant that they had ample time to nurture the art and architecture. This was also the time when the Chola founder, King Vijayalaya made Thanjavur the first capital of the great Chola Empire. The Tanjore temple, thus was the epitome of the brilliance of the Chola art and architecture!

In its later years, the temple came under the rule of the great Marathas and the Nayakas. They added their own structures to the Tanjore temple complex, thus enhancing the overall look of the temple premises. This is the most detailed travel guide on Brihadeshwara Temple on internet.

Who built the Brihadeshwara Temple?

Who constructed Tanjore Temple? The Brihadeshwara Temple was built by the great Tamil king named Raja Raja Chola I and his sister Kundavai, both of whom were devotee of Shiv ji. He and the other Chola King Arunmozhi Varman are credited with the expansion of the Chola empire.

Born as Arulmoli Varman, RajaRaja the Great was a powerful Chola ruler, who ruled the land from the year 985 C.E. to 1014 C.E.

The temple was built when the great Chola empire was at its peak! From an inscription we know that Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan was the chief architect of Brihadeshwarar Mandir. Did you know that his descendants are still around and are a master of Vastu Shastra, the Hindu architecture science?

Territory of Raja Raja Chola I

He was the most powerful emperor amongst his contemporaries who exercised his military muscle and trade expertise over a vast land. Raja Raja Chola I ruled the regions of central Kerala, western Tamil Nadu (Chera country), Southern Tamil Nadu aka Pandya country, Kalinga (Present day Odisha) and Lakshadweep and even Ezham or the north part of Sri Lanka and Maldive Islands. Even South East Asian Nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia were under the influence of the Chola Kingdom.

Yes, much to my surprise, I found out that the empire of Raja Raja Chola I extended to as far as the present Sri Lanka, the tiny island nation, located at the southern edge of India. He and his son Rajendra I, enjoyed absolute power in Sri Lanka between the years 993 C.E. and 1070 C.E.

In fact, it is believed that the idea of building the grand Brihadeshwara Temple at Tanjore came to him during a dream he saw in Sri Lanka. He wanted to build a temple as grand as his empire. And so did he!

Finally, Vijayabahu I, the medieval King from Sri Lanka, ended the reign of Cholas in Sri Lanka.

The crossing over of Raja Raja Chola I is often compared to the crossing over of Shri Ram, Lakman ji and Hanuman ji who built Ram Setu– a symbol of love. The bridge was built to rescue Sita Mata, wife of Shri Ram who was abducted by the evil demon King of Lanka aka Asura Ravan.

Soul Window Facts

You can still visit an ancient Shiva Temple in Mantota town (Mahatittha) of Sri Lanka. It is now named as Rajaraja-pura. It is one of the rare 1,000 years old Hindu temples outside of India. An ancient Hindu Temple devoted to Shiv Bhagwan is also located in the heritage town Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. In fact, Polonnaruwa was known as Jananatha Mangalam during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I.

How is Tanjore temple built?

Believe it or faint, A whooping 1,30,000 tonnes of granite was used for the construction of the Tanjore Temple known as Brihadeshwara Temple Complex. You will see many structures made by the Marathas as well. This important destination in South India is worth a dekko! You can read in detail on this topic on my exhaustive blog on secrets of Tanjore Temple.

Tanjore Temple Architecture

This detailed travel blog explains every aspect of Tanjore Temple. An excellent specimen of fully realised Tamil architecture, you must visit the Brihadeshwara Temple to understand the Chola art at its pinnacle. The architecture of the Tanjore Temple is simple yet meticulous.

The attention to details and perfect alignments of bricks astonished me during my visit here. The architectural wonders of Tanjore temple are to be seen to be believed!

Soul Window Facts

Did you know that the sky kissing Vimana was built not with cement but Interlocking bricks? Yes, trust me when I tell you that no binding material was ever used to hold the bricks in place. Despite natural adversities such as earthquakes and Islamic invasions in South India, the structure has survived the test of time.

It makes me want to salute to the genius of ancient Hindus who were far ahead than the Western people and many other contemporary cultures. To add, they didn’t even have any sophisticated granite quarries and machines in 11th century C.E.

Did you also know that the system of interlocking huge blocks was also employed in building the grand Pyramids of Egypt, another ancient civilisation I find to be as advanced as Hindu civilisation.

The architecture of Tanjore Temple is truly avant-garde!

Below are the main architectural components of the Thanjavur temple:

Sri Vimana

It is the superstructure aka Shikhara or tower. The sheer height of the Sri Vimana left me agape mouthed. I have never seen such a tallest Shikhar, except maybe Sri Jagannath Mandir in Puri, Odisha.

Nandi Mandapam

This huge hall that houses a massive idol of the sacred Nandi Bull, typically faces the entrance of the Thanjavur temple or the Mukh Mandapam.

The huge Nandi Mandapam and colorful murals in Brihadeshwara Temple

The monolithic statue of Nandi Bull in Brihadeshwara Temple is one of the largest ones in India and the world. In fact, it was one of the hugest Nandi Idol I had seen apart from the one at Nandi Hills or Chamundi Hills in Bengaluru, Nandi statue of Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh, Hoysaleswara Temple of Halebidu in Karnataka, Virupaksha Temple of Hampi or the temple complex of Pattadakal, both in Karnataka.


It is the main community hall of the massive Brihadeshwara Temple of Tanjore. Paying a visit here is one of the best things to do in the temple complex.


It is the huge gathering hall. It is a must visit place in Tanjore temple.


Well-planned pavilions connect the sanctum aka Ardhamandapam with the great hall. This is one of the points of attractions in Sri Brihadeeswarar temple.

Tanjore temple dimensions

This section simplifies all the Brihadeeswarar Temple measurements for a layman. Here is all you wanted to know. The Tanjore temple or the Brihadeshwara Temple is massive. Whether it is the tall Shikhara or the massive Shivling or colossal Nandi Bull, size matters in the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple or the Tanjore Big Temple.

This is why it was important to present the sheer magnitude of the size of Brihadeshwara Temple in this section. The sizes and dimensions of Tanjore Temple mentioned below will put things in perspective.

It will also give you a rough idea of how Big the Brihadeshwara Temple is without even visiting it. Though I recommend that you allow the Brihadeshwara Temple to dwarf you. So please do visit the Tanjore Temple and get a grip on the colossal size of the Brihadeeswarar temple yourself. Let us now see the Tanjore temple dimensions and sizes:

The complete height of the main Vimana of Sri Brihadeeswarar temple is a whooping 216 feet or 66 meters.

The complex of Brihadeshwara Temple is built in a square shape. It measures 790 feet or 240.79 meters from East to West and 400 feet or 121.92 meters from North to South.

The Shivlinga of Brihadeshwara Temple is one of the tallest Shivlinga in the world. The monolithic Linga present in the Brihadeeswarar temple measures an impressive 29 feet or 8.7 meters tall. No wonder, the Linga alone occupies 2 storeys (read that again!) of the Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum!

The height of the tall Vimana or the Shikhara/tower is a whooping 208 feet or 63.4 meters. It is a mystery about Brihadeshwara Temple how they built such a huge structure out of very heavy stone in that era. It is a 16-storey tall tower. 13 of these storeys are tapering squares.

The sided square on which the Vimana sits measures 99 feet or 30.18 meters.

Would you believe that the cupolic dome aka Kumbam or capstone which is located on the top of Vimana is octagonal in shape and alone weighs 25 tonnes or 25,000 kilograms? The huge granite block on which the dome rests weights 80 tonnes or 80,000 kilograms.

The ancient sculptors didn’t stop at that! I didn’t have to squint my eyes to observe massive Nandi Bull pairs sitting right at the base of above-mentioned granite slab (and below the dome). The dimensions of each Nandi bull located above the temple measures 6 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 6 inches or 1.98 meters by 1.68 meters. There are a total of 8 idols of Nandi ji facing 4 cardinal directions.

The Stupi which rests atop the granite block is 12.5 feet or 3.81 meters in height. Hold your breath because I am going to tell you that in its original form, this Stupi was entirely covered in Gold. However, it is not the case anymore as it has been stripped of even a modicum of trace of gold from it. The Griva and Shikhara also rise from this granite block.

The cupola shaped Shikhara weighs 25 tonnes or 25,000 kilograms. Every storey of the Shikhara is decorated with salas and kutas.

Soul Window Thoughts

Honestly when I visited the Brihadeshwara Temple, the upper structures such as the Nandi Statues, Stupi, Kalash etc around the Shikhara and Vimana didn’t appear so huge from the ground. The tower was so tall, that it didn’t occur to me that how heavy and how tall these multiple structures could be, until the local guide told me. Phew!

I have no idea how a granite slab weighing 80,000 kg reached on top of the towering temple. Phew! If only we had one fourth of the skill our ancestors had! Incredible India indeed!

The main 5 storey Gopuram, located at the main entrance of the Brihadeshwara Temple, though very impressive is not as tall as the sky piercing Vimana and Shikhara. Normally, I have observed that the Vimana in South Indian temples are shorter than the main gate or gopuram. However, that is not the case in the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple or the Tanjore Big Temple. The height of main Gopuram of Brihadeshwara Temple is 98 foot or 30 meters which is shorter than Vimana.

The plinth on which the square shaped Garbhagriha sits is 1 feet 8 inch or 0.5 meters thick. The thickness of its components such as upapitham and adhishthanam measure 140 centimetre and 360 centimetres respectively.

The total area which contains the precious Chola frescos measure 7,200 square feet or 670 square meters.

Shiva Devotees also perform circumambulation in the unique roofed and pillared veranda known as prakara around the main temple precincts of Brihadeshwara Temple. The perimeter of the prakara is 1,480 feet or 450 meters.

Apart from the main Brihadeshwara Temple, the Tanjore temple has many subsidiary shrines, aligned axially and located within the temple precincts.

The other Hindu temples located within the temple complex includes shrines devoted to Ganesh Bhagwan, Parvati, Nandi bull, Kartikeya ji, Varahi, Dakshinamurti, Sabhapati and Chandeshvara.

The weight of the beautiful Nandi Bull is a whooping 25,000 kilograms or 25 tonnes. Constructed out of a single huge stone, the idol of pious Nandi Bull in sitting posture measures 6.5 feet or 2 meters in height. Whoa! Almost as tall as me standing! The Nandi bull measures 19.5 feet or 6 meter in length and 8.2 feet or 2.5 meters in width.

Soul Window Thoughts

It took me the same Herculean efforts to write this detailed blog on all the possible aspects of all you wanted to know about Brihadeshwara Temple. I am sure the actual architects and builders of the world famous Tanjore Temple took years to build this masterpiece of a temple which is no less than a wonder of the world! Good work takes good amount of time. Always!

Tanjore temple gopuram

Tanjore temple gopuram is an impassive structure located at the main entrance of the Brihadeeswarar temple. It is one of the tallest Gopuram I have ever seen anywhere in the world! Tanjore temple is so huge and spread over a large area that it is no surprise that there are a total of 3 Gopurams in the precincts of the sacred Brihadeeswarar temple.

It is only after crossing all the 3 Gopurams, that I arrived in the main courtyard or main square.

Below are the 3 Gopurams of the Brihadeeswarar temple:

1st Gopuram

Would you believe if I say that the first Gopuram of the Tanjore Big Temple or Brihadeeswarar temple was constructed by the great Marathas from Maharashtra in West India. The first Gopuram is also known as the Maratha Gopuram or the Maratha gate. It is the simplest of all the Gopurams and lack the architectural genius of the Chola architecture.

This fort gate was built as a protection around the Brihadeeswarar temple. The Maratha gate is the first gate from which you will enter the premises of the Tanjore temple. You can see the vestiges of moat here since it was built as a defensive wall. I have trekked to many Hill forts in Maharashtra and most of them served as excellent defensive forts.

2nd Gopuram

The second Gopuram of the Brihadeeswarar temple is also known as the Keralantakan Tiruvasal. It is an elaborately decorated gate or Gopuram with detailed stone carvings. It houses the figures of Gods from the Hindu pantheon such as Shiv Bhagwan, Maa Parvati and their Son Ganesh ji.

I also spotted a figure of Vishnu Bhagwan. And as is common in South Indian Hindu temples, the figures of mythical animals, common men and women of those era, nymphs and dancers etc adorned the surface of the Keralantakan Tiruvasal, the second Gopuram of Tanjore Temple. Every inch spoke volumes about the glorious past and history of Tanjore.

As per the historians, the Keralantakan Tiruvasal was constructed to commemorate the defeat of the Cheras by the great King Raja Raja Chola. Keralantakan Tiruvasal is the 2nd Gopuram of the Brihadeeswarar temple which falls after you cross the Maratha Gopuram or gate.

Keralantakan Tiruvasal was christened after the favourite nickname of Emperor Raja Raja Chola, which is Keralantakan. It means the destroyer of Kerala, which back then was the Kingdom of the Cheras.

Soul Window Tip

The area near the Keralantakan Tiruvasal is also where I deposited my shoes and bags before entering the main courtyard of the Tanjore Temple. You can also keep your extra luggage such as backpacks, suitcases etc here.

3rd Gopuram

The third Gopuram of the Brihadeeswarar temple is also known as the Rajarajan Tiruvasal. I must have skipped a breath when I had my first view of the Rajarajan Tiruvasal, the third and the most beautiful Gopuram of the Tanjore Big Temple. It is not just a gate but one of the most striking features of the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple or the Tanjore Big Temple.

The most notable structure on the Rajarajan Tiruvasal is the colossal figures of two Dwarpalikas alos known as the guards or gatekeepers. These huge gatekeepers flank the either side of the arched entrance as if welcoming (and preparing) me to the grand temple and huge statue of Nandi Bull ahead. I got my first view of the towering Vimana, main temple and the back of the Nandu Bull from Rajarajan Tiruvasal.

Soul Window Thoughts

My little (and insignificant) ‘grand entry’ to Sri Brihadeeswarar temple from the Rajarajan Tiruvasal was much like a period drama, eh! I pretended to be the King of the land and sent some extra oxygen to my chest to pump it up.

I strutted around self-assuredly with a Kingly demeanour until another tourist asked me to take their picture, ugh!  I imagine the King Raja Raja Chola frowning and blended myself with the crowd. It is a gate fit for a King, but then…….

This superstructure is adorned with many flawless carvings. Some of the most important carvings on the 3rd Gopuram of Tanjore temple include the carvings or the marriage of Shiv ji and Maa Parvati, Arjun ji from the Hindu epic Mahabharat winning the famous Pashupati Astra (a type of weapon) from Shiv Bhagwan.

I saw mythical animals such as a two headed elephant with a single body in the offbeat Rameshwaram Temple in Keladi in rural Karanataka near Shivmogga. I noticed a similar figure of a single headed cow with 2 bodies on the 3rd Gopuram of the Tanjore Big Temple.

Similarly, keep your eyes peeled for spotting many carvings of reclining Vishnu ji, warriors, archers, dancers, sages, sacred Nandi bulls and many small figures of animals such as lions which are carved on the walls of the 3rd Gopuram.

Rajarajan Tiruvasal is the third and final Gopuram of Tanjore Temple. Spend some time craning your neck here to admire the small and big details of the Gopuram. Most of the carvings here are from the life of Shiv Bhagwan, the most supreme of all worshipped Hindu Gods!

Nandi Mandapam

Nandi Bull – the eternal ‘symbol of wait’ welcomed me as I entered the man courtyard of the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple from the Rajarajan Tiruvasal, the 3rd Gopuram.

I had a close and hard look at it again, when the local guide told me that this huge Monolithic statue of Nandi ji was carved out of a single rock.

A lovely garland of bells wrapped around the neck of Nandi ji. A traditional and ancient oil lamp stood in front of the Nandi Mandapam. I observed that people lit oil lamps and offer prayers here.

Men riding the mythical Yelis on the pillars watch me as I find myself immersed in the ancient monument. No wonder, it is the second-largest sculpture of Nandi in not only India but entire world. The Nandi Mandapam rests atop a raised platform where most devotees circumambulate around the Nandi.

It is strange that this massive idol of Nandi bull was a later addition, because mostly in Hindu temples, a Nandi bull is always located facing the Garbhagriha of the Shiva Temple. I saw the same in Shiv temple of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, Bhimashankar in Maharashtra, Murudeshwara Temple in Karnataka, Shore temple in Tamil Nadu or even the small Shivalayas of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi etc.

So, I found it odd and weird that the very famous Nandi bull of the Tanjore temple was added later by the Nayaka Kings in the 16th century. The Nandi Bull which was canopied by a pillared wall-less chamber had me craning my neck to appreciate the art on its ceilings.

While (stone sculptures of) lions roared from the top of the pillars, colourful floral patterns, murals showing birds and celestial beings with wings filled the ceiling. Even the small corners were painted in the hues of blue, yellow, brown and green. The historians are divided if the Nayakas or the great Marathas commissioned these murals.

Soul Window Facts

Nandi Bull is the guardian, savari/vahan (mount) as well as the companion of Shiv Bhagwan.  You will never see a Shiva Temple without a Nandi Bull facing the Garbhagriha. In fact, I saw a rock like structure in front of Kailash Parbat during the epic Kailash Mansarovar Yatra I did some times ago.

Many Hindu devotees firmly believe that the rock structure indeed represents the sacred Nandi bull guarding Kailash Parbat. Do read many of my blogs on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra which I keep updating regularly with new information.

Courtyard of Thanjavur Periya Kovil 

The documented history of South India goes as far back in time as 4,000 years. Several dynasties such as the great Cholas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Cheras etc rose to prominence and eventually faced the inevitable downfall.

The ancient temples were built by Kings not only for worship but also to exercise their power and “show who the boss is.” In the absence of modern-day PR agencies, it was an indigenous way to establish their authority over a Kingdom.

In ancient India, unlike other religious structures of other religions, the Hindu temples never served for worship purpose alone. In fact, the Hindu temples and its premises also served as market places (Like Hampi in Karnataka), classical dance performance platforms, nourishing cultural practises, debates, education, paintings etc.

This culture was built over a period of time, giving birth to many different and unique architectural styles and practises. It was more of a nucleus of everyday life combined with arts and aesthetics.

Tanjore temple is no exception. The expansive courtyard of the Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur also served as the venue for the annual cattle fair of bygone eras. No such events take place now, of course. The courtyard also served as the community hall for religious congregations. In old days, many daily rituals and important royal ceremonies were also performed within the temple vicinity.

Shiva Linga in Garbhagriha

You will be amazed to have darshan of a huge Shivlinga inside the garbhagriha of Tanjore Temple. Not many know that the Shivlinga of Tanjore temple is in fact one of the tallest Shivalingas of the world. You must visit the garbhagriha and have a darshan of the Shivalinga.

Offering your prayers to Shivalinga is the top thing to do with family and kids in Brihadeeswarar Temple. You can read more about it on my mega guide on secrets of Brihadeeswarar Temple.

Soul Window Tips

Needless to say, both photography and videography is banned inside the Garbhagriha. Also, you must dress properly before entering the Garbhagriha. Also, please watch your steps as it is very dark inside the sanctum sanctorum.

Shivlinga in cloister Mandapa

Have you ever seen rows and rows of Shivling in a temple? I saw many Shivlings right in the cloister Mandapa of the Brihadeeswarar Temple. Hold your breath as I tell you that there are total of 108 Shivlings located in the cloister Mandapa. 108 is considered an auspicious number in Sanatan Dharm aka Hinduism. These ancient Shivlings were commissioned by the Maratha ruler known as Saraboji.

Brihadeeswarar Temple Building

The external walls of the Brihadeeswarar Temple are adorned with sculptures of scenes from Hindu epics, dancers, apsaras, warriors, rows of animals such as lions, Nandi Bulls and various Hindu deities such as Lakshmi mata, Ganesh ji etc.

A quirky sculpture of a European wearing a shirt and hat rested with folded hands on one of the sculptures. A small Nandi bull gave him company. (Indians and people of many other nations didn’t wear shirts and hats back then).

You can also request your guide to show you the easy to miss ancient Tamil inscriptions on one of the outer walls of the Tanjore Temple. It mentions the name of the people who partially donated funds for the construction of a certain part of the Thanjavur temple. I saw similar ancient Kannada inscriptions on the floor and walls of the Lepakshi Temple in Andhra Pradesh.

Cloister Mandapa: Brihadeeswarar Temple

I was spellbound as I walked through the tunnel like long corridor. I saw some of the best-preserved ancient murals here. I saw similar murals in the Buddhist cave temples of Dambulla in Sri Lanka and on the ceiling of Virbhadra Temple in Lepakshi.

Coming back to the Cloister Mandapa of the Thanjavur temple or the Brihadeeswarar mandir, I also saw many Shivlings and smaller temples devoted to Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. Constructed by Krishnan Raman, the military commander of the great Raja Raja Chola, it gives us a robust glimpse of lifestyle of that era.

There are two Cloister Mandapas, the South Cloister Mandapa and North Cloister Mandapa. Some paintings and murals also display scenes from the life and times of emperor Raja Raja Chola I. Also watch out for various frescos, high quality intricate stucco works throughout the temple premises.

Soul Window Thoughts

I found the cloister mandapa of Tanjore temple to be a unique structure which I had not seen anywhere else during my extensive travels in India.

Come to think of it! Even after so many centuries, a Hindu temple survives in its entirety, preserved beautifully from the unprecedented and ruthless attacks by the Islamic invaders, especially around 15th and 16th century C.E.

Murals of Tanjore Temple

The murals and paintings located in the cloister Mandapa are some of the best ones I have seen anywhere in the world. Be it the good state of preservation or the size or even the close distance from where you can see these ancient murals, the outstanding paintings done here are exceptional.

My favourite mural in Cloister Mandapa was that of the marriage of Shiv Bhagwan and Parvati ji. Their images are sitting on a throne even as two men flank them, one offering Laddu (sweets) and another raising the deepmala or the oil lamp.

I was impressed to see that even after so many centuries passed colours like blue, yellow, orange, green, brown, yellow etc were so well preserved. Much like the murals I saw in the Nandi Mandapa. It is rare!

And to think, these murals were painted with no modern technique but ancient knowledge of applying naturally occurring organic colours on walls, which also included vegetable dyes. What’s not to love? It’s high time we start to appreciate and value our collective Hindu heritage.

Soul Window Thoughts

Apart from the above mentioned Dambulla caves, I saw many old well-preserved Buddhist paintings in the famous Sigiriya in Sri Lanka as well. Sigiriya, also associated with Ravan and Ramayan, is located at close distance from both Colombo and Galle.

In fact, I had my first glimpse of Sigiriya from the pristine Hiriwadunna Lake. You can also club the nearby Negombo and Kandy if you plan to visit Sri Lanka.

Tamil Inscriptions in cloister Mandapa

I saw many ancient inscriptions located within the cloister Mandapa. These were either in the form of bricks on carved on the walls and the floors of the mandapa. Predictably, the Tamil inscriptions mentioned the names of donors and the details of the money spent in the construction of the Tanjore Temple.

Apart from Tamil, which I failed to decipher, I could read words like Rajya (state) and Murti (statue/idol) on some rocks, the inscriptions of which looked like Devanagari, the script of Hindi language.

Some of these ancient Tamil inscriptions also mentions the daily rituals performed in the temple, list of offerings to the supreme God, administrative details, the works!

Soul Window Thought

These inscriptions and ancient art tell us a lot about our ancestors. I remember climbing atop a boulder in Wadi Rum in Jordan to see centuries old images on one of the easy-to-miss rocks. Closer home, I trekked on an ancient mountain near Raigarh in Chattisgarh and walked through the guarded Bhimbhetka in Madhya Pradesh to see prehistoric art on the rocks.

Other Temples of Tanjore Temple Complex

The sprawling temple complex of Sri Brihadeshwara temple is so huge that it contains many other temples, which are no less in size or stature than the main Big temple or theTanjore Kovil. A parikrama or circumambulation around the complex can help you see all the major independent temples within the Brihadeshwara temple vicinity. Other Temples of Tanjore Temple Complex are listed as below:

Nataraja Mandapa

Located adjacent to the Nandi Mandapam, the Nataraja Mandapa is home tothe fierce form of Shiv Bhagwan.The Nataraja mudraisa dance formdone by Shiv ji during destruction. The Nataraja temple was commissioned by the Maratha King Serfoji II in 1800 AD.  It is one of themostunusual places to see in Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur.

Soul Window Facts

As per the ancient Vastu Shashtra, the science of architecture for prosperity, one must not keep the Nataraja statue in home. Since the Nataraja form of Shiv ji represents the fierce Tandava Nritya or the dance of destruction, it is considered to bring animosity in the house if kept within home.

Amman Temple

A group of devotees before me lied flat on the floor, face down and infull prostrations. They prayed to the God and I conjured up an image from past. This is how it must have been like centuries ago. This is what they caved on the stones of Aghoreshwara temple of Ikkeri, which I saw.

Devoted to Maa Parvati, this is a living temple where devotees throng for worship daily. Mother of Shri Ganesh and wife of Shiv ji, Parvati ji is one of the most important of Hindu goddesses. The literal meaning of the Ammam Mandir is mother’s shrine.

The stone carvings, idols, paintings and murals on ceilings and walls of the Amman shrine were one of the best ones I saw in not only Tanjore temple, but all of India. Even the pillars here had beautiful murals and carvings all around.

I saw fresh flowers, drapes and incense sticks around the idols of important deities here. Amman Mandir, another engineering marvel built here is located on the right side of the Rajarajan Tiruvasal, the 3rd Gopuram.

The Amman Temple was constructed by a Pandya ruler in the 13th century A.D. In fact, it was the first later addition to the temple complex after the Tanjore temple was completed. The Marathas added the Mandapam in the 17th century C.E. You can admire the best features of the Pandyan architecture here.

Ganesh Mandir

Having lived for 7 years in Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, I know the love of Marathi people for their beloved Ganpati Bappa or Ganesh Bhagwan. Needless to say, Ganesh ji also was the chief deity of the great Maratha empire.

Since the Tanjore Temple hasmany Maratha influences, it is natural to come across a Grand temple devoted to Ganesh ji, who is also the son of Shiv Bhagwan.

It is believed that the beautifully carved Ganesh Temple located here was commissioned by the great Maratha ruler Sarabhoji in the late 18th century C.E.This temple is situated behind the Sri Vimana.

Subramanya Temple

You are right! Being a Shiva temple, most of the shrines located in the Tanjore Big Temple Complex are dedicated to the family of Shiv ji. After visiting the Parvati temple and Ganesh temple, how could a temple devoted to Kartikeya ji aka Subramanya, the other son of Shiv ji and Parvati maa, be left far behind?

The Subramanya shrine is a very elaborate temple, rich with massive carvings. Subrahmanya Mandir was built by the Nayaka rulers in the 16th-17th century C.E. Subrahmanya shrine is one of the most outstanding specimens of the Nayaka architecture.

The caparisoned elephants flank the main entrance of the Subramanya shrinemuch like the temple I saw in Ikkeri in Karnataka. A mythical animal embellishes the stairs on a floor above the elephant stair. The two sections of the Subrahmanya mandir include a gopuram and a flat roof section.

It might look like a regular temple in case you have been to many Hindu temples like me. However, there is a secret to this the Kartikeya temple, to reveal which you must hire a guide. Subrahmanya temple is located next to the Chandikesvara Temple.

Much like how you can pass a piece of paper or cloth from the hanging pillar of Lepakshi, you can pass a twig or grass from the very small holes present within the carvings of the Subramanya Mandir. It is camouflaged and easy to miss. A guide can help you find it.

Soul Window Thoughts

Impossible was nothing for the genius Indian architects of the past. Whether it is creating interlocked rings out of stone, which I saw hanging from the ceilings of the Chennakeshava Temple in Belur or carving miniature scenes from Hindu epics, the word No was absent from the dictionary of ancient Hindu architects who were far ahead of their times when compared to other civilisations in East or West or even most places in South America for that matter. It is just that over the years, present Indians have been brainwashed to devalue our heritage.

Chandikeswara Temple

Unlike the other structures present in the Tanjore Temple Complex, the Chandikeswara Temple is believed to have been constructed around the same time as Brihadeshwara temple. In fact, the Chandikeswara Temple is the only other shrine apart from the Brihadeshwara temple that was originally built by the Cholas.

It is an intricately sculpted reservoir resting on four lions on four sides, serving as pillars. I notice a figure beating drum, a couple in dancing posture and so on. This reservoir was constructed by the Nayaks in the 16th century. Chandikeswara Temple is located on the right-hand side of the Brihadeshwara temple.

Soul Window Thoughts

Such depiction of music and dance in many Hindu Temples reveal that dance and music was valued and nurtured by ancient Hindu emperors unlike the Muslim invaders such as Aurangzeb who banned music and dance.

“Dude, all destruction of Hindu culture and no play, leads to Mughal downfall” I would have told Aurangzeb, sotto voce, if given a chance.

Karuvur Dewar Temple

Karuvur Dewar Temple is not as grand as the other temples of the complex. This temple is devoted to Karuvur Dewar, the guru, guide and teacher of the great King Raja Raja Chola. Such trees are considered wish fulfilling trees in Hinduism. I like how the King valued his mentor and dedicated and entire shrine after him.

Sacred Tree

This small shrine has a tree where Hindu devotees ties threads and clothes. I saw a similar tree in the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapur in Chennai in Tamil Nadu. I also saw Muslims tying sacred threads on perforated wall or jaali in the Dargah of Ajmer in Rajasthan as well. It is one of the unusual things to do in Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur.

Soul Window Observations

Similarly, the Dukh Bhanjani Ber Tree of Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab is also considered sacred by the Sikhs, who were also Hindus earlier. Akshayvat – the indestructible banyan tree is another magical tree in Prayagraj in my home state Uttar Pradesh.

It is a much-revered tree located within the vicinity of the Prayagraj Fort. The famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang has also chronicled it in his travel memoirs. It is said that Shri Ram, Sita ji and Laxman ji rested here during their exile.

Varahi Temple

It is rare to find a Varahi Shrine in ancient Hindu temples. The shrine of Maha Varahi Amman inside the Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur also known as Thanjai Periya Kovil is a must visit place. It is a unique feature of the temple complex. Hindu devotees offer prayers to Sri Varahi Devi at the Varahi Temple in order to fulfil their wishes, eliminate Drishti dosha (Kandrishti, evil eye or najar lagna) and seek protection from unfortunate incidents such as accidents, quarrel with enemies and so on.  

Tuesdays, Fridays, Panchimi Tithis, Poornima days are the best time to offer prayers and worship the Goddess Sri Varahi Devi. It is also when special Abhishekam and Pooja happens.

Royal Palace of Thanjavur

The Royal Palace of Thanjavur is home to a museum, and art gallery, a garden, Saraswathi Mahal, Darbar hall, library etc. It is located at walking distance from other places of interest in Thanjavur.

Darbar hall

Nayal’s Durbar Hall, built in the year 1600 is a must visit place in Thanjavur. It is a grand building, which stands tall even after so many centuries. The white coloured tall statue of Raja Serfoji (Ruled 1797 C.E. 1832 C.E.) caught my attention as I entered the Durbar Hall. Two sculpted lions sat below his feet.

Do not miss the beautiful paintings of Darbar hall. Stories from Hindu Epic Ramayan and Mahabharata are painted on the walls here. The detailed stucco figures of gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon on the walls and ceilings are worth craning the neck for.

Durbar Hall used to be the royal court of the King in those days. Thanjavur Palace Complex has many attractions.

Royal palace Museum

Royal palace Museum is also known as Chola Bronze Museum. After I visited the temples, I moved next to the Chola Bronze Museum, which is located at walking distance from the Thanjavur temple.

If you are visiting Gangaikondacholapuram, then you must visit theoffbeat Chola Bronze Museum. It is a hidden gem that few know about! I leant so much about the rich history of Thanjavur by visiting the museum here.  

You can see exhibits such as artifacts, bronze idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, headgears, books, exquisite paintings, hunting weapons, royal clothing and memorabilia from the past. The museum was established in 1951 in the campus of the palace.

Influences of the great Cholas, Nayaks and Marathas dynasties who flourished between 7th to 16th century C.E. can be seen here. The exhibits were excavated from the remote corners of composite Thanjavur district. Located within a 17th century Durbar Hall, the displays here reflect the rich art and culture of Thanjavur in all its glory.

Indeed, the artistic talents, skill and imagination of medieval Hindu sculptors have few parallels in the world. Some of the bronze idols displayed here are:

  • Thirupuranthagar (Shiv ji): Found in Mayiladuthurai. From 10th century.
  • Thirupuranthagar (Shiv ji): Found in Thanjavur. From 11th century
  • Parvathi ji: Found in Thiruvenkadu or Thiruvengadu. From 11th -12th century
  • Parvathi ji: Found in Thiruvelvikkudi. From 11th century
  • Appar: Found in Thiruvengadu. From 10th -11th century C.E.
  • Bhikshatanar: Found in Thiruvengadu. From 1040 C.E.
  • Brahmadirayar: Found in Thiruvengadu. From 10th -11th century C.E.
  • Natarajar: Found in Muthupettai. From 11th century C.E.
  • Nataraja: Found in Vedaranyam. From 12th century C.E.
  • Natarajar: Found in Patteeswaram. From 11th century C.E
  • Nataraja: Found in Thanikottagam. From 14th -15th century C.E.

Also read: Pallava Art and architecture

Arsenal Tower

Thanks to its height, Arsenal Tower or Koodagopuram served as a watch tower in those days.

Whale skeleton

You can also see the skeleton of a 92 feet tall whale in the museum. Who would have thought?

This Baleen whale was found dead on 6th February 1955 on the shores of Tharangampadi beach in Tranquebar. The incongruous whale skeleton is displayed in the Arsenal Tower.

The bronze idols can be dated between 9th to 19th century C.E. Stone sculptors and bronze idols displayed in the Thanjavur Museum from Chola era and Vijayanagar era are some of the finest in the world.

Thanjavur Art Gallery

Thanjavur Art Gallery is also known as Raja Raja Chola Art Gallery or locally as Thanjavur Kalaikoodam. You can see a rare collection of coins and sculptures from the past. Very rare coins from 300 B.C.E. are also exhibited here. It is one of the rarest coin collections in the entire world.

Sangeetha Mahal

Sangeetha Mahal is one of the top sightseeing places in Thanjavur. This historic destination is a must see as it is located at walking distance from all the major attractions of Thanjavur. Also known as Hall of music, it is located within the precincts of Thanjavur palace. It is also located close to the Breedheshwra temple.

Sangeetha Mahal was constructed in1600’s during the reign of the Nayak King Sevappa Nayak. It was then called as ‘Navaratnamanamaina Nataka Sala’ (the Theatre which is adorned with precious gems). The great Marathas later renamed it as Sangeetha Mahal.

The amazing acoustics inside this hall is worth a mention. The balanced deflection and absorption of sound waves make it stand out. Needless to say, musical performances used to happen here in those days. Royal musicians used to perform here.

Saraswathi Mahal Library

Do you know that Saraswathi Mahal Library is one of the oldest existing libraries of Asia. Also addressed as Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji’s Saraswathi Mahal Library, it was established by the Nayakas during 16th century.

A rare collection of palm leaf manuscripts and paper in Sanskrit, Tamil and other indigenous Indian languages can still be seen in Saraswathi Mahal Library. Only a small fraction of the complete 49,000 volumes is on display for public. As per Encyclopedia Britannica, Saraswathi Mahal Library is the ‘Most remarkable library of India’. Records from Maratha era are also kept here safely. This library is open to public.

Bell Tower

Bell tower is located towards the North Western side of the Arsenal Tower. It is a lesser-known place in Thanjavur. Also known as the ‘wide holed ear pavilion’ or Maadamaaligai, it is a must-see place.The bell tower reflects the architectural style of the Nayakas. The 7-storey tall bell tower offer sweeping bird’s eye view of Thanjavur. It was one of the tallest buildings of Thanjavur in old days.

In fact, Vijayaraghava Nayakkar used to climb atop the bell tower to offer his prayers to the Srirangam Ranganatha Temple, which was visible from the top of Bell Tower. It had more storeys which were destroyed due to lightening and thunder. Maadamaaligai means rectangular mansion.

Since the bell tower used to inform people of time every hour by ringing the bell, it was also known as Manikoondu. This is how people used to estimate time in those days. Bell tower is not as tall as the Arsenal tower.

Ram Mahal

This is another must visit place in Thanjavur near the Big temple.

Sarjah Mahdi or Maratha Palace

If you go off the beaten track, you can visit lesser-known places such as Sarjah Mahdi or Maratha Palace. This unexplored place is located away from the crowds. I am sharing some lesser-known facts about Sarjah Mahdi. This historical place is also known as Sadar Madi. The Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex, which is locally called as Aranmanai, is also a must visit place in Thanjavur. Thanjavur palace was earlier known as Sivaganga Fort.

This royal balcony is situated towards the eastern part of the palace. I admired the beautiful wooden carvings which were located here.

Secret Chambers

Not many know that there are several secret chambers located within the palace complex. These hidden chambers are connected to each other with doors. One of the secret chambers which is present in Arsenal tower, had a brilliant acoustic design. People in those days used to send secret voice messages through several floors. Even a small whisper could be heard 3 floors above the mysterious chamber. 

Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed to pay a visit here. It remains a history for many.

Punnainallur Mariamman Temple

The lesser known Punnainallur Mariamman Temple is located 7 kilometres away from Tanjore temple. This temple is devoted to Goddess Mariamman. Located in Punnai Nallur, it is just 5 kilometres away from the old bus stand of Thanjavur. It is also known as Mariamman Kovil.

Soul Window Observations

Thanks to my extensive travels across India since 2008, I have observed that most of the ancient or new Hindu temples are dedicated to Bhagwan Shiv, his wife Parvati ji and sons Kartikeya ji and Ganesh ji. Some of the Lord Shiva temples I have visited are as below

  • Baijnath Temple in the hill station state Himachal Pradesh,
  • Shore Temple located in Mammallapuram, Tamil Nadu in South India
  • Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga which I accessed via a trek in monsoon in Maharashtra
  • Siva Dol, the Shiva temple of Ahom Kingdom in Sibsagar, Assam in North East India
  • Shri Siddheshwar Nath Mandir in the beautiful Apatani village Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, also in North East India.
  • The holy Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet which is more of an experience than a physical temple. I feel it is a place where I journeyed inwards!
  • Elephant caves: During my 7 years in Mumbai, I have visited the Elephant caves several times. It is located in Maharashtra in West India. Elephanta caves are located on a pretty island and houses a massive idol of Trimurti Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh– The creator, preserver/maintainer and destroyer!

You can click on links to read my detailed blogs and travel guides on the above-mentioned Shiva Shrines from India.

Souvenirs Shopping Guide to Thanjavur

There is a lot you can buy in Thanjavur. Some of the souvenirs you can pick in Thanjavur are the beautiful Thanjavur paintings, traditional local crafts, dancing dolls, wooden toys, jewellery, musical instruments, local travel guide and vegetarian/vegan food with long shelf life. Do read my detailed guide on what to buy in Thanjavur. This topic deserves a separate article!

Colourful wooden toys for sale in Thanjavur near the Big Temple.

You can buy these from the nearby Handicrafts Sales Centre, Government emporiums or street side shops.

Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Thanjavur

It is a commonly asked question. When in Tamil Nādu, I never fail to stuff my face with the local vegan and vegetarian dishes. In fact, one of the main reasons I visit South India is food. Tamil Nadu restaurants serve some of the best Idli, Mendu Vada, Dosa, Utthapam, Pongal, Sarbath and various rice dishes such as lemon rice, sambhar rice, curd rice and Puliyogare rice aka tamarind rice etc.

These delectable local dishes are easily available in restaurants near Tanjore Temple. Most of these dishes are default vegetarian. You can easily ask the restaurant staff to prepare a vegan version of the same by omitting dairy products such as curd, ghee, butter etc.

ATM in Brihadeeswarar temple

This is another Frequently asked question. ATMs are easily available in and around Brihadeeswarar temple. The area around Thanjavur big temple is a busy town, always buzzing with activity.

Backpacking Budget Travel Tips for Tanjore Temple

It is very easy to visit Thanjavur Periya Kovil on a low backpacking budget. For a person like me who travels on low budget, Thanjavur turned out to be a great value for money destination. In fact, Tanjavur temple is one of the most inexpensive places I have travelled to in India.

Solo Trip Tips for Thanjavur Periya Kovil

For a male Indian solo traveller like myself, Brihadisvara temple is a God sent destination. That said, it is also a fab destination for both male and female solo travellers. Since most things in Tanjore is affordable, it is quite easy to handle food, language, accommodation, sightseeing and catch public transport smoothly.

Luxury travel Tips for Brihadisvara temple 

Luxury travellers can avail some of the finest luxury facilities around Thanjavur Periya Kovil. You can easily travel in luxury here.

Is it safe to visit Thanjavur big temple?

Yes, Tanjavur temple is very safe to visit. You can easily move around in Thanjavur as a solo male or female traveller. During my extensive travels across India since 2008, I have always found South India very safe.

You can read all about my journey of safe travels on my travel blog A Soul Window. It is the No 1 Indian travel blog. Many newspapers have also listed it as the blog as Top Indian travel blog.

Photography Tips for Rajarajeswaram

Golden hour is the best time for talking pictures of heritage structures of Tanjavur temple. This is the time around sunrise and sunset. The afternoon light is often flat. Having said that, if you visit the Tanjore temple in afternoon, you can still take good pictures.

Do not forget to click close ups of paintings, murals, small details, dwarpals, beautiful carvings etc.


Many people who prepare for UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Exam for for IAS, IFS, PCS, face questions on Brihadeeswarar temple. All the commonly asked question in UPSC have been explained in this information packed guide to Brihadisvara temple.

Hire a local guide in Thanjavur Periya Kovil

It is easy to find multilingual guides in Brihadeeswarar temple. The local guides speak many languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malyalam, Hindi an English. I recommend hiring a local tourist guide who can help you find hidden gems scattered around the campus of Peruvudaiyār Kōvil.

They can also explain the history and reasons behind the famous secrets and mysteries of Thanjavur big temple. The startling facts about Tanjavur temple, which a local guide can reveal is not found in old school/traditional guide books.

Languages spoken in Thanjavur Periya Kovil 

Tamil is the official language. Above mentioned South Indian languages, Hindi and English is also understood and spoken by many.

Toilet facility near Tanjavur temple

Clean and well-maintained toilets are located outside the temple complex. I saw one toilet on the road opposite the temple too.

Locker facilities in Tanjavur temple 

Tourists and devotees are not allowed to carry big bags inside the campus of the Tanjore Temple. I had submitted my huge backpack in the locker. The locker is located next to the shoe rack, where I had submitted my shoes. The floor can be very hot in afternoon. Disposable Cloth shoes are available near the locker. I wore that.

Soul Window Travel Tips

Since shoes are not allowed inside, the floors can get very hot during the noon. It is advised to pick the disposable socks from the Keralatakan gate. You can also deposit your shoes, backpacks, bags, heavy books here and travel hassle free.

Brihadeshwara Temple Timings

The timings of Brihadeshwara Temple are as below:

Morning Timings: 6:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Evening Timings: 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

What to wear in Brihadeeswarar temple?

Tanjore and much of Tamil Nadu is warm and sunny even in the winters. It can also get slightly hot and humid in winter afternoon. It is therefore advised to wear light cotton clothes during all 12 months of a year in Thanjavur. You might need a light jacket for early winter mornings and nights. Thermal wears and down jackets are not required here.

Best Time to visit Tanjavur temple?

Winter: Winter is the best time to be in Brihadeeswarar temple. I visited Thanjavur on 24th February. The weather of Thanjavur was pleasant during my visit and the temperatures were moderate. Ypu can plan Tanjore trip during the months of October, November, December, January, February, March.

Summer: Summer is very hot in Tanjore and much of Tamil Nadu, except hill stations. Many people prefer winter month for Thanjavur tour. April, May and June are hottest months in Tamil Nadu plains.

Monsoon: Weather in monsoon is quite good in Thanjavur. The temperatures are also moderate due to rain. You can consider Brihadeeswarar temple tour during rainy season. It doesn’t rain all day, after all.

Thanjavur Temple festival

Since the Thanjavur Big Temple is devoted to Shiv Bhagwan, Mahashivratri is the biggest festival which is celebrated here. It is auspicious to visit the Big Chola temple during Mahashivratri.

Thaipusam festival, Makar Sankranti and Deepawali is also celebrated on grand scale in Thanjavur.

Soul Window Thoughts

We visited the Tanjore temple on the eve of Mahashivratri, the biggest festival in honour of Shiv Bhagwan. Another Shiva temple I had visited on Mahashivratri is Baijnath Temple near Bir Billing, Gunehar, Palampur, Mcleodganj and Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Do read my blog on Baba Baijnath Dham to know why Dussehra is not celebrated here.

Brihadeshwara Temple Entry Fees

The best part of visiting the grand Brihadeshwara Temple is that it is absolutely free to visit. Yes, there is no entry fees to the Brihadeshwara Temple.Everything in and around the Tanjore temple is indeed a free thing to do. You can take a free walking tour in the Breedheshwra Temple complex.

I remember paying huge sum of money to just enter Petra in Jordan in Middle East.

It is high time we scale up our entry fees to ancient monuments in India, or charge heavily to at least foreigners and keep the entry fees free for native Indians. Sounds fair!

Soul Window Observations

The Tanjore temple is one of the top places to see in South India. Other names I can think of are Shore temple in Mahabalipuram, Pallava temples, Guruvayur Temple near Thrissur in Kerala and of course the trinity of famous Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami in Karnataka.

Do read my detailed blogs or travel guides on many of such Hindu destinations across India and beyond!

Parking space at Tanjore Temple

Ample parking slots are available near the temple premises.

Duration of Visit in Peruvudaiyār Kōvil

How many days to spend in Brihadeeswarar temple?

What can I do in 1 day in Gangaikondacholapuram

The Great Living Chola Temple Rajarajeswaram can easily be visited as a day trip. Despite the huge size of this colossal temple, one day is enough to see all the top features of ‘the Big temple’ in detail. It takes around 3-4 hours to appreciate all the main features with a local guide.

What can I do in 2 days in Thanjai Periya Kovil

If you are a major history buff like me, do not shy from staying in Thanjavur for 2 days or more. Sometimes, it takes 2-3 visits to completely spot and appreciate the hidden gems around the large campus of the Tanjore temple. There is no dearth of places to see in Thanjavur temple. There is so much to do here, that repeat visits to the shrine are always a good idea.

Where to stay near Thanjavur Temple?

Thanjavur is a pretty big city. Accommodation of all types are easily available around Thanjavur Periya Kovil. From luxury hotels to budget stays, a wide variety of hotels in Thanjavur are available. Most of the hotels are located at walking distance from the grand Chola temple.

Itinerary for visiting Brihadeshwara Temple

7:30 A.M.: I arrived at Tanjavur railway station on Golden Chariot Luxury Train.

8:00 A.M.: I had breakfast in the train itself.    

10:00 A.M.: I had darshan at Brihadeshwara Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was followed by quick shopping in the nearby emporium.    

11:30 P.M.: I visited the Chola Bronze Museum.    

1:30 P.M.: I had sumptuous vegetarian lunch at the Ideal River View Resort Thanjavur.    

3:00 P.M.: I was driven back to Trichy by road.    

4:00 P.M.: I arrived in evening at the Sri Rangam temple in Trichy. It is India’s largest temple complex which is devoted to Vishnu Bhagwan.    

6:30 P.M.: I returned to Trichy railway station and boarded the Golden Chariot train again. It was time for refreshment.    

8:00 A.M.: I had mouth-watering vegetarian South Indian Dinner in the train.    

12:15 A.M.: Golden Chariot train departed to Madurai next. 

Excursions from Sri Brihadeeswarar temple

There are many tourist places in and around the Brihadisvara temple. Some of the major attractions near Thanjavur Periya Kovil are located within a few kilometres of each other. In fact, there are many picnic spots, located close to the Big Temple. Some of the best sightseeing places near the Tanjavur temple are listed as below.

Distances from Brihadisvara temple

Distances between Srirangam and Brihadisvara temple is only 60 kilometers and it takes just 1 hour from NH 83.

Distances between Puducherry and Brihadisvara temple is only 168.5 kilometers and it takes 4 hours and 20 minutes from NH 36 and NH45C.

Distances between Madurai and Brihadisvara temple is only 192 kilometers and it takes 3 hours and 20 minutes from NH 38.

Distances between Coimbatore and Brihadisvara temple is only 268 kilometers and it takes 5 hours and 20 minutes from NH 81.

Distances between Chennai and the Big temple is only 344 kilometers and it takes 6 hours and 20 minutes from NH 38 and NH32.

Distances between Ooty and Tanjore temple is only 336 kilometers and it takes 7 hours and 20 minutes from NH 81.

How to reach Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur?

Thanjavur is pretty easy to arrive at. Thanjavur or Tanjore is well connected to many big and small cities by railways, flights and buses.

Here are all possible ways to reach Brihadeshwarar Temple

Road Trip

The road conditions in and around Thanjavur are in good condition. You can easily plan a road trip from nearby places of attraction such as Madurai, Tiruchirappali, Tirunelveli, Dindigul. Thanjavur also makes for a great weekend destination from Chennai, nearest big city in Tamil Nadu. You can also plan a quick weekend getaway from Bangalore a big city in Karnataka.

By Bus

You can easily find a bus to the Big Temple of Thanjavur from the Trichy bus stand and anywhere else in Thanjavur. The locals speak only native language Telugu but since it is a famous monument, so it should not be an issue to communicate the same. You can also catch an overnight bus from Chennai to Thanjavur which is 341 kms away.

The buses to Tanjore temple are available from Trichy station and Trichy Central Bus stand. You will be dropped at the New Bus Stand in Thanjavur from where you need to take another bus or cab or autorickshaw (No, we don’t call them Tuk Tuk in India, so don’t try,eh! ) to the old bus stand. The Big temple is located at walking distance from the old bus stand of Tanjore.

By Air

Tiruchirappalli International Airport in Tamil Nadu is the closest airport from Thanjavur aka Tanjore. It has flight not only from Indian cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Goa, Bhopal, Hyderabad etc but also international destinations such as Singapore, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Dubai in U.A.E. etc. many buses and taxi ply between Thanjavur and the Trichy airport.

By Rail

I had visited Tanjore by train only. However, the train was luxury train Golden Chariot. It is very expensive and offers 5-star services on board, complete with fine luxury dining as well as private rooms.

I arrived on Golden Chariot at Thanjavur railway station, visited the Tanjore temple and headed to Sri Rangam Temple in Trichy via bus. After visiting the Sri Rangam Temple, we boarded the train from Trichy railway station.

You can however arrive at Trichy Junction on a throw away budget as well. If you are on a low budget then you can book a sleeper class or the 3rd AC, 2nd AC train ticket to Thanjavur or Trichy. These cost much cheaper, the cheapest being the sleeper class.

Thanjavur Railway Junction is where our luxury train Golden Chariot has stopped. We explored the Tanjore temple as well as Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and other ancient Hindu temples in Trichy or Tiruchirapalli within few hours.

You can surely get down at Thanjavur Junction (station code: TJ) which is the closest junction railway station from Thanjavur.

Local Transport for sightseeing in Tanjore Temple

Auto-rickshaws, local buses and private cabs are easily available in Tanjore.

Tanjore temple address

The Tanjore Temple is located on the Hospital Road, behind the old bus stand of Thanjavur town.

Abhinav Singh at Brihadeeswarar Temple of Thanjavur

Conclusion: Why visit Brihadeeswarar temple 

Is Brihadeeswarar temple worth a visit? The Tanjore Temple, a UNESCO Heritage Site is probably the best place to see in South India. So, unlike me, do not delay visiting this Grand Chola Temple. It is one of the largest Hindu temples ever built in the world.

Cholas, who were the most powerful and longest running dynasties of South India were great patrons of art, architecture, literature and culture and built many such Hindu Temples around India such as Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple etc. In fact, Thanjavur was the first capital of the Cholas.

Brihadeshwara temple or the Tanjore temple is one of those rare South Indian temples where you can admire the best of various architectural styles that flourished in Maharashtra and South India between 11th century and 17th century C.E. A seamless mélange of the architectural styles of Cholas, Marathas, Nayaks and the Pandyas, the Thanjavur temple is a must visit destination. This is why Brihadisvara Temple is worth visiting.

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