Thanjavur (also known as Tanjore) is the royal city of the Cholas and Nayaks. Thanjavur derives its name from Tanjan-an asura (giant), who according to local legend devastated the neighbourhood and was killed by Sri Anandavalli Amman and Vishnu. Sri Neelamegapperumal Tanjan’s last request that the city might be named after him was granted. Chola, Chera and Pandya kings were ruling Tamizhagam even before Mahabharat period. Chola kingdom was leading and patronizing literature, art, science and religion than the other two kingdoms. The capital city of Chola was always changing.
Thiruvarur was the capital during Manuneethi Cholan. Uraiyur, Pazhaiyarai, Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram used to be the capitals of Chola Kingdom. It has been believed from the Epics that many Chola kings were ruling from Thanjavur even before Karikala Cholan.
Historians believe that Thanjavur was captured by Vijayalaya Cholan (AD 846-880) from Perumpidugu Muttaraiyan. From then till Rajaraja Cholan, Thanjavur was flourishing. Chola kings were ruling till 13th Century AD with Thanjavur as their capital. Rajendra Cholan, Rajarajan’s son moved the Chola capital to Gangaikonda Cholapuram. After that Chola Kingdom started declining and the Pandya Kings captured Thanjavur.
An erstwhile viceroy of the Vijayanagar empire assumed independence and founded the dynasty of the Thanjavur Nayaks. Thanjavur remained the capital of the Nayaks for the next one hundred and twenty five years till Vijayaraghava – the last prince of the line – perished in a tragic. His General Alagiri ruled for another fourteen years. The claim to the Nayak throne through Sengamaladas, the infant son of Vijayaraghava brought on the scene the Bijapur King and his general.
General Venkaji alias Ekoji, was the half brother of Sivaji the Great. He defeated Alagiri and seized the throne in 1676 because of the dissensions in Nayaks. Mahrattas kings ruled Thanjavur as the capital for one hundred and seventy-nine years. The English first interfered in 1749 AD with a view to the restoration of the deposed King, Saiyaji.
In 1758 AD French attacked Thanjavur, but were retaken by British in 1773 AD. Thanjavur became a protected state under the East India Company. In 1799 AD Thanjavur became a British principality and its ruler Sarafoji II was given the fort of Thanjavur and an area outside it. Sivaji, his successor died in 1855 AD without an heir and after him Thanjavur passed directly under British. Its acquisition never costs the life of a single soldier, in the same manner as the Mahrattas had taken the country previously from the Nayaks.
The various rulers of Thanjavur, the Cholas seem to have left the Great temple of Sri Bragatheeswara a striking relic of their genius. The temple stands tall within the small fort, commonly called the Sivaganga Fort, ascribed to the Sevvappa Nayak and the big fort which encircles the city and the palace was built by Vijayaraghava the last. These two forts could be the renovations of the earlier chola fortifications.
About The Temple:
The greatest of Chola emperors Rajaraja-I (985 A.D – 1012 A.D) the son of Sundara Chola (Parantakaa-II) and Vanavanmahadevi built this magnificent temple named Brihadisvaram at Thanjavur – the capital of Chola dynasty.
From the epigraphical evidence it is known about Rajaraja-I started building this temple on his 19th year and completed on 275th day of his 25th year. It took just 6 years to complete this work on 1010 A.D.
Rajaraja-I named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar, the temple is also known in the deity’s name as Peruvudaiyarkovil (in Tamil language). In later period Maratta and Nayaks rulers constructed various shrines and gopurams of the temple. In later period when the Sanskrit language was more popular during the Maratha rule the temple was named in Sanskrit as Brihadisvaram and the deity as Brihadisvara. Now-a-days it is called as Thanjai Periyakovil (Tanjore Big temple).
The Peruvudaiyar Koyil also known as Brihadeeswarar Temple and Rajarajeswaram, at Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is the world’s first complete granite temple and a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Cholas kingdom Vishwakarmas in Tamil architecture. It is a tribute and a reflection of the power of its patron RajaRaja Chola I. It remains India’s largest temple and is one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture.The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples”.
This temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The vimana â€” or the temple tower â€” is 216 ft (66 m) high  and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kumbam (or Kalash or Chikharam) (apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is not carved out of a single stone as widely believed. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high. The entire temple structure is made out of hard granite stones, a material sparsely available in Thanjavur area where the temple is. Built in 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola in Thanjavur, Brihadishwara Temple also popularly known as the â€˜Big Temple’ turned 1000 years old in 2010.
Rajaraja Chola assumed the title of Keralaanthakan meaning Destroyer of Kerala (Chera’s). after his victory over Kerala king Baskararavivarma This gopuram is named after this title .
This is a five stage gopuram. In the front side of the gopuram one can see various forms of Shiva – Rudhrathandava pose (a fierce Shiva in dancing form), Shiva with Parvathi, Bichadanar (Shiva as beggar).
In the rear side of the gopuram one can see Krishna Leela, MahaVishnu in the first stage, Narasimha combating with Hiranyakasibu in one side and Hiranya Samkara on the other side. On the top stage Shiva and Vishnu idols are seen.
The Keralaanthakan gopuram is constructed on the same architectural concept of the Srivimana. Firstly, the load is distributed on two huge granite walls and the walls are merged into single structure as it approaches the height. Secondly, the Ball and Lock of the huge granites locks themselves with the neighboring rock, one can see the small projections evenly distributed on the base of the structure. Thirdly, the huge base platform distributes the load to the ground with the minimum foundation depth.
This gopuram is built by Rajaraja-I and depicts the mediaeval chola architecture where the Raja gopuram (the entrance gopuram) diminish in size and the Karpagraham (the main deity’s gopuram) is significant.
The two huge 15 feet monolithic Dwarapalas on either side of this entrance is seen The 15 feet huge monolithic stone sculpture of the Dwarapala revals the Thattva (concept) that God is Everywhere as shown by the upper two hands and the pose of right hand index finger denotes that God is one and only one. On keen notice one can see a Elephant is being swallowed by a snake and the Lion standing behind. This denotes even if one faces such a big problem as of this magnitude a strong stand (a firm belief in God) similar to that of a Lion’s strong standing posture will lead ways to realize God.
Maha Shivrathri in February-March; Aipasi Poornima-full moon day in October-November; Panguni Utsav in March-April and Margazhi Tiruvadhirai in December-January are the festivals celebrated in the temple.
The Shiva Linga in the temple is the biggest in size among the Lingas in Tamilnadu temples. This is made of a single lime stone 200 metres far from the sanctum sanctorum and placed on ground. Sun light falls on the Nandhi each day reflecting on the Linga. Even if all lights in the sanctum are put off, devotees can see the Lord in the sunlight. This is an outstanding evidence of the rare skill of sculptors of Tamilnadu with no parallel elsewhere. The shadow of the Kalasa on the tower does not fall on ground. A rare stone called Chandrakanta stone is installed under the Linga which has a strange characteristic of making the sanctum sanctorum cool in summer and warm in winter. Mother Periya Nayaki, as Her very name suggests, is 9.5 feet tall standing majestically. The Navagrahas the nine planets are made of a single stone on Lotus design peeta. This is other rare individuality of the temple.
The temple is open from 6.00 a.m. to 12.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. to 8.00 pm.