Description : Built between 985 A.D and 1012 A.D, the Brihadisvara Temple of Thanjavur is a fine example of the brilliant architecture of early medieval period. Later, in the 11th and 12th century two Great Living Chola Temples were added to Brihadisvara temple. Constructed by the kings of the Chola Empire, the Great Living Chola Temples were stretched over South India and the nearby islands. Now, the site houses the three great 11th and 12th century Chola Temples, the Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram.
This celebrated Saiva temple, appropriately called Brihadisvara and Daksinameru, is the grandest creation of the Chola emperor Rajaraja (AD 985-1012). It was inaugurated by the king himself in his 19th regnal year (AD 1009-10) and named it after himself as Rajesvara Peruvudaiyar. Architecturally, it is the most ambitious structural temple built of granite. The temple is within a spacious inner prakara of 240.90m long (east-west) and 122m broad (north-south), with a gopura at the east and three other ordinary torana entrances on at each lateral sides and the third at rear. The prakara is surrounded by a double-storeyed malika and parivaralayas.
The sikhara, a cupolic dome, is otagonal and rests on a single block of granite, a square of 7.8m weighing 80tons. The majestic upapitha and adhishthana and common to all the axially placed entities like the ardhamaha and mukha-mandapas and linked to the main sanctum but approached through a north-south transept across the ardha-mandapa which is marked by lofty sopanas. The moulded plinth is extensively engraved with inscriptions by its royal builder who refers to his many endowments, pious acts and organisational events connected to the temple. The brihad-linga within the sanctum is 8.7m high. Life-size iconographic representations on the wall niches and inner passages inlude Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Kalantaka, Natesa, Ardhanarisvara and Alingana forms of Siva. The mural paintings on the walls of the lower ambulatory inside are finest examples of Chola and later periods.
Sarfoji, a local Maratha ruler, rebuilt the Ganapati shrine. The celebrated Thanjavur school of paintings of the Nayakas are largely superimposed over the Chola murals.