Lost my soul at Brihadeeswara Temple
It was the summer of 2016. Nearly after 13 years of not moving out of the state, my family finally decided to take some time off the daily routine and chores. Well, living in Maharashtra, one certainly doesn’t get both the time and the thought to move away from the state since the active happenings there keeps one hooked to their respective course of work.
My father was a legal head of a very big reputed company. So taking time off for more than a week from office wasn’t feasible. We decided to pay homage to our family Goddess’ temple first. Finally a Tamil Nadu visit!!!
Our plan was to land in Chennai first. Spend some hours with one of our relatives and then directly head over to Trichy aka Thiruchirapalli where I wanted to see the rock fort (Uchi Pillaiyar) temple. Uchi pillaiyar temple had so many memories. As I child, I remember I and my siblings had competitions amongst ourselves to climb the 400 odd steps first.
It was like a condition that I had put that if we were to pass by Trichy, we had to stop at rock fort at least once. Our family Goddess’ temple, “Sri Mathurakaliamman” temple in Sirvachur was closer to Trichy. The temple opened only on Mondays and Fridays so we made plan as such that on Friday, we would be definitely visiting Sirvachur.
On a bright Wednesday morning, we reached Chennai and by noon, we were in Trichy. As we discussed about our next day’s programme, my sister came up with the idea to visit Thanjore, Brihadeeswarar temple, (an awesome idea for which I would be forever indebted to her).
Instantly I remembered the word that was surrounding the temple. It was said that the main entrance on the east side of the temple, was jinxed for people in power. A word that spread around in the 80’s after two prominent politicians faced unexpected casualty. The main entrance is said to have been erected with a spell that whichever politician enters the temple through it, may suffer a downfall in their career.
Well, the made up stories surely had instilled some fear in the reigning politicians as many avoided to visit this spectacular grand temple on their visit to Thanjore.
Anyway, none of our family members were politicians (and even if were, I am sure we wouldn’t have minded entering through the beautifully sculpted arched entrance).
Reaching the Big Temple:
By state transport bus, from Trichy, it takes approximately 1 hour to reach Brihadeeswara temple. They drop you directly outside the temple.
By cab, more or less, the same one hour.
Thanjore city doesn’t have an airport. The nearest one is in Thiruchirapalli.
The bus dropped us right outside the temple. I was surprised when I found no ticket counter for the temple visit or camera ticket counter. The temple guards, in spite of seeing my big DSLR bag, remained nonchalant. It was a very new experience for me since in every other temple, (smaller than this grand masterpiece of course) there was this rule of buying two tickets for a single person for visitation.
Mostly the visitation tickets were priced in three groups. 100 for normal darshan, 200 for special darshan and 300 or more for VIP darshan. Plus a camera ticket of 100 bucks or 200 if caught with mobile or DSLR. This was the routine of many temples, especially South Indian temples.
But not for this UNESCO world heritage site where they welcomed the devotees with open arms.
The moment my bare feet touched the holy red soil of the temple, instantly I was blessed with the positive vibes. Not saying this just because I was spellbound to see the marvel. I was always biased with my little Ganesha sitting atop the Rock fort in Trichy, to be honest. But this Big temple really made me open my eyes and kind of cleared my thoughts. Can’t come up with the exact feeling but the air, the warm people greeting us, the strong divine vibes… everything just magnetized me.
Built by the great Chola emperor Raja Raja Chozhan I, this magnificent temple is an 11th century wonder that saw many damages, repairs and reconstruction over the period of the next 1000 years.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple when originally built had the huge temple complex, the tall Vimana tower above it, the Nandi mandapam (complex), inscriptions, sculptures and a moat that surrounded the complex. However, during the later years, it is said that the Pandyas, The Vijayanagara emperors and the Thanjore Marathas contributed a lot in adding many more mandapams around the temple.
One of the many mini complexes that surround the temple, the Nandi Mandapam is one huge attraction. This massive Nandi structure is said to be carved out of a single rock and is known as the second biggest Nandi of the country. This statue weighs around 25 tonnes. It is approximately 2M in height, 6M in length and 2.5M in width.
The whole temple and its complexes are said to be constructed from granite stones at a time when granite stones weren’t available in 50 kilometres radius.
The other astonishing fact that puts one to wonder is how the Sikhara, the cupolic dome, which weighs around 25 tonnes and sits on a single block of granite which in turn weighs around 80 tonnes was placed atop the Vimana tower which is approximately 70 metres high!
Not only that but the Vimana tower that rises above the main sanctum sanctorum is filled with carved stones that weren’t firmly placed using any binding material but instead were interlocked with each other. Also there is myth that the Vimana tower doesn’t cast shadow on the ground! I was there at the temple and didn’t see the shadow of the Vimana tower. Maybe it fell somewhere over the trees and bushes behind.
The primary deity, Lord Shiva, who is worshipped in the form of a Linga here is one of the biggest Lingas of the country. It measures upto 8.7 metres in height.
The temple walls have many inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha. The inscriptions tell the story of the many kings who oversaw various constructions of several other palladiums and complexes of the temple.
Back to my story… So we reached the temple at around 9 a.m.. After visiting the main temple, the Nandi Mandapam, the many mini shrines in the premises that included the complexes of Kartikeya, Dakhshinamoorthi, Parvati, Varahi, Chandeshwara, the Cloister Mandapa that hosted 108 lingas installed by Maratha ruler Sarabhoji and also clicking zillion pictures of the temple murals and scriptures… when we went out of the temple, it was 5 p.m. The temple was so peaceful that we all took a few minutes break every now and then and rested in the grassy courtyard of the temple.
So that day, we ate our lunch in a nearby hotel at 5 p.m.
I would really like to add one point here. About the warm people of Thanjore. They love having visitors. While the bus driver and the conductor all the way through to the Big temple, kept on talking to us, telling us about the speciality of Brihadeeswara and other places of Thanjore, asking us to visit the Royal palace museum and also the Sivaganga Park (which they themselves admitted was under maintained), there was this lovely lady constable who helped my mother climb the high steps of one of the mandapam in the temple complex. Gestures like these make you feel welcomed and you know the destination is going to be bursting of positive energy if the people themselves were so sweet.
Beautiful smile is always pasted on their faces and a very exuberant welcoming query, “Chennaingala ille Mumbaingala?” meaning “From Chennai or Mumbai?”, in a pure well enunciated Tamil that was easily comprehendible by me, made me shun my hesitation to talk and gel along. For Tamils, living outside of Tamil Nadu, Tamil laden with indigenous slangs are quite hard to understand. Like Chennai Tamil which is flowy, Tirunelveli Tamil that is graceful, Coimbatore Tamil which is way too sweet, Madurai Tamil that is stylish and many more dialects that are very hard to grasp sometimes (well, definitely for me). But Thanjore Tamil is the Tamil as we know it. Clear and well pronounced words.
The food here is authentic and has a divine aura to it. Because most famous foods here are the rice varieties that are mostly served in temples like Puli sadam (tamarind rice), Thengai sadam (coconut rice), Thayir sadam (curd rice), Sambar sadam, (Sambar rice), Thakkali sadam, (tomato rice) and Ellu sadam (sesame rice).
Also I had the wonderful opportunity to gorge on a full fledged Thanjore special meals that consisted of 14 different dishes for the lunch. I don’t remember the name of the hotel but I suppose this tasty meals menu was general in every other hotel. Maybe different dishes, but standard platter.
Before listing out my plate’s details, I would like to mention that the meals in Tamil Nadu are available only for the lunch or till 7 p.m. maximum. Not for the dinner. Being someone who just loved meals, I was many a time disappointed to not find meals in the dinner menu.
Anyway, back to the fine range of delicacies that made a permanent mark on my palate. First of all the hotel staffs laid a big plantain leaf, the traditional Tamil culture to revere the eaters. Then on it, they started serving small cups of variety of dishes. My leaf in a minute was filled with Semiya (Vermicelli) Payasam, Vatha Kuzhambu (spicy, tangy gravy), Paruppu (boiled pigeon pea) which traditionally is the first item that should be added to the rice along with a dollop of ghee before proceeding to have a ladle of Sambar, Mixed vegetables Sambar, Okra Mor Kuzhambu (Okra buttermilk gravy) Tomato garlic rasam, Cabbage Poriyal (sautéed cabbage), Potato Poriyal (sautéed potatoes), Pushnika kootu (Ash gourd stew), Pickle, buttermilk, Curd, Mor Milagai vathal (Sun dried salted chillies) and Carrot halwa.
Sumptuous lunch it was!
After lunch, it was time to bid adieu to Thanjore. I had no heart to move away from the Chola land. No thought of the other day’s events or a visit to my favourite Rock Fort temple crossed my mind. I was completely unwilling to go away from the Big Temple.
While returning back, I kept on looking out of the cab’s window at the tall Vimana tower that refused to get away from my sight for a long time. And when it did vanish, I felt as though I had left half of my soul at Brihadeeswara.
Once we came back from this quick trip, I urged to go back to Thanjore once again. I felt that there was so much of marvel, so much of mysteries and so much of stories inscribed in the walls for me. They were all in plain sight, but I wasn’t able to look deeper into it.
An opportunity to visit Thanjore once again cropped up within 6 months of the first visit. Needless to say, I skipped the lunch this time and got engrossed in demystifying the 11th century beauty. As a tribute to this absolutely stunning ancient structure, I drew a sketch of it as it happens to a temple that is extremely close to my heart.
Uma Chandrasekar is an Indian author who has four kindle books and one paperback to her credit. She has 13+ years of experience in writing and has explored almost all fields of writing like, screenwriting, plays, short stories, poetry, novel, novella, dialogue and much more. She has also written stories in genres spanning from crime, drama, horror to family, fantasy and humour. She loves writing and is working on her crime novel currently.