Ramaswamy temple : The temple walls themselves have scenes from the epic Ramayana painted all over them from Rama’s birth till his coronation.
The idols in this temple were found by the then King of Tanjore, Raghunayak while digging the holy tank in Darasuram.
Sri Palaivana Nathar temple : Interestingly we first headed here since the map showed an ASI recognised a 16th century granary which is now a protected monument. The temple itself is calm in the fading light of the early evening and only had a few local women with their children visit it. The name of the town – Palathurai comes from the Palm tree which is the holy tree of this temple.
Legend : The taluk itself is called Papanasam since it is believed that Lord Rama came here to pray to Lord Shiva and wash away his sin of having killed Ravana. It is also believed this was the town where Lord Shiva killed the man-eater sent to attack and used its skin in what is now pretty much the only attire we see all images of Lord Shiva. There is another small shrine beside the main one and we walked around the place reveling in its silence and calm.
After spending all day in the stories and structures of the past , a bit of rest later, we decided we had to also check out the Tanjore of today, and despite residing in an extremely busy area of the city, we decided to head out. We passed by the evening vegetable market with fresh produce and even dropped by a mela where we enjoyed the sight of kids being thrilled on the amusement park rides and icecream! So well, that wasn’t too bad a note to end a day on.
Day 3 :
The next morning we were to visit the place that was probably the piece de resistance of the whole trip – the Tanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple. It’s quite a hard to digest the contrast of the first view one has of it- from across a road with very heavy traffic. Once you enter the place is when you realise that it’s massive- all that we thought our recent blockbuster movie – Bahubali, exaggerated in terms of architecture, is pretty much realistic once you get here. As much as a good job Anand has done with the pictures, no picture can really capture the magnificence of seeing the place in person. One cannot help but gape in wonder at its colossal stature and see how well deserved its addition into the UNESCO world heritage site list is. Also the name that simply translates to the “Big Shiva temple” which seems apt once you see it.
It was embarrassing for us that despite having studied history in early schooling we didn’t realise that the Marathas ever ruled this part of India. Thanjavur itself was ruled by the Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagara rulers, the Nayaks and then the Maratha kingdoms – many of who contributed to the Tanjavur temple.
The entrance to the temple is via 3 arches with ornate gopuras, the outermost one is the Maratha entrance, a relatively recent and simpler addition by the Marathas going all around the temple. The next one to commemorate the king’s victory over the Cheras of Kerala- therefore called the Keralantankan Thiruvasal. The innermost gate Rajarajan Thiruvasal had 2 huge dwarapalakas (gate keepers) depicted on either side.
The whole city of Tanjavur was designed with this temple as the ceremonial and sacred center.The inscriptions all around the temples on pillars and walls are the equivalent of account books that listed all donations and financial dealings related to the temple. The Dvarapalakas (guardians of the gate), some of which were upto 18 ft tall were my personal favorite to admire. It is one of the rare temples of the time that had depictions and motifs of Shaivite, Vaishnava and Buddhist legends making it a secular space at the time despite the main temple being dedicated to the Lord Shiva.
Nandi Mantapam : The 25 tonne Nandi is housed in an exceptionally beautiful platform with patters on the ceiling in the most brilliant shades of blue,yellow, green and white – one can’t help but stop and stare. It is said that this Nandi also grows in size with time similar to the Nandi in the temple at Yaganti and that a nail was driven into it so that it doesn’t get too big for the platform that houses it.
The main temple is of Shiva housing a 3.7 mt tall Shiva linga. The temple itself is built out of granite. Even in the 11th century its amazing how the Chola architects managed to build the 63.4 meter high vimana (tower) and managed to hoist the crowning shikara made of 8 pieces together weighing 81 tonnes atop the structure making it the world’s tallest. As massive as it is , it is said the structure itself is built with no binding material but only with the means of interlocking stones. It is believed that the 2 Nandis atop the srtucture were put up there by means of an inclined plans upto 4 miles away
There are numerous shrines in the complex dedicated to Varahi, Kuruvar Devar (the saint who helped the king in the installation of the Shiva linga in the main temple), Subrahmanya,Chandikeshvara and an Amman shrine. The Amman shrine had interesting sculptures in a style that was not typical to what we had seen in other temples in Tamil nadu.
They were also colored with paints made with natural ingredients all over the ceilings. The corridors around the temple area are covered in frescoes painted in the Chola and the Nayaka eras.
The Maratha King Seforji installed 108 lingas as part of his contributions to the temple. There are paintings all over the walls beside them depicting the 64 sacred sports of Shiva. He executed elaborate repairs and reconstructions of this temple too and built the Nataraja Mantapam which has depictions of the 108 poses in Bharatnatayam carved here. The shrines of Ganesha and Nataraja (the form of Shiva in his celestial dance) are also additions from the time of the King Serforji.
Up next : Tamil Nadu: Of a kingly love for books and a whale washed ashore