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Brihadeeswarar, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Ariyalur


Basic information about the temple

Moolavar:BrihadeeswararAmbal / Thayar:Periya Nayaki
Deity:SivaHistorical name:
Vriksham:Pinnai, VanniTeertham:Simha Kinaru
Agamam:

Age (years):

1000-2000

Timing:6 to 12.30 & 4.30 to 8.30Parikaram:

Temple group:
Sung by:

Temple set:

Great Living Chola Temples

Navagraham:

Nakshatram:

City / town:Gangaikonda CholapuramDistrict:Ariyalur
Maps from (click): Current location Mayiladuthurai (29 km)Kumbakonam (36 km)

Ariyalur (52 km)Thiruvarur (64 km)

Location

Gangaikonda Chola Puram is located about 36km northeast of Kumbakonam, on the way to Sethiathope and Neyveli.

Sthala puranam and temple information

The temple does not carry much historical religious significance, other than being a Siva temple. Its renown is largely due to the architectural wealth it carries. So we will be looking at some of the cultural and historical aspects of this temple, rather than religious ones.

The place gets its name from one of the titles of Rajendra Chola I, the Chola who won over / brought under the Chola empire (konda), the lands / kingdoms near the river Ganga. For the longest time –nearly 250 years starting 1025 CE – this place served as the capital of the Chola empire, as Gangaikondacholeeswaram. It must have been a large city by its standards, though later, the Pandyas defeated the Cholas, and likely destroyed much of the city.

As of today, very little can be said of the place, except for this temple and a couple of other old temples. Excavations in recent years have yielded evidence of a palace a little distance away from the temple, on the south west. The temple and the excavation site are ASI protected, but can be visited.

Going by inscriptions at the temple, it was built in 1035 CE, by and during the reign of Rajendra Chola I, the son of Raja Raja Chola I. It is said that Rajendra wanted to build a temple similar to what his father had built at Thanjavur, but out of respect, ensured that it was not as tall as the other temple. What he lost with the height of the temple, he made up for with more intricate architecture, which gives the temple its renown.

The temple itself is built on an elevated platform. As with the Thanjavur temple, everything here is big – in consonance with the name of the lord and his consort – Brihadeeswarar (the large one) and Brihannayaki. The vimanam is 180 feet tall, the Lingam is 13 feet tall, and the Nandi on the east (which is a much more recent addition made of limestone) is also massive.

There is so much architecture and intricate carving work at this temple, that one can spend days in admiration!

The temple is easily recognisable (as is the Thanjavur Big Temple) by the general shape of the vimana, and the strong similarities of their shikharas. However, there is a view that both temples were designed with the Achaleswarar temple (Arur Araneri, a separate Paadal Petra Sthalam inside the Tiruvarur Thyagarajar temple) in mind.

Interestingly, the vimanam of the temple is slightly concave, compared to the slight convexity of the vimanam at Thanjavur.

One of the most famous features of this temple is the carving of Chandesa anugraham – where Lord Siva, along with Parvati, are seen blessing Chandesa Nayanar (who, according to the Periya Puranam, cut off his father’s leg with an axe, for not allowing Chandesa to proceed with his worship of Lord Siva).

According to a legend, due to memory loss, the minister responsible for the construction of this temple was unable to produce accounts of the construction costs, when the king Rajaraja asked for them. The minister prayed to Vinayakar at the temple, who restored the minister’s memory, and the latter was able to then provide the necessary information to the king.

It is said that a stone (called the Chandrakanta) has been installed under the Lingam, which keeps the sanctum pleasant and cool throughout the year.

The Amman shrine houses a Devi idol from the Chalukya period, which is reckoned to be a war trophy of the Cholas.

The temple is noted for the quantity of cooked rice that is used for Annabhishekam that is performed across several Siva temples during the Tamil month of Aipasi (October-November). At this temple, Annabhishekam is undertaken by the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, as has been the case for many decades now.

Other information for your visit

No amount of written description will be able to do justice to this temple. Some additional resources are:

  1. Kudavayil SR Balasubrahmanyam, an expert on Chola temples, whose knowledge on this and the other two Great Chola temples is unmatched. He has published several books on these and other temples which are all excellent sources of information on these temples. Similarly, there are several talks of his that are freely available on YouTube. Interested readers can read / watch that content.
  2. The late C Sivaramamurti, of the ASI in Delhi, was an authority on the subject, and the Publications Division (Govt of India) published his books on these temples. Sadly, these are largely out of print, though some used copies are available online. If you want an electronic copy of one of the main books, it is available for free here.

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