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Thanjavur history

Historically speaking, these temples are not as ancient as the 274 odd Saivite temples and the 108 Vaishnavite Shrines sung by the Nayanmars and Alwars of the 7th through the 9th centuries, however they stand out as towering monuments proclaiming the glory of the Chola regime and its committment to the arts and culture.

This issue zeroes in on the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Gangaikonda Choleeswarar Temple in Gangai Konda Cholapuram, the Airavateeswarar Temple in Darasuram and the Kambahareswarar temple at Tribhuvanam.

Chola History: Raja Raja Chola I, was clearly the greatest of the Chola Monarchs. During his reign (985 - 1014 AD) he brought stability to the Chola Kingdom, and restored from obscurity the brilliant Tevaram hymns of the Saivite Nayanmars from obscurity. Raja Raja was a great builder, and the Peruvudaiyar Koyil or the Big Temple at Thanjavur was his creation. His son Rajendra Chola (1014 - 1044 AD) was a greater conqueror who marched all the way to the banks of the Ganges. This march was commemorated with a new capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram and another 'Periya Koyil'. Gangai Konda Cholapuram was the capital of the Cholas for about two centuries, although it is nothing more than a village now with this rather well maintained magnificient temple. 35 Kilometers from Thanjavur lies Darasuram, once known as Rajarajapuram - a part of the Chola's secondary capital of Pazhaiyarai. Here is the Airavateeswarar Temple built by Raja Raja II (1146 - 1173). It was during the reign of Kulottunga III (1178 - 1218) that the ambahareswarar temple at Tribhuvanam was built.These four temples under discussion stand out from the others in Tamilnadu in that, it is only in these that the Vimanam towers over the entrance Gopurams. After these four temples, the Cholas went back to their traditional style of building temples with larger Gopurams and smaller central Vimanams. These temples are fitting memorials to the glory of the rulers that built them, as well as monuments of piety and a committment to art and architecture.Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur.A 107 paragraph long inscription on the walls of the Vimanam records the contributions of Raja Raja Chola and his sister Kundavai to the Thanjavur temple. The temple stands within a fort, whose walls are later additions built in the 16th century. The towering vimanam is about 200 feet in height and is referred to as Dakshina Meru. The octogonal Shikharam rests on a single block of granite weighing 81 tons. It is believed that this block was carried up a specially built ramp built from a site 6 kilometeres away from here. Huge Nandis dot the corners of the Shikharam, and the Kalasam on top by itself is about 3.8 meteres in height. Hundreds of stucco figures bejewel the Vimanam, although it is possible that some of these may have been added on during the Maratha period.

The Shivalingam - Peruvudaiyar, Rajarajeswaramudaiyar - is a huge one, set in a two storeyed sanctum, and the walls surrounding the sanctum delight visitors as a storehouse of murals and sculpture.The long prakaram surrounds the great temple (500 feet/250 feet), and the walls surrounding the prakaram again go back to Raja Raja Cholan's period. The walls house long pillared corridors, which abound in murals, Shiva Lingams and Nandis. The Periya Nayaki temple within the temple is a later addition from the Pandya period, and so is the Subramanyar Temple sung later by the Saint poet Arunagirinathar.Incidents from the lives of the Nayanmars, several of the 108 Bharata Natyam Dance postures, manifestations of Shiva (Aadalvallaan - Nataraja, Tripurantaka, Dakshinamurthi etc.) are depicted in sculptured panels or in exquisite Chola murals. Both the interior, and the exterior walls of the temple, are replete with images of kind described above.The sanctum, the ardhamandapam, the mukhamandapam and the Mahamandapam, although distinct, form a composite unit with an imposing appearance that awes visitors, forcing one to wonder how such timeless architectural feat was executed about a 1000 years ago. Entrances to the Mandapams and the towered entrances to the Prakarams are majestic. The grandeur of the architecture and the sculptural finesse speaks volumes of the skills.

Inscriptions refer to Shiva as Dakshina Meru Vitankar and Aadavallan. The Nandi, which dates back to the Nayak period, is housed in its own mandapam and it matches up to the grandeur and size of the temple. It is a monolithic Nandi weighing about 25 tonnes, and is about 12 feet high and 20 feet long.

Thanjavur was the royal city of the Cholas, Nayaks and the Mahrattas. 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 gra
The capital city of Chola was always changing.Thiruvarur was the capital during Manuneethi Cholan. Kaveripoompattinam was the capital after that and was an important harbour. Uraiyur, Pazhaiyarai, Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram used to be the capitals of Chola Kingdom. Its been believed from the Epics that many Chola kings were ruling from Thanjavur even before Karikal Cholan.

Historian 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 was declining and the Pandya Kings captured Thanjavur.

Vijayanagar Kings captured in 14th Century AD. Sevvappa Nayak (AD 1549-1572), an erstwhile viceroy of the Vijayanager 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 but a heroic war with Chokkanatha of Madurai in 1662 AD. 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.

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