The Engineering Splendour in Stone – Shri Brihadeeswara temple, Tanjavur

Today is Engineers Day. While the world celebrates the modern engineering technologies and innovations which definitely have made life better, it is equally important to say that engineering was never a new concept in India. Right from the Ram Setu of Ramayan, Indian history has richly contributed new and path breaking technologies of building and constructing cities, forts, temples, bridges and many more which speak of our intellectual engineering skills. It is not appalling to say that while the world reads history in books, we read it on the walls and the architecture of our temples. One such engineering and artistic contribution is the Brihadeeswara temple also known as the Raja Rajeswara temple and the Big temple in Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu.


Originally called as the Tanja Periya Kovil, ( Tanja – Tanjavur, Periya – Almighty, Kovil – Temple), this great temple was built by the Chola King Raja Rajeswara around the 11 the century under the brilliant engineering guidance of Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan, who was the architect of the temple. The entire temple is built of granite comprising of more than 130,000 tons of granite, the cutting and carving of the same into such a beautiful structure without any special equipment is a mystery till date. It can be simple said that King Raja Raja Chola left no stone unturned to build a magnificent temple which marvels the entire world with its engineering skills.

Because of its huge size and enormity, the main Gopur of the temple is called as the Dakshin Meru and is the tallest structure in South India. What makes it unique is its height of 63 metres which equals to thirteen flours of a building. On the top of the Gopur stands a single granite block weighing around 80 tons. It is hugely believed that a ramp of around 11 kms was made to reach the top of the Gopur and elephants and men carried the granite blocks up while constructing the temple. The main temple complex is of two storeys, the second storey hosts beautiful panels of dance postures called the Karanas from the Natya Sastra.

Bhagwan Shiv is the presiding deity in the temple and he blesses all in the form of a 4 metre tall Shiv Ling which is one of the biggest Shivlingas among all the temples of India. The temple also has a huge monolith Nandi, carved out of a single stone weighing around 20 tonnes. The Nandi Mantapa is also noted for its roof paintings which tell stories of Bhagwan Shiv, and the royal life of the Cholas. One can also see the painting of King Raja Raja with his spiritual Guru. The temple contains 100 underground passages which lead way to other temples and places in Tanjavur however all of them sealed today in view of safety.

The temple is indeed one of the greatest engineering and sculptural marvels in the world, not only for its huge sizes and beautiful carvings, but also for withstanding the tests of time. The temple has survived six earthquakes and still stands firm on its ground. The entire temple was built on a moving river raft of sand, so that when there were any flash floods or earthquakes, the entire temple moved together, thus not getting dismantled into pieces due to natural calamities. The Big Temple for all its engineering wonders in a time so ancient is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site glorifying our ancient engineering skills and technology which stand unsurpassed till date.