The big temple of Thanjavur also known as the Brihadishwara temple (Rajarajeshwara temple) was built by the great Chola king Raja Raja Chola I in 11th century .The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Temple also has shrines for Ganapati, Chandeshwara, Parvati and others. Along with the Airavtheswara temple in Darasuram and the GangaikondaCholapuram temple in GangaikondCholapuram these temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in the name Great Living Chola Temples.
You can experience the temple peacefully if you reach there before 9am. Also during summer period the ground will be hot, so it is good to visit the temple in the morning or evening. Temple prasadam is available in packets inside the temple itself. A full pack of prasadam cost 100 rupees. A guide is essential to understand the history and architecture of the temple. You can ask the temple authorities for a guide and they are happy to help you. My guide was Selvan sir. He was an excellent guide and was very knowledgeable.
What is so special about the architecture?
The temple is actually built on the plain land without any foundations laid underneath the ground. This temple has the highest Vimana(Tower) in south India(216 ft). The amazing fact is that the Vimana is made by stones laid in a jigsaw puzzle manner. The entire granite used for the construction of temple was brought from distant place using elephants. Also the kumbam atop, which weighs 80 tons, is carved out of a single stone.
Though there is a myth that the shadow of the tower does not fall on the ground in noon, selvan sir says that it is just hearsay. The temple walls and pillars contain inscriptions of daily rituals in temples and offerings made to people.
The temple complex consists of architecture from Nayakas and Marathas as well. The Ganapathi temple inside the complex is made by the Marathas. Also the Monolithic Nandi in the front is actually made During the Nayaka period. The actual Nandi shrine made by the Raja Raja Cholan can be seen in the temple complex itself which is of smaller size. The Nandi mandapa has paintings of the Nayaka period on the ceilings.
You can also see the carving of a man with a hat on the temple tower which is of Marcopolo. The carving was later added by the Europeans.
Why the temple is a protected gold chamber in disguise?
Selvan sir told me that the temple is a gold chamber in disguise. The king treasured their wealth inside the temple and the temple was a means of protection. The temple is protected by 2 walls of at least 15m height. Inside the temple there are underground passages which is said to be leading to treasure vaults. Also as per the guide there used to be snakes around the temple to protect the treasure, the truth of which is still unknown.
Other than the big temple,i suggest, you visit the entire Great Living Chola temples.
The Airavtheswara Temple in Darasuram.
The Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple.
Also include the Thanjavur Palace to complete the Chola story.
Do not forget to buy Thanjavur Dolls.
1. Took SETC bus from Banglore(ShanthiNagar) to Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is in between your destinations. So you can move around easily.You can book your tickets in http://www.tnstc.in/TNSTCOnline/ .
2. Reached Kumbakonam. Went to Darasuram Airavtheswara temple. You will get bus directly to Darasuram market and the temple is in a walkable distance. Always ask the locals for help.
3. Return to kumbakonam bus Stand.
Have your breakfast at Hotel Venkatramana . you will get good Kumbakonam Degree Coffee from there.
4. Take bus from Kumbakonam bus stand to Jayamkondan. Ask the conductor to drop at Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple. He will drop you near the temple. The road to Jayamkondan is beautiful. You can see acres of paddy fields on the way.
5.Stay in Kumbakonam. I got a good deal in Redbus at Hotel Rayas Executives.(Rs 588).
4.Take bus to Thanjavur from Kumbakonam bus Stand.
5. Drop at Thanjavur old bus stand. You can walk to The Big temple or take an auto.
6. After the temple visit you can opt to visit Thanjavur palace.
7. You will get your reserved bus back to banglore from Thanjavur New Bus Stand. Buses ply frequently from old Bus Stand to New Bus Stand.
timing : 6am to 6pm
Entry fee: free
Photography: no restriction, except inside the temples no photography is allowed.
Guide Fee: At Darasuram Airavtheswara temple you can get a guide for Rs 300. Also at Thanjavur Big temple a guide will quote Rs 500. I suggest you go in groups so that your travel expenses will be less.