Brihadeshwara Temple - or the Big Temple is an outstanding example of Chola architecture. It was built by the great Chola emperor Raja Chola I in the 10th century. What makes the construction so unique is the diversion from the usual temple building norms of having a tall gopuram (spire over the entrance) and a smaller vimana (the tower over the sanctum). Here, the vimana soars high while the gopuram remains stunted.
The 65m tall, 14 tiered pyramid shaped vimana rises from a square base and is topped by a huge monolithic cupola carved out from an 81-tonne block of granite. The tower is a testimony to the engineering skill of the Chola architects who planned its construction in such a way that the shadow of the cupola never falls on the ground. In keeping the 'bigness' of the temple is the gigantic lingam in the shrine and the massive Nandi (Shiva's bull vehicle) at the portal.
The inner wall of the sanctum has sculpted 108 dance poses called karmas performed by Lord Shiva himself. The Shiva lingam is called Peruvudaiya, Rasjarajeshwaramudvya. It is a huge lingam, which is set in a two-storeyed sanctum. Rajaraja Chola crowned it with 12.5 ft tall finial of 9.25 kilograms of choppers plated with 800 grams of gold. A huge statue of Nandi measuring 6 m length and 3.7 m in height faces the inner sanctum.
The statue of Nandi was created from a single rock piece and weighs 25 tonnes. It is in fact one of the largest statues of Nandi bulls in India. The temple also has a spacious ground, number of pillared halls, shrines and 250 lingams.
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