How Big is BIG – Part 2 on the Tanjore temple

Ok, we saw a big post with only one picture in the intro post – so those of you eager to see more of the big temple, apologize for that – but the call of my beloved hero Raja Raja aka ponniyin selvan was too much.

We saw the temple vimanam at a distance – so we approach closer, before the visual spectacle arrests you – lets for a second imagine that someone has blind folded you – and moved you closer to the entrance. We skip the first entrance tower ( which is a later addition) and move your nearer to the second – the Keralantagan ( he who destroyed kerela – one of the first victories of Raja Raja was against the Chera stronghold / martial academy in Kandalur Salai – so his meeikeerthi sings-Kandalur salai kalamarutharuli ) – we skip that one as well and move you to the Raja Rajan gopuram ( The illustrious Arulmozhi took the tile of Raja Raja on his crowning) and slowly remove your blind fold. You open your eyes slowly. what do you see?
You see a Dwarabaalaga – door guardian – we first move you to the right one – with bared fangs and bulging eyes – looking down on you .
You are forced to look down – for his lower right hand is held is a kind of warning pose – Be careful


and then you look at the lower left hand – its says – look down –
there we see a lion,ok and then there is a snake biting something – oh, its swallowing an elephant!!! there is also a crocodile that has been depicted but i don’t have an explanation for that now ( we come to this later)
So we look up again – the upper left hand is pointing inside ( the Lord)
and the upper right hand is raised in Vismaya ( Astonishment)
ok lets read whats implied, beware,see below an elephant is being swallowed by a snake, and i am so much bigger than them – and inside – the God is much much bigger than all of us.
so How big is the door guardian – Ok – lets zoom back – bring a human into frame,hmm lets do better and bring an elephant into the frame –

Now do you get the perception of the scale of the doorguardian.
Now we zoom even more and bring the entire tower into the frame slowly moving backwards …wow -how massive.
The story of the elephant being swallowed is a pointer to the question on the first post as to why the Vimaana in tanjore is taller than the gopuram. A delightful explanation comes from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram.

Where he describes the abode of Shiva – the Holy mountain of Kailash, where there are huge snakes that are capable of swallowing elephants ( actually the right translation of Anaconda – is Aaanai – elephant – Kolran – killer – as per some? but how did a tamil saint envision of amazonian snake and how did the amazonian snake get such a name ?) – in other verses we hear of the lions in kailash ( as did we see in the angkorian ravana shaking episode). So the depiction of these animals are a pointer that the Vimana – true to its name is Dakshina Meru – Southern Kailash – the holy abode of shiva.

Now see the pictures

The first Tower – built during late 14 C

The second Tower Keralanthagan Gopuram

The third tower Rajarajan Gopuram

and finally the Maha meru Vimanam – to truly describe the scale of this edifice requires more posts – so just leave you with some breathtaking visuals ( thanks to friends and Mr Rohan R. Rao for allowing me to post some of his pictures)
There are numerous myths and some little known facts about the great temple. in the coming weeks we will slowly see them…

23 thoughts on “How Big is BIG – Part 2 on the Tanjore temple

  1. excellent work!!
    especially the article on rock cut temples , as im half way through sivagamyin sabadam, i found ur article even more special.
    if uve read ponniyin selvan, there is a reference to a ‘singala-nachhiyar kovil’. have u been there??

  2. Hi Av,

    We have been discussing ponniyin selvan and other works of Kalki in our forum for years. Please join and have fun ( you will find interesting discussion on singala nachiar koil in our archives)


  3. Hi Genius,
    No wordings Boss….
    Really really it’s a great work.

    I learn anakonda name, Dwarabaalaga position and Big temple details from your article.

    Today onwards when ever went to temple first I see “Dwarabaalaga statue”.
    Thanks and all the best for your all work.

  4. Hi Kamali,

    Thanks for the nice comments, but the true credit goes to the sculptor – he created such masterpieces yet preferred to remain anonymous.

    Glad to see that this got your interested into door guardians – some of the most varied forms are there, we will see them one by one in the coming days.


  5. dear banu,

    With all due respects, the three ( four if you add pallavas) south indian rulers were always at war with each other. This greatly weakened their military powers. Chola vs Pandiya This is probably the longest family feud ever – will post shortly on some interesting aspects of this feud connecting with a crown jewel ( diadem), and ploughing with a donkey.


  6. yeah will wait for your article which will probably be about Kulothunga III and Maravarman Sundara Pandiyan.

  7. Dear VJ,

    What you say about feuding between powerful rulers of a region say south india is very true of rulers of almost every other region. Except that rulers of say Rajasthan or Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh etc. mainly fought within the Indian mainland while mainly Cholas, Pallavas or Pandiyans fought across the seas also. In Karnataka there was a feud between Chalukyas, Seunas from Maharashtra, later with Kakatiyas, Kalachuris, Kadambas of coastal Karnataka with ultimately the Hoysalas and Kalachuris along with Kakatiyas dividing Kannada-Andhra country among each other. Initially like the Pallavas, the Chalukyas were powerful, they fought with Pallavas also who overpowered the Cholas and Pandiyans.. later other empires in Karnataka became powerful with ultimately all of them fighting with each other and being rendered incapable to fight outside invaders like Muslims and ultimately the Britishers.

  8. I think Ms.Banu was highlighting the architectural glory of the Cholas and Pandiyas. I think that can be discussed and debated. If you visit this website (I told you on gmail chat) what is revealed to art lovers is that tiruchy and its surrounding areas up to the coastal areas like Pudukottai (Thirumayam, Thirugokarnam etc.) are full of very ancient Pallava and the early Chola temples. If you closely observe the early religious imagery of the Cholas, it is no different from the idiom followed by their previous overlords, the Pallavas, in fact, it is a heavily borrowed idiom and those temples can be easily mistaken for Pallava temples even by the most knowledgeable art lover.

    So I feel where I feel Ms. Banu errs is mentioning the Cholas and the Pandiyans about their dedication to art (kalayil vazhuvathu) and forgetting completely (probably due to oversight) the Pallavas, who were the first major dynasty in south india that excelled in art, i.e. I would like to inform Banu that the temples of the Pallavas especially the Kailasanathar in Kanchi was an inspiration for several other dynasties and contemporary empires like the Kailasanathar temple built by Rashtrakutas at Ellora, the Virupakshar temple of the Chalukyas at Pattadakallu and not to forget the last but not the least (an openly acknowledged fact) of never failing to inspire Raja Raja Cholan to build the Big Temple at Thanjai. It is not far-fetched to claim that even the GKCP temple built by Rajendran, which was inspired by the effort of Raja Raja at Thanjai, also owes its expansive and towering presence ultimately to the Kailasanathar at Kanchi. What do you say?

  9. But I suppose, when you consider that the Pallavas ruled from around 300 AD (King Simha Vishnu ruled around 280-290 AD with the Pallava King Vishnugopan was defeated by Samudragupta around 360 AD) and finally getting vanquished by Aditya Chozhan in AD 899/900, we could safely say that they ruled for close to 1000 years, (sad that their temples and other structures made during the mud and wood era do not seem to exist now), with the Pallavas, Cheras Cholas and Pandiyans being mentioned by Ashoka the Great in his Rock Inscription of 272 BC (or was it 232 BC) with the Cholas lasting up to 1280 AD… (though between 440-850 AD they were pretty weak and subordinate to the Kalabhras (Jains), Pandiyans and Pallavans in turn – but existed nonetheless) a very safe claim can be made about the Chozhas that they too ruled for close to 1500 years. The Pandiyans and Cheras are estimated to be as ancient as the Cholas and Pallavas (all the four empires existed overall for 1000 years EACH).. I do not think any other dynasty in any part of India and indeed the world (if you leave out the monarchy in Britain, Holland etc.) has ruled and prospered for such a long period.

    Any comments?

  10. நான் பலமுறை தஞ்சாவூர் சென்றிருக்கிறேன். பலமுறை துவார பாலகர் சிற்பங்களையும் பார்த்திருக்கிறேன். “உடையார்” ( பாலகுமாரன் ) நாவலையும் படித்திருக்கிறேன். “வரலாறு”.காம்-இல் பல கட்டுரைகள் மற்றும் படங்கள் பார்த்திருக்கிறேன். இத்தனையும் தாண்டி, இந்த இடுகையில் உள்ள படங்களை பார்க்கும்போது மூச்சு இறைக்கிறது. அப்படி ஒரு பரவசம்.

  11. திரு திருநாவுக்கரசு

    எனக்கு உடையார் புதினம் கொஞ்சம் பிடிக்காது – அதில் அவர் , செம்பியன் மாதேவி என்னும் தமிழ் கோவில் கலைக்கு நிகரற்ற சேவை புரிந்த தெய்வப்பிரவியை, மிகவும் மோசமாக காட்டியதே காரணம்.

    வரலாறு.காம் – ஐயா, இது கொஞ்சம் அதிகம், அவர்கள் ஆற்றும் பனி மிக உன்னதம். அவர்கள் கல்லூரி என்றால் இது துவக்கப்பள்ளி. எனினும் மிக்க நன்றி .

    அடுத்த முறை நீங்கள் செல்லும் கோவில்களில் இது போல சிற்பங்கள் இருந்தால் படம் எடுத்து அனுப்புங்கள் – பலருடன் பகிர்வோம், நம் கலைவன்னத்தை உலகத்திற்கு மீண்டும் எடுத்து செல்வோம்.


  12. dear sir,

    Are you talking of the ref from Sri Balakuramaran’s Udayar – if so then its Nisumbasoodhani. Its the Vadabadrakali temple which is attributed to Vijayala chola ( 850 AD). However, i would not want to mix fact with fiction, and would strongly advocate readers to refrain from thinking of her – like the brooding old witch – this depiction of a great person like her who is maybe personally to be credited with converting more brick n mortar temples to stone and thereby ensuring their survivial to date, than any other King. I wish writers of historical fiction could play around with characters of their creation and leave real characters intact.

    ( above are my personal views)


  13. the village in which sebianmadevi lived is in her name near nagai; but no exceptional sulptures there. bit there is a temle within tiruvarur big temple built by her and it s considered as p model temple for thanjavur big temple.shall i send the photograph and briefly writeup similarities?

  14. HI Vijay…
    no words to explain the kind of joy i got reading this… i am new to your blog.. i am trying to dig from the oldest post available. is there any post related to trichy…
    u have kindled my interest towards sulpture.. though i used to like this, i have never seen them with such a detailing.. I feel bad that i have missed seeing such a beauty in the temples that i have visited so far… Good to see your blog atleast now… Will definetly send you good pictures soon… Thanks for you work…

  15. hi annapoorna

    Thanks – take your time. your comments help to keep me on my toes. Yes, trichy is pending – actually has been in the draft for over 6 months now – for want of a few photo angles. Just got them from another friend – will feature the two caves shortly!!!


  16. Vijay Sir,

    The post is very good… I wanted to say exceptional, but ‘Peria kovil’ is taking up all the superlative to itself 🙂

    Regarding your view that real characters should not be maligned, is there any inscriptional evidence about peria pazhuvettarayar for kalki basing his characterisation as a kind of villain?

    Thanks much

    • There is no ref to two brothers aka Pazuvettarayar during Sri RRC’s period. But the role of chieftains was very significant and they slowly clamped over the great Cholas and ultimately led to their fall. you can read more here

      Below is from Historical inscriptions of south india: sit back and
      enjoy the amount of work that went into interwining fact with
      fiction to give PS its timeless allure:

      [A.D. c. 916-17. The reign of Kassapa V, king of Ceylon, came to an
      end, according to Hultzsch’s revised chronology, in A.D. 916, or
      perhaps 917. His successors reigned only seven months, and then
      Dappula V obtained the throne in 917. Shortly before the death of
      Kassapa V, we are told in the Mahavamsa (ch. 1ii), the Pandya king,
      Rajasimha III, sent many presents to, and begged aid from Kassapa
      against the Cholas who had seized his country in or before A.D. 909.
      Kassapa sent over to the mainland an army to his assistance.
      Rajasimha led both armies against

      Parantaka’s troops but was defeated and retired leaving the
      singhalese to carry on the war alone.But their army was attacked by
      disease and their general died from it, and they returned to Ceylon.

      Dappula V having become king of the island, Rajasimha, driven to
      desperation, crossed over to Ceylon, and the two kings prepared for
      a fresh war against the Cholas. But owing to grave internal
      disturbances Dappula had to abandon the enterprise. And the Pandya
      king fled to the Kerala country, leaving his crown and other
      apparel ‘ in Ceylon. This event may have taken place in A.D. 917-18.
      Amongst the apparel was ‘ the necklace of Indra ‘, as we learn from
      the story of what took place later. (Mahawamsa, ch. 1iii )

      This was the second war with Ceylon of Parantaka I, who then assumed
      the title ‘ Samagrama Raghava.

      [A;D. 952. King Mahindu IV of Ceylon came to the throne in this
      year according to Dr. Hultzsch’s Singhalese chronology. He was
      attacked by an army sent from the Tamil country by .a king whom the
      Mahavamsa, calls the ”chola-Vallabha?.* It Is not known ‘to
      whom this refers. ‘ Vallabha ‘is a Chalukya title. The Chola kings
      of the time of Mahinda IV (A.D. 952-968) were Gangaraditya and
      Arinijaya. (Mahavamsa, ch. 1 iv]

      This was the first year of Parantaka Chola II, alias Sundara ChSla,
      Rajakesarivarman. Two of his queens are named, one being a Chera
      princess who lived till 1012. He had a general named siriya-
      Velar, who was killed in Ceylon in the king’s ninth year (see 116 of
      1895). This would be in A.D. 963-64, during the reign of Mahindu IV,
      king of Ceylon, and the war in which he lost his life would be the
      same as is referred to above (s. v., A. D. 952).

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