To relieve the stress of modern chaotic city life and instead would like to re live through the timeline of some good old ancient kingdom that we came across in the history books, then roam around through the state of Tamilnadu. To realize the contribution of those Kings and their rule in the overall life and culture to the state that remain intact even after centuries visit the temples, Forts, Museums etc lies across the state.
Chera-Chola-Pandya and their kingdoms and how they had made an impact in the south Indian culture would come alive while we explore some cities of the state of Tamil Nadu, many among them still looks same in its fineness. My trip was never a planned one though it was on the bucket list for quite a long time, but a traffic bottleneck while approaching Trichy on the way to Kerala from Chennai forced me to take a left turn which I believed to be Lord Shiva’s call from the Tanjaore temple to make my wish true.
Tanjaore is one among many such places in TamilNadu known for its centuries old royalty where the travellers will get surprised by the temples, arts, paintings, architecture, music etc which had been the hallmark of 10 th to 14th century but were still plays a predominant portion in the city’s life and tourism. Also historically this place is believed to be birth place of classical music and Bharatanatyam, the classical form of Dance.
Tanjaore is situated in between Chennai and Madurai along the road leading to Kanyakumari National highway and 54 Kms approximately left to Trichi. The drive is smooth through widened double line road till the town limits and comparing with the buzzling hitech cities with multi-storied building complexes, malls etc, the olden charisma of Tanjaore’s outlook makes a breath of fresh air to the visitors. An evening stroll on the city without any special purpose would turn out to be a blessing in disguise who prefer to indulge with such olden times.
While exploring the city, needless to mention that the temple located in the heart of the town known as Brihadeeswara or Big temple is the main attraction. Though a casual look from the parking lot across the road towards this temple only makes a feel of any typical Tamil Nadu temple in many locations of this state, but the huge temple premises, the tower that probably be the biggest in this region, the gigantic sized statue of Nandi (bull), the entrance gate, the gopuram on top of it with some amazing details, the long corridors and all gives an idea why this temple is not an ordinary one and why Tanjaore remains as important as it was many centuries ago and any traveller’s not to miss place.
The entrance gate along with the big arch and the sculptures may not make it curious but the extended wall along the boundary resembles to a Fort rather than a temple from the looks and size of it. Between this entrance and another one which leads to the temple premises capsule sized brief details along with the plan of the whole complex is provided for each visitor at a convenient location and height for a quick understanding about the history and details of the temple.
Inside the temple complex, it was a “See it to believe it” kind of place with its sheer size of the complex as big as several football stadiums at the center of which stands the huge temple building with a height of around 60m with its magnificient architectural splendor, the long corridors which looks like or acts as the boundary of the complex but with its own story to tell, all which makes the visit to this temple a delight to any traveller.
Once inside the complex and saw all these, I took up the mobile in an excitement to capture as many photographs in the early morning sunlight but the huge Nandi or bull in front of the temple reminded of the fact that the primary job is to complete the customary temple visit and walked towards the temple and honestly it was a surprise to see the exact size of the Nandi (Lord Shiva’s companion) so close to the eyes, believed to be made in a single stone. Its size is approximately 4m heigh, 6m in length and 2.5m wide which makes it the second largest in India. It is erected in an elevated platform exactly in front of the temple.
As I entered the door to the main darshan while waiting in the queue till the location of the Shiva idol, the religious heart and travellers heart in me were fighting to take a stand of its own as the inside of the temple was mostly in a divine atmosphere with people silently with the exception of slokas and mantra standing for their turn to move but mine and few others eyes were started wandering inside the architectural and engineering precision for executing such a marvellous piece of construction with rocks of different size that had undergone the severe test of its durability with every type of adversity, distruction and disaster came on its way for approximately 1000 years and still stand tall with all its power and might without a hint of losing its royalty. The position of pillars on the long room, with same designs carved out on the stones at the top, the huge walls on the sides with sculptures and other designs, flat stone pieces that has been used on the ceiling slabs were absolutely architectural wonder to ponder about, as it had been done centuries ago without the help of any technology, machines, crane etc. The top of the slab were consist of murals and paintings. The sacred place were the main idol is situated is the main tower where entry is not allowed. The idol is in the shape of Lord Shiva linga which is really big in size probably 3-4 meters in height which may looks to be a perfect match for the huge temple it pocess. There is a door to the left side to make way out for devotees after Darshan and recieving the blessings from the priest.
The magnitude of majesty and size of the temple building, the tower or Vimana (as the traditional name that people used to say) and the whole complex will realize only when one make a detailed view just after the exit from the temple. The long line of granite structure from the tower to the Nandi and then up to the gopuram at the inner entrance gate provides a cool, but enchanting view in the morning sunlight. Adding the corridor surrounding the periphery to the vision creates an illusion of being in a place that had turned our biological clock few centuries back. The walls were adorned with beautiful depiction of different poses of classical dance form of Bharatanatyam all of which it shows the extent to which the rulers were concieved art and culture. The manually crafted artisan work on tower and external walls and its symmetry were absolute eye catching architectural precision that proves the skilled labours whether masons, artisans during those period were purely professional in their trade and posed any modern architects and Engineers a serious professional challege.
The tower is as big as a 15 or 16 storey building with the Kumbham or kalasham – a dome like structure that normally seen in almost every south Indian temple -resting on top of a single granite piece weighing several tonnes such that it brought it to its position through an earthern ramp of around 6 kms long starting from an adjacent village.
In the same compound there are small shrines for other deities but the main attraction once you leave the main temple building is the long pillared corridor all around which looks to be boundary to the whole area, The pillars have inscriptions and 108 Shivalingams, are arranged along the main two corridors.
There must be many more features inside this complex that may associated with the life of Kings and rulers that brought this Tanjaore its name and fame along with the title of being one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage site and whatever seen, heard and experienced there was enough to make this unexpected visit a memorable one.
The Palace, Saraswati Mahal and The Bell Tower
Plenty of time was available though it was an unexpected trip and wanted to explore some more historically important places before leaving the city and few locals and google search engine has directed to the Tanjore Palace, Saraswati Mahal library, Museaum and a Bell tower all situated in the same compound. This palace and the associated structures not as old as the big temple but has been built by the rulers in 15thor16th century. Expecting another marvellous places to roam around but what had seen was two contrasting faces of tourist identity preserved within a distance of one kilometer between each other with this one throws a fine example how an historically important location is not to be treated. Though it is not sure whether any minor renovation work was going on or not but the entire location of fort, the museums, the courtyard were seems to be in an unorganized, unattended and in an unwelcoming scheme of things for any traveller.
With a mearge entrance fee people have access to all the important locations where meterials and belongings of the olden times ranging from coins, war related items, kitchen utensils, royal attires, uniforms all had been displayed in the museum in two seperate sections. A wall with windows seperates the second section and a courtyard like area which has been in a ruined condition. Another entrance leads to Durbar hall with some paintings which also reflects another fading royalty.
Apart from these, there was Saraswati Mahal Library, the one which has been properly maintained and a vast range of books, paintings etc shows that the then rulers were keen to acquire knowledge and preserve it for generations. Close to it was the Art Gallery which has mostly arranged in an organized way and the important items were broze statues of different poses of Lord Shiva’s Nataraja steps apart from stone carvings of many shapes along with a statue of some ruler. From there, those who intersted can visit the bell tower.
From a quick visit to all the places there seems to be enough space, locations, articles, belongings of the ther royal family and life, and part of royal forts that could be done in a more professional manner to bring this area equally important for everyone to spend enough time to enjoy it but the state also deserves a special appreciation for maintaining most of such structures in the way they had been centuries ago except for its development that is necessary as the years pass by making any travellers visit a special feeling.