Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple, dedicates itself to Lord Shiva. The temple is considered as one of the largest temples in the country and is a fine example of the grandeur of Dravidian style of architecture of the Chola dynasty. The temple was built by Rajendra Chola I and was completed in the year 1035 AD.
At present the temple stands tall amongst ruining walls. The temple tower here measures 55 m in height and holds a striking similarity to the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur; an interesting story ensues behind how this temple resembles the one at Thanjavur.
According to one, Rajendra Chola I built this temple to mark his victory over the Ganges region and the Pala dynasty; another says Rajendra Chola I wanted to portray himself to be greater than his father Raja Raja Chola I, who built the big temple at Thanjavur.
He built another temple with the same name and style, however, left it halfway and came to an agreement that his father's temple was bigger than his. The temple is said to have been constructed in the year 1035 AD; however, some experts says that it was built in 1020 but inscriptions indicate it was in 1035 AD.
The temple is constructed on an elevated structure along with a courtyard which measures 170 m in height and 98 m in width. The main section of the structure measures 341 ft in height and 100 ft in width with an east-west axis. Like in all other temples, Shiva is represented in the form of a lingam which is 13 ft tall.
The Thanjavur temple has a straight outline, whereas, here it is a concave one and is divided into eight zones. Experts say that this feature was done intentionally to make it smaller than the Thanjavur shrine which was built by Raja Raja Chola I, who was the father of Rajendra Chola I, keeping in mind the father-son hereditary aspect; and is also considered as the female equivalent of the Big Temple.
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The lingam here is considered as the largest one to be found at any temple. The idol of Nandi is sculpted in such a way that it reflects the sunlight to the sanctum. The Nandi is sculpted in stucco and fallen stones, a stone known as Chandrakanta is said to have been laid in the sanctum, which helps the area remain cool during summers and warms the area up during the winter season.
A UNESCO Heritage Site
One can find five shrines here and a lion well, which is said to be added during the 19th century. Apart from these, there are around 50 odd sculptures around the walls of the sanctum, in which the sculptures of Nataraja, Saraswathi and Shiva garlanding a devotee is the most prominent. There are two versions of who the devotee is, one says it is Chandesa, who was one of the 63 Nayanmars and the second version considers it as the King Rajendra I himself.
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Along with the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, this architectural marvel is also conferred the title of World Heritage Site. However, the temple was added to the list of the Great Living Chola Temples only in the year 2004, since all the three shrines were built by the Cholas around the same time, between the 10th and 12th centuries CE and have many similarities shared when it comes to the architectural style and many more other facts.