TANJAVUR BṚHADĪŚVARA: AN ARCHITECTURAL STUDY
A few years ago the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts launched two projects under the general rubric of Ksetra Sampada. These were envisaged as case studies which posed the question “what constitutes a Socio-Cultural, Political area in the Indian context ?”.
Can the notion of a ksetra (field, region or area) be defined through the yardstick of territory or political history, language or a particularly social sub-group? Do particular monuments hold it together? What invests particular areas with special power as pilgrimage places, or centres or intra-regional and inter-region dialogue?.
In India over the course of history certain regions/ areas, have developed into cultural centres, places of pilgrimage (tirtha) attracting people from all parts of India. They have become places of convergence and radiation, centrifugal and centripetal forces have been in evidence. They have served as centre, place provided space and motivated mobility and interaction. Often a temple, a Dargah is the physical or notional centre. So far these have been studied either from the point of view of chronology, history, religion or economics as a linear phenomenon and not as a totality from which emanates a multiplicity of creative artistic activity. The Ksetra sampada projects therefore attempted not only a study of a specific place or a temple and its units but its impact on the culture of the people surrounding it, of the entire interlocking of the devotional, artistic, geographic, social, political and economic aspects of a particular centre and what factors act as the instrumentalities of its continuous renewal and continuity.
The two obvious areas for such integrated studies were Tanjavur in the South and Vrindavan in North India. Each has served as centre of many politico-socio-cultural and spiritual movements over a period of many centuries. Each has manifested the twin paradoxical phenomenon of assiduously guarding a tradition on the one hand and being in a constant process of change, affecting those who enter the region and being effected by them . The history of the dialogue between the Mughals and Rajputs is explicit in Vrindavana and specially in a temple like Govindadeva. The history of Tanjavur as a stronghold of Tamil culture at its best and most refined and yet serving as a centre which had a vast and extensive dialogue with other regions of India and Asia holds a key to the understanding of the dynamics of Indian culture with its concurrent movements of orthodoxy and openness, conservative and liberal tendencies. The adherence to certain perennial principles, more tenets of the world view and life-style and an equal receptiveness to innovation and change, is in evidence. The history of the region spans a period of nearly thousand years.
The Brhadisvara temple or the Big temple stands with elegant and monument dignity as the centre of the region. Indeed it is the Daksina Meru in more senses than one.
The Brhadisvara temple also known as the Rajarajesvara Temple built by Raja Raja I in 1010 AD has been acclaimed as the finest achievement of Chola art. The perfection of its architectural plan, its impeccable balance, the sculptural relief’s and murals and the bronzes have been commente
upon by art historians. Some inscriptions have been studies as invaluable sources for evidence of administrative machinery of the Cholas.
Each of these facets emerge from an integral vision where each part is related to the whole. In its totality, it is not a more architectural monument, instead it is a living bio-oranism which has served as a centre of social, economic and political life in many succeeding centuries.
Movements traveled to it and in turn its influence permeated many others parts both far and near. During the Vijayanagar period, it had very active dialogue with Andhra and Karnata; during the Maratha regime with North India and Western India. The significance of the temple and its patterns is not at the level of archaeology alone, it is exceedingly important as a centre of the region which provides milieu for interaction with other parts of India as also South Asia.
Its artistic excellence lies in the perfect balance of the parts and the whole, the architecture, sculpture, painting, the stone and the bronze images, the idols within, the reliefs without.
The inscriptions on the walls of the temple provide a vast corpus of information at the level of economic, social, cultural, organizational and administrative patterns and structures.
The temple continues to serve as the Centre of the area of Tanjavur with its clearly laid out city plans, its organization of urban spaces and its mechanism for sustaining diverse communities as mutually dependent and complementary.
The Chola monuments, the Brhadisvara temple at Tanjavur in particular along with the Gangaikondacholapuram temple, have attracted the attention of archaeologists, epigraphists, literary critics, musicians, dancers, craft specialists, sociologists and anthropologists.
Despite this interest and the excellent work done by individual scholars and national institutions, most of the studies have so far been unidimensional, focusing attention on one particular fragment or part and not the whole.