Brhadisvara Temple, Tanjavur

ig_bt01The Bṛhadīśvara temple of Tanjavur is acclaimed as the finest achievement of Chola art.  The artistic design of this temple has been compared to a bio-organism where each part is related to the whole. It is not just an architectural monument but a living organism that has served as a centre of social, economic and political life in many succeeding centuries since the time of Raja Raja I (1010 AD). Its artistic excellence lies in perfect balance of the parts and the whole, in architecture, sculpture, painting, bronze images, the idols and reliefs.  Inscriptions on the walls of the temple provide a corpus of information over a span of many centuries.  The Centre has completed a multilevel study of this temple at several levels to investigate the multi-layered and multi-dimensional personality of the Kshetram, the Kovil and the temple as a physical and conceptual presence.

The study has led to the publication of three research monographs:

  • Tanjavur Bṛhadīśvara : An Architectural Study
  • Bṛhadīśvara Temple : Form and Meaning
  • The Iconography of the Bṛhadīśvara Temple


  • Architectural survey and measured drawings by Pierre Pichard, UNESCO Expert, Southeast Asian Architecture, in collaboration with Ecole Francoise D’extreme Orient, Pondicherry.
  • Photographic documentation by Francoise L’Hernault of Ecole Francoise D’extreme Orient, Pondicherry.
  • Stampages of inscriptions in Tanjavur Temple (which have been never looked before) by K. V. Ramesh, Director (Epigraphy), Archaeological Survey of India.
  • Colour Photographic documentation of Saraswati Mahal Library, Tanjavur by V. K. Rajamani.
  • Colour Photographic documentation of Tanjavur paintings by Benoy K. Behl.
  • The most difficult work of the entire audio-visual was the documentation of Kumbhabhisekam, which is held once in 12 years. This was done under the supervision of Late Manna Shrinivasan.

The Project also includes the study and coordination by Dr. R. Nagaswamy, Advisor, UNDP documentation project for Tanjavur Brhadisvara temple, for the following interrelated modules:

  • Inscriptional and epigraphic records
  • Architectural and photographic records
  • Study of texts
  • Iconographical study of sculptures, reliefs, bronze images and paintings.
  • Vastu and Silpa aspects of living tradition of rituals
  • Survey and documentation of music and dance traditions and
  • Study of Socio-political history of the temple
The project presents the Brhadisvara temple as a monument but more as a living tradition.

So far, three major monographs namely Tanjavur Brhadisvara : An Architectural Study,  Brhadisvara Temple: Form and Meaning  and The Iconography of the Brhadisvara Temple  have been published by IGNCA, as a part of the project. The IGNCA also organised major events in Tamil Nadu (Chennai and Tanjavur). These events are enthusiastically acclaimed as unique and unusual presentations, revolving around the temple and the culture of its region, the people, craftsmen, implementation and music and dance.

The IGNCA designed and developed an interactive multimedia DVD titled ” Tanjavur Brhadisvara Temple ” based on the materials collected. 

Explore Multimedia project  Brhadisvara Temple

This interactive multimedia DVD presents the content explanation systems on the Bṛhadīśvara temple to intensify cultural learning and visualisation. Through this DVD users can access the sections of the architectural layout, both horizontally and vertically with respective images and little description about each section.

The temple of Bṛhadīśvara includes a great number of iconographic representations. The most important icon in the temple is the huge Lings, the main symbolic object of worship. Distribution of sculptures on the ground and upper floors of the Vimana with description of each of these icons, their reference in the text(s) (through Dhyan shloka) and voiceover of the Dhyan shloka in some cases has been integrated for a better understanding. On the upper floor of the Central sanctum, sculptures are carved on the outside of the inner wall of the Central sanctum, sculptures are carved on the outside of the inner wall of the Vimana in a clock-wise direction. They represent the dance-karanas as described in the Bharata’sNatyashastra. 108 stone blocks were left to carve all the dance-karanas as per the text but, the work stopped after the 81st dance-karana. These images can be explored in the DVD with relevant shloka in the Natyashastra.

The paintings in the passageway of the garbhagriha of the temple are the only remaining examples of Cola paintings that we have today. Panels of the Cola paintings are linked through the storyline, to understand these paintings in their context. They are also grouped in different sections for easy navigation by users.

On the base of main tower, the front great hall, the subsidiary shrines and the enclosure are remarkable documents that record several aspect of the temple: its construction, maintenance and management, land grants. These have been integrated linking their location on the temple plan with translation published by ASI, for each navigation by users. The light these records throw on the rituals and festivals conducted in the Bṛhadīśvara temple is also significant. Daily and periodical worships (including kumbhabhishekam) has been documented by the IGNCA and is integrated in this DVD. We have attempted to capture the change in the attitude towards the temple – through the interviews of the hereditary Trustee and Kittappa Pillai, an eminent musician and nattuvanar belonged to the 8th generation of lineage of artists at Tanjavur, in this DVD.

Several alterations and additions in structures, do reflect the growth, with time, and this has been shown with the timeline in this DVD. Recent techniques and tools have been utilized to integrate the information available in different art forms in an interactive manner for each navigation by the users. 360 degree panoramic views of the temple from selected locations are provided for the users.

This is the first time when such a project has been conceptualised and fulfilled, to make the ancient knowledge and achievements accessible through a modern multimedia platform, for the understanding of our past.


Explore Multimedia project  Brhadisvara Temple