Tanjavur Brhadisvara

Tanjavur Brhadisvara – BOOK REVIEW

Tanjavur Brhadisvara – An Architecture Study; Pierre Pichard ed. IGNCA and Aryan Book International, New Delhi, 1995, pp-244, Price : Rs. 1000

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, explains in her Foreword, “Tanjavur in the South – with special reference to Brahadisvara and Gangaikondacholapuram – and Vrindavana in the North – lend themselves to specific integrated studies. At this point, it is well to remember that the Tanjavur Brahadisvara is perhaps the only work of Indian art which has achieved a memorable synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting”. Dr. Vatsyayan is right in stating that it is only appropriate that the initial emphasis ought to be on the architectural plan of the monument.

Unquestionably the most outstanding personality of the Chola age in Indian history and the acknowledged spokesman in its new and sublime form of artistic expression was Rajaraja Chola. Rajaraja Chola was not only a famous king celebrated for his military exploits in South India and Ceylon, but he was also recognized as the architect of the Brahadisvara Temple at Tanjavur as well. Just as Rajaraja Chola’s famous ancestor, Paranthaka Chola, covered the sabha of Nataraja with gold at Chidambaram, so did Rajaraja Chola justify his title as Sivapadasekhara (crown adorned by Shiva’s feet) by constructing the great temple at Tanjavur. Equally justified was the other title by which Rajaraja Chola was known – Nityavinoda (always rejoicing in art). For it was the era of Rajaraja Chola that witnessed the perfect form of the Ananda Tandava in bronze Natarajas.

Pierre Pichard of the French School of Far Eastern Studies of Pondicherry has made a truly monumental study of the architectural beauty of the Tanjavur Brahadisvara. The great Temple at Tanjavur, dedicated to Shiva as Brahadisvara in the form of a huge linga, was consecrated by Rajaraja Chola on the 275th day of the 25th year of his reign in 1010 A.D. The architectural greatness of this temple, also known as Rajarajeshvaram, cannot be merely ascribed to its size. In fact, it is derived from as architectural balance of forces between the main structure which is 180 feet long and the superbly beautiful pyramidal tower which rises to a height of 190 feet. Again this balance is sustained by the component parts of the pyramidal tower of the vimana. For the square base imparts dignity to the thirteen storeyed tapering body which in turn is set off against the graceful domical finial. Also an impressive gateway dominated by a Gopuram on the East leads on to the outer court and again through a more impressive second gateway into the main court of the temple. This court, paved with brick and stones, is 500 feet long and 250 feet broad. Actually the main shrine of Brahadisvara is situated at the Western end of the main court. The main court consists of the garbagriha on the Sanctum and the corridor around it, the ardha-mandapa, the maha-mandapa, the sthapana-mandapa with the shrine of Sri Tyagaraja. The narthana-mandapa and the vadya-mandapa, too consist of three main portals known as keralantakan, rasarasan and tiru-anukkan. Behind the main temple is a shrine dedicated to Karuvur Devar, who greatly assisted Rajaraja Chola in installing the image of Brahadisvara in the Sanctum.

Fergusson remarked that, “in nine cases out of ten the Dravidian temples were the fortuitous aggregation of parts arranged without a plan”. However, according to him, “one great exception to this rule was to be found at Tanjore where the temple was commenced on a well-defined stately plan which was preserved till its completion”. This temple is also famous for its inscriptions.

The bronze Nataraja, situated in a separate shrine to the North of the Nandi, is one of the greatest sculptural masterpieces of all time. This haunting figure, with one leg arched in that sublime expression of creativity and the ‘apasmara’ (dwarf) crushed under the foot of the other in a whirl of infinite energy that is drawn back into the bronze circle (prabhavali) of infinite repose, reflects the artistic idiom of the Chola age. Truly, one can say this of Nataraja what was said of the Zeus of Phidias that all sorrow and misfortune are forgotten when standing before it. The beauty of this form in the ananda tandava pose, with its exquisite equilibrium of pattern and of movement, of infinite energy and of infinite repose, has again and again inspired poetry in the minds of the poets and artists who have reflected on it. Indeed the leap of the dancer calls for not only a leap from illusion into understanding in the philosophical sense, but also a leap of the historical imagination from the ‘samhara tandava’ into the ‘ananda tandava’.

In addition to the axial structures such as the vimana, the ardha-mandapa, the maha-mandapa and the big Nandi, there are several small shrines within the courtyard of the temple. And the shrine of Subrahmanya in the Northwest corner of the courtyard is not mentioned in the Tanjavur inscriptions. Consequently, it is a later addition. However, this lovely shrine, with its delicate figures, pillars and stone carvings, offers a studied contrast to the Brahadisvara temple. Yet another addition is the Dakshinamurti shrine which abuts the south wall of the central shrine.

No account of the Chola ambience at Tanjavur can be complete without referring to the unfinished symphonies and Gangaikondacholapuram at different levels of aesthetic perception. For instance, the unique bas-relief figures of Shiva carved on the walls of the Sanctum Sanctorum illustrate the dance ‘karanas’ which are formulated in the fourth chapter of Bharata’s Natyasastra. Unfortunately, there are only 81 ‘karanas’ beginning with the ‘talapushphaputa’ or the flower-like gesture and ending with the ‘sarpitam’ or the serpentine movement. The remaining 27 ‘karanas’ have not been completed. This unfinished symphony of Rajaraja Chola, is one of the unsolved problems of Indian history. Similarly the unfinished structure of Rajendra Chola’s Gangaikondacholapuram which has also been studied in depth by Pierre Pichard, is yet another unsolved problem of Indian history.


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