Tanjore or Thanjavoor (its Tamil name) was the capital of the Chola empire between the 9th and 13th century. Rajaraja Chola I who ruled between 985 and 1013 AD built the Brihadeeswarar temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Brahadeeswarar and the Goddess is called Brihanayaki. The deities are also known as Peruvudaiyar and Periyanayaki
Tanjore is the district headquarters of Tanjore administrative district in the state of Tamilnadu. It is easily accessible by both rail and road. The nearest airport is in Trichi about 50 kms away.
The Brihatheeswarar temple, also known as Periya Koil, is a fine specimen of the Dravidian architecture. Normally in the Hindu temples of Tamilnadu the ‘gopuram’ or the entrance tower is taller than the ‘vimanam’ (the tower above the sanctum). In Tanjore temple the ‘vimanam’ above the sanctum overshadows the entrance tower by rising to a height of about 216 feet with 14 storeys. The ‘vimanam’ is 96 feet square at the base. The stone at the top of the ‘vimanam’ is a single block of stone weighing about 80 tons. It is said that the shadow of the ‘vimanam’ does not fall on the ground as the base is so large.
The King Rajaraja Chola built the Brihatheeswarar temple for Lord Shiva. He brought a Sivalingam from Narmadha River in North India to install in the temple. It is said that when the Sivalingam was taken out of the water it grew in size. This Sivalingam that is installed in this temple is huge as is the ‘nandhi’ (the bull) installed in front of the temple. The ‘nandhi’ is 12 feet tall, 19 feet long and 9 feet wide weighing about 25 tons. It is carved out of a single rock.
A temple acquires its veneration and popularity due to its location, association with miracles in Hindu mythology, or having been visited by religious men of great virtue and been sung in praise of the deities installed in them. This temple being comparatively of recent (few centuries) origin has none of the above characteristics. It is famous more for its architecture, sculptures, paintings and its history than for its antiquity and holiness. The inscriptions found on the wall of the temple are a great source of information for historians to understand the daily lives of the people of a bygone era.
There is also a shrine dedicated to Lord Subramanya in the temple compound which also has very exquisite sculptures. The Tanjore art gallery has very fine specimens of sculpture and handiwork of the artists and sculptors of a bygone era.
Another place of fame in this town is the library at Saraswathy Mahal which houses a large collection of original manuscripts in Sanskrit and other South Indian languages.