Tanjore – The Land of Art, Architecture and Ancient History

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It was rather ominous that this trip had to begin later than usual… the heat was already bristling and sharp, the winds were warm and harsh; and a long drive through state and national highways, minutes creeped to hours… and then out of nowhere, a canopy of trees shadowing narrowing tarred roads, paddy fields, bullock carts, women carrying firewood seemed to welcome us weary travelers… Little did we realize that the journey down history’s magical lanes had begun…

Tales of great kings and kingdoms beckoned us and the turning wheel stopped at Tanjore… the land of the Cholas and Nayaks, though today you might see tarred roads, vehicles zipping past, the past glory and might of this cultural capital cannot be ignored… because as you enter the city of the Cholas… what welcomes you is the mighty Brihadeeswarar Temple!

One of the Greatest Living Temples, known, the Brihadeeswarar Temple speaks a silent saga of might, power, grace and magnificence. Built by Raja Raja Chola in 1010 AD, popularly known as the Big Temple, it is India’s most prized architectural sites and wonders.

The entire temple structure is made out of hard granite stones, a material sparsely available in the Thanjavur area where the temple is. It is said that the great Raja Raja Chola moved more stones than the Great Pyramid of Giza…

But all these historical facts weren’t the pointers that inspired me, it was the fact that I was humbled and completely awestruck when I walked it. It probably is a feeling that most people share when they travel and it is rather cliched to claim to be humbled… but that is exactly how I felt…

The first thought which struck me was… ‘How did they have the persistence to complete the task?!?’ The temple is never-ending, and each structure is equally brilliant than the other, a day is not enough to understand the intricacies of design and sculpting genius used.

Magnificent shikaras, delicately carved temple towers… towering structures, it seemed like the sculptors and architects had just one single-minded focus and dedication… build fitting earthly abode for mighty Shiva.

Temples from this period and the following two centuries are an expression of the Chola wealth, power and artistic expertise. It is said the Brihadeeswarar Temple was built to be the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order… looks like he achieved his goal!

Time seemed to have stopped here and the setting sun seemed to be nature’s excuse to rob us of the beautiful fairy tale carved in stone of the Brihadeeswarar Temple… and yet the enchanting lines and curves of the structure seemed to escape the darkness and shine out through the moonlit skies…

The towering structures that took centuries to complete just acted as a reminder of how small we are… and how big we attempt and assume ourselves to be. The mighty empire and emperor have long gone and have been hidden deep in the pages of history… yet… yet the work of beauty and power stands the test of time… and renders them immortal.

In retrospect I cannot help but think that history had successfully conspired against us, and taken us to an era of might, magnificence and grace… to simply teach us a lesson in humility and courage.

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