It is one of India’s most precious architectural sites. It’s temple tower is among the tallest of its kind in the world. It is a part of the Great Living Chola Temples, an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is known by many names, the Peruvudaiyar Kovil, Raja Rajeswara Temple, RajaRajeshwaram and Big Temple, but it is etched in the books as Brihadeeswarar Temple, named after Lord Brihadeeswara, the main deity of the temple.
This Hindu temple was built in the early 11th century under the supervision of Raja Raja Chola I of the Chola kingdom of the Tamil Nadu. It is located in Thanjavur, the rice belt of Tamil Nadu and at one point in history, the headquarters of the Chola kingdom.
The Brihadeeswara Temple was built to be the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order. This temple made out of granite is the largest one out of the three Great Living Chola Temples. The other ones being Airavateeswarar Temple at Darasuram and the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple.
Even to this day, this temple is fully operational and people throng to the temple to offer their prayers and seek blessings from the moolavar, Lord Shiva. It is said that during Shivaratri, during the month of February, the temple overflows with pilgrims and devotees. This temple is also one of those rare temples, which as statues for ‘Ashta-dikpaalakas’ – Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Isana.
Even though the temple is open from sunrise to about 8 in the evening, the Karuvarai or the inner sanctum is only open for half of those hours. If you want to see the main deity, the best option is to visit the temple during the early morning hours for abhishekam and deevaram or during the evening hours for the maha manglarti.
One can visit this temple either as a devotee or as a tourist. Typically, people try and visit all the 3 Great Living Chola Temples in one go along with may be a short visit to the Tanjore Palace and the museums. The best time to visit the temples is during the winter months when the weather in Thanjavur and around is pleasant. If you cannot visit these temples in winter, try to accommodate your trips around the sunrise and sunset times when the weather is more bearable. The midday sun can be pretty strong here and is best avoided.
To reach Thanjavur by air, the nearest airport is Trichy and you can check GoAir, Air India and other low cost or fully loaded airlines to book your flight tickets. Thanjavur is also well connected by train and road with the rest of the country. It should be fairly straightforward to book a ticket from any big city in India.