The unknown Tanjore temple

Tanjore: When one thinks of Tanjore it would be the Brihadeshwara temple that comes to mind. Now coming to think of it, there is more to Tanjore that exists beyond the fort walls that guard the temple. For one, we have old buildings and palaces that dot the landscape which most often go unnoticed.

There is something about the Tanjore palace that is of real interest. It is the only surviving example that clearly depicts that large pyramidal towers like the one in this picture were actually used as residential complexes. This means that every floor was occupied by people of the royal family. Adding to this, the top most chamber, at the peak of the tower which houses at the most one room with a path of circum-ambulation to get access to it was probably made exclusively for the king.

Pyramidal towers were nor just constructed, they have been depicted across panels across the south and where do you find them? Well, on relief sculptures of Vaikuntaperumal temple of Kanchipuram, at the shiva temple as well as the amman shrine at Darasuram to mention a few. So how did the ancients even go about something like this and what has it got to do with tanjore temple?

Well, the palace is a residence, which means every level depicts smaller house like structures and when put on one another sequentially make up the whole pyramid so people lived on all the floors. This has a strange background. As most of south indian art owes its past to Buddhist art in the northwest, we need to travel there to see how that affected a temple palace in Tanjore. If we take the buddhist caves of Bedsa and say Karla, we can very clearly see that they tried to depict a village or a group of houses on one single vertical wall. Of course keeping the maturity fo engineering through the ages, the original idea of wanting to live one over the other in a pyramidal structure started here, the pyramid being part of their discovery of architecture. When depicting a whole village on a vertical wall, without perspective in consideration, they tended to pile up all the structures, farthest house coming to the top of the compostion. Series of these smaller houses, architecturally were called shalakutas(broader houses) and karna kutas(narrow houses).

The shalakuta in indian architecture, and more so in the brihadeshwara temple occupy the central area of the main temple tower. all those smaller sturctures you see up there dotting it are shalakutas. the corner structures which are narrower are the karnakutas. Hence Tanjore temple is a depiction, of what a pyramidal palace would have looked like, and tanjore palace of course isthe residential quarters in those days.

Looking further into the tanjore temple itself, it houses the iconography of Shiva profusely on all its walls. Things that we will never get to know or see are the deep dark passages of circum-ambulation this temple hides on its two gigantic floors, and an underground chamber this temple stands on which hosts a world of ancient murals very vulnerable to daylight. So there is really much more than what meets the eye which we just seem to miss no matter how many times we go there. The passages that led up to the higher floors from inside the temple have been blocked with cement for good. The original garbha griha was hollow right through such that if you shood at the shrine and looked up, you could see the top of the tower, way above from inside. This has been blocked by floors constructed over the linga in the Nayaka period. Surely tanjore temple has seen a lot and Tanjore pallace even more.

These are the only surviving examples that show that "rich" people lived in multi-storied buildings, not rectangular but pyramidal in nature. There probably were more of this all around in wood, just the stone structures survive today.


abhilash warrier said...

good one...

keep writing.

jcjoshi said...

This is mainly for you Krishna as an answer to the basic question: 'Who am I?' The reply to which by the enlightened is "Aham Brahmasmi!"

Right after one’s birth a ‘Hindu’ child, particularly if one is born in a Brahmin family, comes to hear at some stage that each physical body has another separate entity, called soul, residing within it as a part of the unseen Supreme soul or Paramatma, which is also called Supreme knowledge, omnipotent and omnipresent, unborn and unending, and so on. All animation is because of it. And, it being unseen, and also mysterious, human life apparently is like a puzzle and thus the ‘wise’ knows that the ‘Truth’ can only be realized through indirect means.

With the above said, one could infer that the purpose of temporary human life - as understood by the ancients in the long lost past - is to gather/ realize ‘supreme knowledge’ within the unknown duration of time allotted to one, starting from apparent zero knowledge that everyone is born with. And, also a child generally has a good observation power, but poor analytical power and, as it grows up its analytical power increases while the observation power diminishes. Every ‘animal’ life anyway ‘naturally’ attains physical maturity. Perhaps naturally, only humans are inspired by the presence of the infinite material world to educate themselves about material life in greater details – at least initially, like a process similar to a carrot dangling in front of a horse. At a certain stage one might feel a void, a feeling that one needs ‘education’ about ‘spiritual’ world too… From time to time, it has been realized by the ‘wise’ that book knowledge, as we receive today, isn’t enough – it only helps in bloating the human ego. Thus the present day man generally remains incomplete – a mismatch between his ‘material’ and the ‘spiritual’ body.

The ancient ‘wise’ suggested the need to ‘surrender’ mentally in the Creator to reach the stage of yoga or union of the two worlds of material and spiritual when eventually one could say, “Aham Brahmasmi”! Today, in Kaliyuga, this appears to be difficult, although if one were to analyze one would find that even otherwise one is surrendering to someone or the other every second of one’s life - and finally to death! And, the ancients had eventually realized that confusion was only because of ‘Maya’ that is illusion, for every individual and every ‘non living’ thing were the one and only Creator’s reflections, and each therefore is entitled to say the same although there exists an apparent hierarchy!

With the background that He believably is Swayambhu, i.e., appeared on His Own, the ultimate question that thus remains to be answered by the believably more intelligent people than the ancients today is, “What is the Creator’s purpose in fooling Himself with all this imaginary universe and innumerable characters from time immemorial?” Is it only for His amusement; or, is He seeking something; and, if so, what?

Arjuna_Speaks said...

Kavitha - great work - looking forward for more temples..try writing about the great Arunachala..there is another good temple in Tiruvidaimaruthur..

JC Joshi said...

Coming down to the mundane level, I feel that a pyramid shape is ideal to take care of the ‘Panchabhootas’. The pointed shape at the top helps in dispersal of electric charge in clouds; the sloping sides help in guiding rainwater quickly to the ground - without accumulating at higher levels like in a box shaped building that necessitates separate measures for their disposal; the triangular shapes on square sides means reduction in surface area, and thus the weight of the structure also, as one moves from the base to the top, which helps in reduction of the force of wind - whose velocity and pressure naturally increases with the height – and force due to inertia in case of an earthquake. And also, the large area of the base helps in making lower the resultant pressure on the ground as the whole weight of the structure etc is transferred to it. Also it has been observed that the shape, irrespective of the material used, results in concentration of Solar energy (fire) inside the pyramid which gets absorbed in cylindrical shaped Shivalingas that generally are made out of black coloured granite with the known characteristic property of rocks to radiate energy - in all directions due to the shape. This energy believably helps in ‘elevation’ of the soul besides being beneficial to the exterior body of the devotee also.

Thus, one could say that, unlike in the present, the ancients aimed at taking care of both material as well as spiritual aspects devotedly, lovingly, and whole heartedly…

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Anonymous said...

Good research on Tanjore temple.
Want to know where the stones came from?please give me more insight if possible on this