The Big Temple, Thanjavur - India's Greatest Architectural Wonder! A magnificent glory of Chola!
Sri Vimana

The magnificent view of Sri Vimana appears as one enters the huge open courtyard from the Rajarajan Gopuram. The Srivimanam is pyramidcal in structure and is 60.96 meters tall. It is hard to believe but the foundation for this magnum opus is only seven feet deep it is constructed in such a way that the weight of the Vimanam is evenly distributed on itself.

At the top the pyramid is reduced into a neck and holds the Vimana or Sikhara which is a monolithic huge rock spherical in shape. Its approximate weight is 81.28 tones. Above the Vimana is the shining Kalasam (bowl) made up of gold is seen whose height is 12 feet and was originally presented by Rajaraja-I. At the top of the pyramid above the 13th stage 8 nandhis are seen on corners.

At the top of the Sri Vimana near the neck of the gopuram there are 8 Nandhis seen very prominently even while standing from the ground. These Nandhis are huge and carved from single stone. A Nandhi of the similar scale is seen on the southern Prahara. One can judge the size of the Nandhi and its relative weight.

On the front side of the Vimana that is facing the east direction one can see the sculptures of abode of Shiva called as Mahameru. The whole of Sri Vimana is built using granite rocks and the sculptures in them are covered by a thin layer of mortar to preserve the granite sculptures inside.

The first three stages of the Sri Vimana houses various forms of Shiva and Parvathi including the Dakshinamurthy, Bichadanar, Lingothbavar, Durga, Shiva & Parvathi in natural standing pose etc., called Astagostam. These sculptures are seen in 2 stages of the Karpagraham side wall lower stage and upper stage. In the third stage many view of warrior standing with weapon pose are seen.

The Sri Vimana is of the Dravidian style of architecture. It rises to a height of abut 216 feet, a tower of fourteen storeys, finely decorated with pilasters, niches and images of gods of the Hindu pantheon. The basement of the structure which supports the tower is 96 feet square. The sikhara or cupolic dome is octagonal in shape and crowns the Vimana. The gilded Kalasa or finial, over it is 12.5 feet high. It is believed the sikhara and the stupi does not throw shadow on the ground. The dome rests on top with 8 nandis is believed to have been conveyed to the top of the tower by means of a inclined plane commencing from Sarapallam (scaffold-hollow), four miles north-east of the city.

Another idea suggests that the temple was built stage by stage, and a mountain of earth was packed around the structure every time one level was completed. The mud mountain enabled the artistans to work on each stage without the use of precarious scaffolds, and when the temple was complete it was freed from its womblike mud casing. Then it stood, the loftiest temple tower in southern India an achievement never to be attempted again on such a scale.

Inner View

The inner praharam is wide to allow a car to drive all the way up and houses numeruos sculptures and paintings. This houses the various mudhras of the art of Bharathanatiyam the cosmic dance of Shiva as Nataraja. The last few sculptures are not finished leading to speculations that Rajaraja died at that stage and his son Rajendra Chola concentrated on expanding the empire and later built a temple to tell his glory in Gankaikondacholapuram.

The inner gopuram also houses 1000 years old Chola frescos depicting the stories of Lord Shiva’s acts.These were discovered under a layer of Maratha Paintings. The ASI have managed to remove the Nayaks painting without damage to both the Chola frescos and the Nayaks painting.

Interior Shell View

The interior shell is an Arupalingam which starts as square and ends as circle. One can watch this from first floor of the sanctum sanctorum.

Maha Meru

On the eastern side of the Sri Vimana a huge masterpiece of Mount Kailash in the Himalayas (abode of Shiva and Parvathi) along with their Children Lord Ganesh and Lord Muruga is carved. This Masterpiece spans 3 stage of the Sri Vimana from the 3rd to 5th stage.

Rajaraja Chola the Great was a great devotee of Lord Shiva called the Sri Vimana as Dakshina Meru.

Evidence have now been found that the Great emperor had the whole Vimana gilted in Gold which was lost in the following generations .All that remains of that is at the Kalasam of the Vimanam. (It was common practice to coat the gopurams and Vimanams with bronze and gilt it then with gold).