The Great Temple At Tanjore
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The Great Temple At Tanjore

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Item Code: NAZ628
Author: J.M. Somasundaram Pillai
Publisher: Tamil University, Thanjavur
Language: English
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 8170902401
Pages: 128 (Throughout B/w Illustrations)
Other Details: 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 170 gm
When the Pallava kings of Conjeevaram, the makers of the earliest surviving temples of the Tamil country, were finally subjugated by the Cho as of the Cauvery delta, marked changes occurred in architectural decoration. Some of these changes were due to developments already noticeable in later Pallava times, but others-such as that found in the corbel-are so abrupt as to suggest that they may have originated in the Chola kingdom during Pallava times in buildings which have failed to stand the ravages of time.

The Chatas were great temple builders and the architecture of the Tamil country underwent such developments during their supremacy of about five hundred years (roughly 850-1350 A.D.) that it has been found convenient to differentiate between an Earlier and Later Chola architectural period of about 250 years each. The temples of Tanjore and Gangai-Konda-Cholapuram belong to the former and those of Chidambaram and Tiruvannamalai to the latter. The Early Cholas. Tike the Palavers before them, planned and built entirely new temples on such sites as seemed most suitable, whereas the Later Cholas seem to have preferred to enlarge temples already existing on ancient sacred sites. In Early Chola temples, therefore, the vimana or shrine with its square-based pyramidal tower was naturally made to dominate all other parts of the building, but· in Later Chola temples vimana towers are apt to be quite inconspicuous, pre- sumably retaining very much their original size, while the gopuras or gateway. towers come. to 'be much larger, and are often immense. Sculptural decoration, too, is much simpler and more restrained in Early Chola temples than in Later Chola ones, which form a natural transition from the former to the still more elaborately decorated temples of the 250 years of the Vijayanagar empire and of the Modern architectural period which begins with the fall of the Vijayanagar empire in about 1600 A. D.

The Rajarajesvara, or Sri Brihadisvara temple of Tanjore was erected by Rajarajeshwara the Great (985-1014 A.D.) and, being still in excellent preservation, remains as the most magnificent monument of the power and ability of the Early Cholas. But, as will be seen from Mr. Somasundaram's interesting description" some of the structures now associated with it are of more recent origin, enabling one, without leaving the temple enclosure, to study not only the style of the Early Cholas but also something of the more ornate style of the Modern architectural period which it was destined eventually to give rise. The excessive elaboration characteristic of this latter period is apt to be tiring and bewildering rather than beautiful; but the Subramanian shrine of the Tanjore temple, in which we see it at its best, cannot but be admired. And this little, shrine is not only a gem in itself, but forms a most interesting and instructive contrast to the great temple beside which it stands.

South Indian temples deserve to be better known and more widely understood than they are, and to appreciate them adequately some knowledge of their history, etc., is necessary.

In preparing this account of the Tanjore temple Mr. .Soma- sundaram has put into convenient form for visitors arid others the chief historical and traditional points of interest relating to it. Such guides are still badly needed for nearly all the more important places of 'interest in South India, and I heartily recommend this one to all who want to know something about Tanjore.

This little book on the Sri Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore owes its origin to a wish to supply a long-felt want of a connected account of this great Chola edifice, considered to be "by far the grandest in India ". The monumental archaeological series of Hultzsch and Venkayya, and the literature that has gathered round the temple during the last 40 years and more would form a life study for one interested in the beginnings of South Indian History and Temple architecture. An attempt, however; is here made to' pale within a small compass what all that might interest a casual visitor. If the book would help him to a better understanding of, and a further search for knowledge about the temple than what he finds on a mere visit to this great House of God, the author would be more than content.

Among the many friends who have kindly helped me in this task my special thanks are due to Dr. M. Krishnamachariar, M. A., M. L., rhino., of the Madras Judicial Service, whose first suggestion to me for a monograph and to contribute articles on these subjects to the Press was encouraging ; to Messrs. C. Vedachalam, B.A., B.L., an" T. N. Ramachandran, M.A., for much valuable criticism and suggestions which have been of great assistance to me; to Mr. L. C. Richard, M. A., for com- piling the Index; to Dr. A. J. Pandean for his generous contribution of many valuable photographs which illustrate this book; and to 'the Director-General of Archaeology in India for kind permission to reproduce some of the departmental series.

My gratitude is due to the Senior Prince and Hereditary Trustee of the Tanjore: Palace Devastanams, Rajeshri Rajahram Rajah Saheb for his appreciation and encouragement in this task.

My grateful thanks are due to Dr. F. H. Gravely, D.SC. Superintendent, Government Museum, Madras, for his valuable Foreword to this book.

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