Dedicated to Lord Shiva , this magnificent temple was built in 1003 AD by the chola king Rajaraja I. Later various additions were made in the temple but the most prominent one among these was the addition of a copper pot over the tower by King Rajaraja Chola II. The temple, considered among the grandest temples of the Hindu religion is unique to itself. This South Indian Shiva temple has been built with the help of granite. Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of Lingam. The linga was brought from the river Narmada. It is said that the Linga when brought above the waters kept increasing day by day and hence, the name Brihadeswara was given to it.
The 'Vimana' of the temple is about 70 meters and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The 'Shikharam' (crown) of Brihadeswara temple is itself very large and heavy (81.25 tons) and has been carved out of a single stone. There are three gopurams that mark the gateway of the Brihadeswara Temple at Thanjavur. These gopurams have their names: the Rajarajan-tiruvasal (the innermost gopuram), Keralantakan-tiruvasal (the middle gopuram) and the outermost one. These gateways, too, are built of the hard granite. While the inner and the middle gopurams were built with the temple, the outer one dates back to the Maratha period.
Another interesting little fact is that none of the stone used in the temple is "local" it was all brought in from over 60km away from the site. The work was done with help of elephants. The stones were actually fit together first and then carved smooth. Another detail worth noting is that there is no mortar in used anywhere. The stones are all carved to fit together perfectly. The lack of mortar is one of the reasons the temple is so well reserved.
Also to be found inside is the giant figure of Nandi, the bull of Lord shiva carved out of a single stone which is considered second largest in India after the one at Leepakshi. The structure is 13 feet high and 6 meters long. The Shiva Ganga tank is one of the sacred tank found in the temple courtyard. The mandapa or the hall has about 100 pillars all intricately designed and carved beautifully. Paintings have also been handsomely used to decorate the temple walls. Besides these the upper ambulatory shows lord Shiva in various dance postures.
There is also to be found an interesting Archaeological Museum which exhibits the ancient ruins and the temples restoration. It also gives a chance to look back in to the history of the Chola Empire. The 107 paragraph long inscription found on the walls of the Vimana reads the contributions of the chola king Rajaraja and his sister Kundavai to the Thanjavur temple.
Peoples throng to the temple premises from the wee hours of the morning lined up to have a glimpse of the Deity. The pujas can be offered till late evening. The whole atmosphere is filled with an aura of peace, respect and honour for Lord Shiva after visiting the place. Archanas, Abhishekam and Prasad offerings are a daily affair.
The Brihadeswara Temple at Thanjavur symbolises the summit of the Dravidian sculpture and architecture in its purest form: meticulous ideas and impeccable execution of the carved figures. Besides, the sculpture of Brihadeswara Temple also embodies the finest traditions of Tamil culture in the field of art and architecture.