India is a land of Temples. The Hindu Temples are known by various names and one of the most common name is ‘Mandir’, used in many languages and is derived from a Sanskrit word, Mandira. In India you will find Temples in almost every village, town and city where idol or deities are worshiped in various forms. According to the 2001 census, India has more than 2 million Hindu temples and this number has increased substantially. The Southern part of India has the maximum number of Temples with Tamil Nadu topping the list amongst all the states. It has the most number of Temples, some of which are the largest in India. Thanjavur, a city in Tamil Nadu is home to most of the Great Living Chola Temples which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments.
The Airavatesvara Temple in Thanjavur was constructed during the reign of the Chola Dynasty and is an Architectural masterpiece. The Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has been named after the white elephant which is believed to be the vehicle of Lord Indra, the king of Devas. According to the legend, it is believed that an elephant had worshiped Lord Shiva at this location in order to regain its white colour which it had lost due to a curse. The Temple is shaped in the form of a chariot and contains 108 inscriptions about the life and principles of Saivaite saints. A visit to this Temple is a must and one can’t help admire its visually stunning architecture.
The Brihadishvara Temple also known as Rajarajesvaram or Peruvudaiyar Kovil is a Temple known for its exceptional Dravidian Architecture. It was built around 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola 1 and is also called the Big Temple. It has five sections, namely, the sanctum and vimana, Nandi hall, assembly hall, gathering hall and the pavilion. The Temple contains the Shiva lingam which is one of the largest monolithic sculpture and a 16 storied tower which is one of the largest in South India. It also houses the most beautiful shrines of Parvati, Murugan, Nandi, Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Subrahmanyar, Sabhapati, Varahi and Chandeshvara. The Temple is also famous for being the site where the brass Nataraja idol was first commissioned in the 11th Century. The temple is embellished with spectacular sculptures and murals.
The Naganathaswamy Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the Navagraha (9 planets) Temples for planet Rahu. It is believed to be over 1000 years old and is located at Thirunageswaram, which is 7 km east of Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district. The Temple has a separate shrine for Rahu. It comprises of four gateway gopurams or towers and has various shrines and halls. A very intriguing fact about this Temple is that when milk is poured over the presiding idol, it turns blue. The temple is now declared as a protected monument by Tamil Nadu government and is one of the most visited Temple in Thanjavur.
Swamimalai Swaminathaswamy Temple
The Swamimalai Swaminathaswamy Temple is dedicated to Murugan also known as Kartikeya, who was the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. As per legend, Murugan, extolled the meaning AUM to his father, Lord Shiva, at this place and hence the temple attained the name Swaminathaswamy. The Temple is built on an artificial hill and is believed to be in existence from the Sangam period from 2nd century BC. The temple is one of the six holy shrines of Murugan called Arupadaiveedu. It has three gopuram (gateway towers), three precincts and sixty steps with each one named after the sixty Tamil years. There are three yearly festivals celebrated in this Temple. The annual Vaikasi Visagam festival is attended by thousands of devotees every year.
Brihadisvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
This majestic temple built in 1035 AD by Rajendra Chola 1 and dedicated to Lord Shiva is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the reign of Rajendra Chola 1, the temple was believed to have established itself as a centre of social, economic and political activities.In addition to the main shrine, the temple complex has a number of smaller shrines and other monuments. Its architecture is eye-arresting and truly one of its kind. The Temple is enclosed with walls, a cascading garden and gigantic Nandi bull that faces the main temple sanctum (shrine). One of the outstanding features of the temple is that it has five shrines, and the navagrahas (nine planets) carved out of a single stone.
Alangudi Guru Temple
The Alangudi Guru Temple is devoted to Abathsahayeswarar, another form of Lord Shiva who according to the legend is believed to have digested the poison of Vasuki Mag to save the World from its poison during Samudra Manthan. The temples is surrounded by the three holy rivers, Cauvery, Kolidam and Vennaru. The temple has two gopurams and shrines of numerous gods and goddesses. The Temple has a distinct stamp of the Chola architecture which is beautiful and exquisite. The Gurupeyarchi festival is an important festival celebrated in this temple since it is believed to be the home of GuruGraha.
The Thyagaraja Temple is a Shiva Temple wherein the main idol is that of Lord Thiyagarajar, depicted as a Somaskanda form. It was built during the reign of the Chola Dynasty in the 9th century. According to legend, the Chola king Muchukunda, obtained a boon from Indra, the king of devas and wished to receive an image of Thyagaraja Swamy(Lord Shiva) reposing on the chest of reclining Lord Vishnu. Indra tried to misguide the king and had six other images made, but the king chose the right image at Tiruvarur.
The Temple is spread across 30 acres making it one of the largest in India and comprises of four gopurams or gateway towers, numerous halls and shrines. One of the unique feature of the temple is the standing Nandi Bull facing the main deity.This Temple is another masterpiece and worth visiting.
How to Reach
You can fly to Trichy, which is about 55 km from Thanjavur. Tiruchirappalli International Airport is well connected to major cities in India and countries like Singapore, Dubai, and Colombo via Air India, Jet Airways and Sri Lankan Airlines.
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