There you see Raja Raja I enter the Thanjavur Big Temple, through the entrance known as Anukkan vayil, and his bodyguards ask people to make way for him. The King admires the Kerala style art of the entrance. He then turns his gaze towards the Keralantakan Vaayil, which is a reminder of his victory over the Chera king. This gopuram is a metaphor in stone for one of the five elements, namely fire.
Raja Raja's glance then briefly rests on the Raja Rajan Vaayil, with its sculptural representations of another element - water. He then walks towards the sanctum sanctorum , where he worships the Linga that arises from the earth. The inside of the vimanam is hollow all the way up to the kalasam, representing yet another element - space.
The King then enters the Saantaaram, the passage around the sanctum sanctorum, and worships the deities here, while a pleasant breeze caresses his face. The fifth element - air - is represented here. But the king's worship is not over, yet. He now genuflects before devotees who have worshipped at the temple!
These are the sequential images that one is able to visualise, when one reads Dr. Kudavayil Balasubramanian's book on the Big Temple, titled ‘Rajarajechcharam.' The book is the result of his 40-year obsession with the Big Temple. The book records details about the architecture, sculptures, art, inscriptions, history of and philosophy behind the temple.
It is a heavy tome running to 518 pages. Although laden with facts, it does not wear one down, for the facts are presented in a simple style, with accompanying photographs. Where photographs are not available, as for example in the case of lost copper images, like that of Panchadehamurthy and Mahameruvidangar, sketches are provided, on the basis of details in inscriptions.
Reading the book is like embarking on a voyage of discovery. We are surprised to learn that ‘Madras terracing,' was used in the Keralantakan Vaayil and Raja Rajan Vaayil. A description of the musical instrument Pataviyam as ‘violin like' is borne out by pictures of sculptures in the temple showing bhuta ganas playing the instrument.
Balasubramanian's references to inscriptions and sculptures in other temples add value to the book. Mythological stories behind sculptures are explained.
The details about how interest rates were fixed, and how interest on loans from the temple treasury was paid in kind, make for interesting reading. It would have been helpful if Balasubramanian had also explained in his book, how the ‘gift' of sheep for lighting lamps in the temple worked.
I catch up with him, and ask him how these ‘gifts' worked, and his explanation shows that our kings knew how to make temples self-sustaining. A donor who wished to sponsor an eternally-lit lamp at the temple, would gift sheep. Anyone who wished to make a living through sheep rearing, would be given a flock of 96, which would consist of a certain number of rams, ewes of fertile age, and lambs too. He could sell or use the meat and milk of the sheep. All he had to do in return was to supply ghee everyday for the lamp of the donor.
If at some point he wanted to give up sheep rearing, he could return the flock to the temple. Only, he had to make sure that the flock that he returned had the same number of rams, ewes of fertile age and lambs that he had received from the temple. Thus ghee for lamps was ensured, as was employment to many. Maybe such explanations will be included in the future editions of the book.
Balasubramanian's book, which costs Rs. 600, was released recently in Thanjavur, by Swami Dayananda Saraswathi. Copies can be had from the author. Phone: 9843666921