Big Temple in Thanjavur, a veritable treasure trove

Raja Raja Chola recorded all valuables and properties bequeathed to shrine

Published - March 07, 2018 09:36 am IST - THANJAVUR

 A view of Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur (file photo).

A view of Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur (file photo).

Imagine the magnificent grandeur of a temple tower completely sheathed in gold rakes rising to a height of 60.40 metre gleaming in sunlight to proudly proclaim the region’s socio-cultural supremacy.

That was what the famed gopuram of Sri Brihadeeswarar temple, more widely known as the Tanjore Big Temple, looked like when emperor Raja Raja Chola I consecrated and patronised “Rajarajecharam” as it was called then, more than 1,000 years ago.

The First Information Report on two missing idols — the priceless ancient bronze icons of Raja Raja Chola I and his royal consort Lokamadevi stolen from the temple over half a century back to finally be traced to a private museum in Ahmedabad — registered by the Thanjavur police on a complaint from the Idol Wing police has kicked up interest among discerning sections of society on the quantum and range valuables that were in the Big Temple treasury in yonder age.


Inscriptions found and deciphered in the temple complex over the years reveal that the temple was a veritable treasure trove with the Chola emperor meticulously recording in stone for eternity all valuables and properties he, his kin and ministers had offered to the temple and its deities.

During his 25th regnal year, Raja Raja Chola had offered 3,083 “balam’’ copper and 2,926 and half “kazhanju’’ gold for crafting a gold raked copper sheath for the Sri Vimanam of the Big Temple. A kazhanju is roughly equivalent to 1.77 gm today. There is hardly any credible source to know how and when the gold raked sheath disappeared.

He had also offered a golden Sri Bali Devar icon, golden Sri Bali Thalam, a lotus shaped vessel, and in the following year donated a golden Kshetra Bala Devar icon. During the same year, the monarch gave away an artistic Kendi (cup like vessel with a spout), a Vattil (plate to hold sacred offering), thattam (salver), kalasam (cupola above sanctum sanctorum), Padikkam, Kurumadal (vessel to hold sacred ash), all in gold.

Noted Chola historian and epigraphist Kudavayil Balasubramanian has given an exhaustive account of the inscriptions recording the royal grants in his well-researched book “Rajarajecharam”.

Three years later, the king offered a big perforated plate for Dhaarabishekam, Thirumudi, Poonin Kodi, Kalasapaanai and other divine insignia, again all in gold. After felling the Chera and Pandya kings, Raja Raja Chola gave away a lot of golden articles and ornaments while following his victory over the Western Chalukya king Satyashrayan, the Chola emperor offered 20 golden flowers and a splendid lotus made of the same metal. They all weighed 87.593 kg.

Inscriptions accurately depict the weight and value of the offerings made by the king and his kin. Yet another inscription reveals that he had offered a bunch of 30 ornaments made of gold and studded with 277 corals, 173 diamonds and 19,613 pearls, totally weighing 887 kazhanju. He again offered a golden Veerapattam and Thirupattiagai to the Lord. The two ornate jewels were embellished with 435 corals, 27 diamonds and 30 crystals, in all weighing 6.802 kg. That same year, Raja Raja Chola donated 53 sacred ornaments in gold weighing 3.901 kg while another inscription records that he also offered 95.277 kg silver vessels and valuables for the service of the Lord. That was aside of the 23 copper icons and two silver Vasudeva idols that he installed at the temple. The contributions seem endless.

Emperor’s sagacity

His remarkable sagacity could be seen from the dictum listing the qualification for temple administrators in which he has ordained that the officials must possess adequate land, properties and must have a host of relatives. As they are to be elected by the 118 local bodies spanning the great Chola Empire, any loss must be compensated by the people’s collective, he had inscribed.

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