The Brihadiswara temple was built in the wondrous city of Tanjore by the great Chola king Rajkesari Rajraja. The temple was consecrated in 1010 AD and to this day. All the rituals and festivals have continued uninterrupted. Brihadiswara temple represents the pinnacle of Chola architecture. There are two elaborately carved towers or 'gopurams' that lead to a huge inner courtyard that is dominated by the huge statue of Nandi, the sacred Bull of Lord Shiva. The courtyard is surrounded by a massive granite wall with 1008 statues of Nandi. The central shrine has a massive Shiva lingam in black granite.
There are galleries for the devout to circle the deity and one of the wonders of the temple is a single stone weighing 80 tonnes that has been placed atop the temple without a crane to lift it. What is truly inspiring is not just its massive structure, but the microscopic attention to measurements and detail, at a time when precision tools were unknown. Another amazing fact is that the shadow of the temple never falls on the ground.
The 'Vimana' of the Brihadiswara Temple is the tower over the sanctum of the main deity. At the Brihadiswara Temple, the 'vimana' is 62 metres tall and has a single 80 tonne block of granite on top of it. The granite block was installed by building a 6.5 kms long ramp and using elephants and enormous wooden blocks.
The Brihadiswara temple was one of the richest temples of its time. Its wealth came from a lavish gift of immense quantities of gold by Rajaraja Chola. In addition, the temple received revenue from many villages and owned vast tracts of land and herds of cattle- all of which were sources of a handsome income. Of course, there were also donations of money from individuals and gifts of jewellery for the idols.
A gallery at the Brihadiswara temple has statues of Lord Shiva in various dance poses that are described in the ancient text on dance called the 'Natya Shastra'. There are 79 figures adorning this gallery, known as Bharatnatyam Gallery.