Brihadeeshwara Temple of Thanjavur, conveniently turned into Pritheeswara Temple due to the limitations of Tamil language, is a story in epic proportions. Tall and majestic, everything is of a massive scale with the highlights being the Vimana standing at 216 feet, the Sivalinga at maybe 12 feet and the Dwarapalakas, may be 15 feet tall. It looks like there are some Vijayanagar touches to this, but the real glory lies in what Rajaraja did. Funded by more than 100 tonnes of gold and being one of the first temples fully built with granite, its an achievement in itself considering the fact that 60000 tonnes of stone was carried from at least 50 km and sculptures carved with basic chiseling. And think of the ingenuity of balancing four 20 tonne stones as the pinnacle – how did they balance the stones without the structure collapsing and how did they lift the stones to such heights.
But, one of my friends told me about the fact that this is a cursed temple, with wishes left unfulfilled and rulers losing power. Urban myth or not, it’s interesting to look into the origins of both of them. May be they are true – this temple is built using the war loot from multiple kingdoms (Keralantaka for the name of a gate is but a proof of that) and going by the brutal fame of Chola armies, we can give some level of credence for this view.
The story of ruler losing power gained weight after what happened when Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India and MGR, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu visited the temple in 1984 to inaugurate a statue of Rajaraja in commemoration his millennium of ascendancy on throne. Indira Gandhi was assassinated and MGR had a stroke forcing him to be out of power for six months. May be, the other one picked up at the same time too.
So, what can be the background? A Siddha helped Rajaraja in identifying the location for this epic project. He decided where the temple should be built, dates and all. But, years later, there was a dispute between the king and the Siddha over the day the temple should be opened – may be based on the Agama tradition and the calendar to be followed. The Siddha removed himself from overseeing the construction, built a hut at a corner of the temple complex and started meditating. The day of placing the idol in the sanctum came. Whatever they do, the architects were not able to identify the correct spot where the idol should be placed. Out of desperation, they went to the Siddha who spit at a point and asked them to place the idol there. The idol was placed but it lost power because it is defiled. That’s why its said that wish anything specific here, and opposite happens.
Another important thing to note is that for a king whose every detail of life is codified, it is interesting to know that nothing is written about his death. This can happen only if he met an inglorious end – suicide, assassination, capture and execution, incurable diseases and such. There are two things regarding Rajaraja – either he is assassinated or he committed suicide. Unable to handle the heat of the Chola invasion, the Sinhala king Mahinda ditched his capital and went into the hills to fight. He sent a Buddhist woman to assassinate Rajaraja. That lady joined his harem and slowly climbed near to him. One day, while he was inspecting the temple from the eighth floor in the Vimana, she found an opportunity and pushed him down to his death. Retribution? Mahinda was hunted down and held as a prisoner all his life. Rational view is, Rajendra simply concluded his father’s war. Alternately, it is said Rajaraja committed suicide – may be for the defilement of his temple by the Siddha, after being content with what he achieved in life or for remorse for some past act or whatever.
Because of the king’s death in the complex, it can be said that any ruler who visits the temple will lose his power immediately. This can be seen from the fact that his son, Rajendra immediately scooted away from Thanjavur to build his own city and Brihadeeswara temple just across the river. And the temple height is smaller than that of Thanjavur’s. Rational view is that Rajendra’s armies looked north, and not south and it’s a logistical nightmare and a costly affair to cross Kaveri whenever there is a plan for an invasion. A capital on the other side of the river is more apt.
Another interesting thing to note is that there are no temples with the Vimana taller than that of Thanjavur’s. Only one was built – Konark and it is destroyed. That is another myth regarding this temple – nothing can be taller than this.
If the king died in the temple, that too unnatural, there would only be rumours as to what happened to him. They would have secretly cremated him near the temple and going by the cruelty for which the Cholas were famous, no one would have dared uttered a word over the episode. What people would have known is, the king went into the temple and never returned back – he merged physically with the god. And that would have been another added bonus for the temple’s sanctity.
How much of this is true, how much of this is false, how much of this is rumour spread by his enemies, how can anyone know, staring a millennium back into history? Its interesting to speculate but remember we are not doing any disservice towards those who deserve an accolade.