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Hex fears doom temple gala

Last updated: 20 March, 2010
M R Venkatesh in Thanjavur

The Thanjavur temple is remarkable for its stupendous proportions and simplicity of design.

No one is sure whether the event will be held  before or after World Tamil meet in June

Call it fear of the unknown or superstition. The apprehension of misfortune striking seems to be preying on the minds of the 'babus' of the Tamil Nadu Government. An historic event marking the millennium of one of the greatest structures in the world may pass off as a low-key affair or virtually a non-event.

       'Brihadeshwara Temple' in Thanjavur, popularly known as 'Big Temple', was built and completed by the Chola King Rajaraja-I in the 25th year of his rein (1010 AD). 'UNESCO' has included the 216-foot high towering temple in its 'World Heritage List'. It is termed one of the 'Great Living Chola Temples' due to its "exceptional universal value as a cultural site'.

  Officials are even scared to be pro-active on its millennium carnival plans because of some jinx linked to the temple in post-Independent India. The last consecration ceremony of the temple in 1997 saw 48 people perish on that auspicious day in a fire and stampede in the 'Pandal'.

      Also a visit to Thanjavur for a King Rajaraja-related event by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi along with the then Chief Minister M G Ramachandran in 1984 was followed by "politically disastrous" course of events later for both the leaders - Mrs Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards in October that year and MGR fell seriously ill with a stroke. As the historical monument is haunted by such spectres, the Babus have developed cold feet on detailing out celebration plans.

     As early as June 2009, Thanjavur District Collector M.S. Shanmugham had drawn up big plans to make the millennium year a "world event', befitting its global status.
     However, the plans went awry as the DMK regime decided to hold the 'World Classical Tamil Conference' at Coimbatore in June 2010.

     The net result is a profound irony. Officials have no clue as yet how 'Big Temple' will celebrate its millennium year. Already, the Chief Secretary is believed to have slashed their plans to a maximum 'two-day affair'. Even that no one is sure whether it will be after the World Tamil meet or not, as "all energies and resources have been directed to Coimbatore."

      The grand structure is a historical beacon. Still there are no clear answers in the history as to why Rajaraja Chola built this extraordinarily huge temple,  a great architectural edifice and engineering marvel.

      Though his predecessors had already established a strong tradition of temple building in the "plains of the Cauvery river", with their artisans' matchless stone sculptures, architecture and casting of metal icons already touching new heights since the ninth century's second-half, Rajaraja (AD 985-1014), say historians, "took Chola hegemony to a heady pinnacle as an Imperial power of South India." The 'Big Temple' is part of that effusion.

      Rajaraja, besides his munificent gifts in gold and silver to the temple-- partly from the booty he got from his conquests-- had also set up an amazing administrative machinery to ensure this temple not only faced resource constraints but also remained a centre of social and cultural excellence.

     Considerable structural additions were made by later dynasty kings, including Pandyas, Naiks and Marathas and  the French and British later even made use of the Temple as barracks for their soldiers. But it still remains a mystery how the logistics of moving up massive stones were planned during the construction years. One ASI document estimates a masonry volume of 26,600 cubic meters.

      The tiers of diminishing sizes, somewhat like bananas in a bunch, progressively come close at kissing distance and terminate in a square on top. Over that rests a great octagonal 80-tonne stone 'Shikara'. On its head stands the copper pot (Kalasa) personally dedicated by Rajaraja.

     For ASI, restoration of all these multi-layered wonders, several other marvels like exquisite paintings and sculptures in the corridors behind the 'sanctum sanctorum' is a challenging task. "The temple is remarkable for its stupendous proportions and simplicity of its design," says Dr Kudavayil Balasubramaniyam, a noted historian of Thanjavur.
      No wonder the mystery about the 'Big Temple' still persists, making its millennium all the more a reminder to protect and preserve this rich heritage. This is notwithstanding ASI's ridiculously skeletal conservationist staff here.

      "The way they built the tower, how the (13-foot tall) Shiva Lingam placed, is incredible; the energy that is coming from that height, we can feel it in our legs," mused Ms Ferial El Hadidy, a part-Egyptian, part- European tourist from the Czech Republic.  
      "It 's God's grace; one never dreamt of performing such a presentation in this Temple's millennium year," sighs young danseuse Shwetha Lakshmi, from the Ponnaiah Lalithakala Academy, Bangalore, who is among the 450 classical artistes from across India paying a unique song and dance tribute to Lord Brihadeshwara under the auspices of the 'Brahan Natyanjali Foundation' to mark the occasion, on the splendid natural stage-like granite platform, just left of the massive 12-foot monolithic stone 'Nandi (Bull)'.   


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