The great living Chola temple

Express captures the thousands of  hours of careful toil that have gone  into renovating the Brihadeeswarar  temple for its consecration even as a row over language rages on 

Published: 02nd February 2020 06:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd February 2020 06:05 AM   |  A+A-

Visitors at the temple look at workers engaged in restoration work

Express News Service

THANJAVUR: February 5 is a special day for Thanjavur. After 23 years, a consecration is scheduled at the 11th century Brihadeeswarar temple, an architectural wonder built by Raja Raja Chola I. However the days leading up to the event have been dominated by a demand that the rituals be performed in Tamil. Meanwhile, the Archaeological Survey of India (which maintains the temple) is completing its extensive renovation of the ancient structure. 

That the rituals at the Big Temple, as it is also known, be conducted in Tamil is a long-standing demand of the Thanjavur Big Temple Rights Retrieval committee, formed in 2006. The committee moved the Madras High Court with the plea. It wants the consecration conducted in the “Tamil way” with chanting of Tamil saivite hymns and adoption of ceremonies unique to Tamil culture, arguing that Raja Raja Chola I retrieved manuscripts of the Devaram and Tiruvasagam and had them sung in temples. The demand took on a political hue after Opposition parties, including the DMK, backed the demand.

However, the State Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department told the court that the rituals could not be exclusively performed in Tamil. Rather, they would be performed in Tamil and Sanskrit. Culture Minister K Pandiarajan slammed parties for politicising the issue. Interestingly, the key demand of the committee, comprising Tamil nationalist groups, is that the descendent of the Marathas, who ruled the region, be ousted from holding hereditary trusteeship of the Thanjavur Palace Devasthanam, which manages 88 temples including the Thanjavur Big Temple. It wants the temple to be brought under the HR & CE department. 

Workers handling parts of the kalasam

Even as this debate raged on, the ASI was putting the finishing touches on a task begun in 2018 for the first time since 2011. Chemical cleaning of the granite structure has been on to remove pollution, dirt, moss and algae. For this, every part of the temple surface was cleaned with soft coir brushes. They were then cleaned with ammonia solution and non-ionic detergents and a fungicidal coating was applied. “This was left to dry and a water repellent coat of a silicon-based polymer applied,” said an official. 

Repairs also involved recreating ancient construction methods. For instance, the brick floor around the sanctum had to be relaid, as the broken floor would allow water seepage endangering the foundation. Broken bricks were replaced with specially ordered bricks and a mortar made of limestone, sand, kadukkai (Chebulic Myrobalan), jaggery and aloe vera extract used. This mortar was used wherever patchwork was needed in the temple.

curd rice and oil
The granite images of the main deities, deities in various shrines and in the circumambulatory hall were coated with a mixture of curd, powdered raw rice which was left for two days. After two days, the paste was removed and oil was applied over the images. 

Pollution, dirt, moss
The towers of the granite structure had turned black over the years due to environmental pollutants, dirt and growth of moss and lichens

Multi-step process
To clean the structure without damaging it, first all surfaces were scrubbed with soft coir brushes, then cleaned with ammonia and non-ionic detergents. Then a fungicidal coating was applied followed by a water repellent coat.

of copper and millets
12-foot-high Kalasam  of the 216-foot-high Vimanam (tower) was renovated. The Kalasam is made of copper and its inside is filled with Kodo Millet (Varagu). It has eight parts, of which three are big and five small.  

Recipe For stronger bonds
To strengthen the bond between the images and their bases, a mixture of nine substances including Shellac, Shorea robusta, honey wax and buffalo butter was used.  The mixture was prepared with a wooden mortar (ural).

Moonstone and gold-plating
The Kalasam was dismantled and brought down by workers by temporary steps made of wooden poles in the Vimanam. The eight parts were cleaned with moonstone and given gold plating. The Kalasam of four other shrines, for Goddess Periyanayagi, Murugan, Vinayakar and Varahi, were cleaned and gold-plated. The Kalasam of the Chandeswarar  shrine was damaged and has been replaced.

Fixing the nandi statues
ASI officials said the granite Nandi statues on the roof of the circumambulatory hall was also taken up as some of the 1008 Nandis were slightly damaged. The walls of the circumambulatory hall were also given a chemical cleaning 

new platform for priests
In the sanctum of the main deity, the 13-foot Shivalingam, the planks of the platform, from which priests to pour water, milk and other substances over the deity, were replaced

2011was the last time cleaning on this scale was undertaken at the UNESCO world heritage site. The last consecration at the temple was conducted in 1997 and in 2010 the temple marked 1000 years.


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