It is indeed a big day for Thanjavur. For over a month, the town has been getting ready for the grand kumbabhishekam or kudamuzhakku of the Brihadeeswara temple. The Rajarajeshwara temple or Brihadeeswara temple has been the pride of not just Thanjavur but the country as well. Several arrangements have been underway in the last one month to get the town ready for this.
Around 5,500 police personnel are on duty in the city and around 300 CCTV cameras have been installed across Thanjavur. Crime control teams and bomb squads are also in place. Over five lakh devotees are expected to attend the function today. As an ode to the rich culture of this city, more than 170 paintings have been done on the walls along the streets. These paintings have drawn inspiration from the natya karanas of Natyasastra, episodes from Ponniyin Selvan, traditional games, and scenes from the countryside.
According to the HR&CE department, the temple had kumbabhishekam in 1010, 1729, 1843, 1980 and 1997, though there are contrary opinions as well. Nevertheless, the kumbabhishekam in 1980 happened after a huge gap. N Rajeshwari, a teacher in Thiruvaiyaru, remembers the kumbabhishekam from 1997 vividly. “This kumbabhishekam brings back memories of the previous one. I attended it quite unexpectedly and it was a very pleasant experience. The entire ceremony was beautiful. There was also an unfortunate fire accident back then but despite that the kumbabhishekam was conducted despite a day later. The entire temple complex was decked up and one had to actually go there to know how beautiful it was.”
There are many reasons behind conducting a kumbabhishekam. One of them is to restore the energies of the temple. Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan, an architect by profession, has done several studies on the lives of saint poets and history of temple practices. “It is an occasion when conservation activities are carried out in the temple. All the mandapams are repaired during the function. The timber is greased and all the cracks are fixed. It is quite a financial challenge to conduct the consecration of a temple of this scale,” he says.
The temple gopurams and vimanas undergo repairs and sometimes, they are given a fresh coat of paint. “They could either be in ekavarnam or panchavarnam, which is why some gopurams are monochromatic and some are colourful. There is no agamic compulsion to do it mandatorily every 12 years. In fact, if urgent repairs are done to one part of the temple, then ceremony is conducted in that part alone too,” says Madhushudhanan, who calls the construction of the Big temple a milestone in Hindu temple architecture.
Madhusudhanan also points out the different mysteries and folklores about the temple that continue to remain popular today. “What is surprising is that it finds popularity even in the academic circles. For instance, there is a popular legend that the shadow of the vimana of the temple does not fall on the ground. Another one is that the capstone of the vimana is made of a single piece of stone. But the truth is that it is made of multiple stones. There are some theories about the unfinished natya karanas, though none are convincing. But something many people do not discuss is that the Nandi we see today before the main deity is a later day structure and the original Nandi is placed in the southern corridor. The Nayaks replaced it with the current Nandi.”
This story was published on February 5, 2020 in The Times of India