During the times of the Cholas (900-1155 A.D.) temple arcitecture in the South reached its climax. The famous Chola temple built at Tanjavur (Tanjore) is known as the Brihadeshvara temple. It is also called the Rajarajeshwara temple after the name of king Rajaraja who built it in honour of Lord Shiva in about 1009 A.D.
This Temple is one of the most outstanding monuments of the Chola Period. It is composed of many interconnected structures such as the Nandi pavilion, a pillared portico and a large hall. Its vimana(a temple like structure having thee cella in which the deity is enshrined) is 66 metres high. The inner walls of the temple have extensive paintings and sculpture. The tower of the temple rises to a height of 57 metres, like a pyramid, in 13 successive storeys. Its top has a single block of stone, 25 feet high and weighs about 80 tonnes. The structural idea of constructing a Gopuram (or a fine gateway to the enclosed walls of the temple) was first conceived by the Chola kings.
The Temple stands in the middle of a rectangular enclosure entered from the east through a gateway, now dilapidated. The Double pilastered walls of the sanctuary are elevated on a moulded basement with lions. Those on the central niches, on both storeys depict – Dakshinamurti(south) ,Vishnu(west) and Brahma(north).
A massive linga on the central pedestal is enshrined within the sanctuary. A stone altar carved with a lotus on the top has the Navagrahas carved on to the sides. Another small structure in the south-west corner of the enclosure houses a Ganesha image. A large Nandi sculpture constructed of blocks is constructed in the front(east) of the principal temple.
The temple, especially its tower, is the finest example of Dravidian art. The Chola architecture is so executed that it is said that the Cholas conceived like giants and finished like jewelers. The Brihadeshwara temple combines the best in the tradition of temple building – architecture, sculpture, painting and other allied arts