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Rjarjvaram Epitome of Architecture

Rjarjvaram Epitome of Architecture.doc


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Inclination to main axis


To begin with, the whole complex was laid out with its main east-west axis inclined by 18 to the north in
clockwise direction4. This was not unintentional, perhaps guided by the sighting of the rising of the sun on
the day of foundation. If true, taking into view of the location and latitude, the day corresponds to 11 May or
1 August. This inclination was meticulously corrected at Gagai where the axis was perfectly in the eastwest direction. This was achieved by sighting the equinoctial rising sun or the use of gnomon as prescribed
by the texts.
Proportional relation between width and height
The units of the temple are laid out with a perfect proportional relationship among them. This is well
established in the measurement of the enclosing wall against the height of the sanctum, which in turn fixed
the height of the inner and outer gpuras. The enclosing wall (prakra) of this temple is laid in an east-west
rectangle with sides in the ratio 1: 2. It measures 241.06m by 121.10m on outside5. This is more or less
perfectly drawn as the difference between the lengths on the longer side is just 12cm over 241m. This, by
itself, is a significant achievement particularly in the absence any optical instruments about thousand years
ago.
This rectangle was further divided into two exact squares. The liga is established exactly at the centre of the
rear square. That is, the sanctum is perfectly aligned diagonally, to the rear square. In other words, the
corners of the sanctum are in perfect alignment to the corners of the rear square. This is demonstrated by the
distance between the inner edge of the enclosure wall and the sanctum which are set to exact measurements.
To be precise, the distance is 39.35m in the south, 39.40m in the west, 39.33m in the north. At Gagai, the
temple is laid out in a rectangle, exteriorly measuring 184.06m by 109.33m, whereas the courtyard within
the enclosure gallery is as much as 170.90 by 96.28m on an average, the ratio being 1: 1.684 and 1: 1.775
respectively, bordering 3, which means that this enclosure approaches a rectangle constructed from two
equilateral triangles. There are two unequal lateral projections in the enclosing rectangle probably added as
an afterthought. The rigid rectangles of the Br ihadvara at Tajvr, was dispensed with at Gagai (Fig. 2).
The care taken by the architects for maintaining the proportions is further reflected in the designs and
execution of the elevation of the sanctum of both the temples (Fig. 3). At Tajavr, the height is 59.82m,
almost the half of the width of the square or one fourth of the length of the rectangle. The difference, of
16cm over a height of 59m, is negligible. This means that the rectangle was rotated by 90 on the
longitudinal axis to obtain the height. At Gagai too, the tower measures 51.04, equalling half of the width
of the rectangle. It may be noted here that the architect of Tajvr temple did not have any previous
experience to rely upon in maintaining these ratios and proportions, while the experience gained at Tajvr
must have been put into use at Gagai. Once this proportion between the height of the vimna was fixed in
proportion to the width of the prakra, the proportions of the other elements of elevation of the receding
tiers of the superstructure needed to be fixed accurately, which, a painstakingly difficult task was indeed by
itself. The next step in this Herculean effort was to execute the calculated proportions to the exact measure
with extreme care. Otherwise, a small error in the final dressing up of the stones even in a single course

would proportionately add up to upset this fine proportion. It should also be borne in mind that the temple
was covered with earth as it grew up course by course as a ramp was constructed around it, which was the
technique of construction adopted by them to build the temple due to the height involved . Therefore,
checking and cross-checking the height from the bottom during the construction could not have been easily
possible. There must have been an ingenious system in place to control the level of each course. However,
another possibility was that the main vimna was built first and the prakra was laid according to the height.
In either case the accuracy in execution is immense.
On the other hand, the architect of the Gagai temple had the experience gained at Tanjavur for the designing
and execution of his endeavour. In spite of the experience obtained at Tajvr temple, the architect of
Gagai temple, surprisingly, did not attempt to build a taller edifice, leaving the record to Tajvr temple,
as the height of the Gagai temple is shorter by 8.78m at 51.04m, when compared to Tajvr temple. This
must have been intentional because a taller tower

Fig. 3 Proportion between plan and elevation of the Brihadisvara temples, Tajvr (top) and Gagai
(bottom) (after Pierre Pichard)

was practically possible as the width of the base was far greater than that of Tanjavur.
Proportional relation between the vimna and gpuras
Further, the design of the Tajvr temple incorporates another significant feature which determined the
height of the gpuras. The Rjarjan- tiruvyil measures 24.17m (Fig. 3). The line that emerges from the
centre of the sanctum at an angle of 45 passes exactly through the apex of the inner and outer gpuras.
Similarly, the line drawn from the summit of the tower to the top to the summit of the inner gpura would
touch down the ground at a distance, five times half the width of the principal rectangle. These observations
indicate the flawless design and the ability of the architect in executing them.
The relative proportion of the height of the gpura and the sanctum could not be ascertained at Gagai and
compared with the relationship observed at Tajvr, because the gpura of Gagai had collapsed in the
early 1900s. However, judging from an old photograph of the gpura, it could be seen that it was similar in
design to the inner gpura of this temple6.
This scheme of building a gpura of lesser height than that of the sanctum was faithfully followed in all the
major temples built by the Cholas. This facilitated in the creation of an elegant and majestic vision of the
towers of the sanctum, as they were not dwarfed by other units. During the Vijayanagara, Nyaka and later
periods, this concept was reversed by increasing the height of the gpura over that of the sanctum tower, the
beauty and majesty of the inner vimna of the main sanctum was dwarfed completely and swept away of
visibility from the outside of the prakra wall.