The picture above is the base of the vimanam of Periya kovil, the people in the picture give you an idea of the relative size of the temple and also the detail of artwork.
Periya kovil (also known as Brihadeeswara Temple), is located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The temple was built around 1000 CE by Raja Raja Cholan (who was noted to be the greatest of Chola kings; he is known also for recovering and restoring the Thevaram – one of the most important Shaivite compositions). An aspect about this temple that is notably different from other South Indian temples is that the central vimanam towers over the surrounding gopurams (in most South Indian temple architecture, the central vimanam is very modest, while the gopurams are of soaring heights). Also the domelike crown on top of the vimanam was built from one monolithic block of granite weighing 81 tons. It really boggles the mind how they accomplished the feat of raising and placing it on the top back then.
Periya means “big” in Tamil, and I can see why, they just about super-sized everything (that is, for that period). The vimanam which stands 60m tall houses a massive Siva Lingam (the largest Siva Lingam in any temple). I couldn’t take a picture inside, but the huge 25 ton Nandi sitting outside, in focused meditation on Siva, will give you an idea of the relative scale of the Siva Lingam inside. Should have had someone standing in front of it just to show scale, but believe me it’s huge, one big Nandhi – the second largest; note the way its tongue is licking up the butter and its row of teeth; the sight is a real treat for little kids).The kovil prakaram (perimeter/courtyard) is lined with rows of Siva Lingams – hundreds of them. It seems my grandfather did abeshakam for each and every one of them at a stretch.
In Hinduism, the Siva Linga represents Siva seated as Pure Awareness. It is also symbolically the masculine aspect (linga; the slender pillar-like top part) seated/merged in the feminine aspect (yoni; the large circular base) of the Universe. Also, the linga is marked by a small dot – the bindu (see Hindu Cosmology), which is depicted as Siva’s third eye, and represents the projection of maya (the construct/matrix/veil that we all see and experience as the visible universe); and at the end of the cosmic cycle everything (all of existance) will get withdrawn into it, the Source. According to yogis, the macrocosm and the microcosm being just reflections of each other, and this “lifting of the veil” can be accomplished by yoga. The Source is described by yogi’s as Sat-Cit-Ananda (Existance-Consciousness-Bliss).
Related to maya is the prithvi-naryana principle, i.e. the self-limiting principle that makes us think we are the just the “body” and that mind is confined to the small space inside our head. Yoga is the act transcending the self-limiting conditioning and to realize our true nature, true potential, our true Self.
Click here for a full view of the temple.