With my roots in Thanjavur district of Tamilnadu, I have heard several stories about the Brihadeeswara Temple and the grand effort put in by Raja Raja Chola to build it. A fascinating documentary produced by the Discovery Channel explains how the construction could have taken place in the 10th century, how large granite stones were mined in quarries 200 km away, how they were pulled the entire distance using logs and elephants and how the 80 ton stone for the ‘kalash’ was hauled up to the top of the tower on a slope which started at a point 6 km from the base of the tower.
While on a trip to Beijing this week, I visited the Forbidden City and saw what is referred to as the Large Stone Carving. Made of a single stone and containing figures of dragons, this served as a ramp for carrying the Emperors in their sedans. Being 17m long, 3m wide and 1.7m thick, the stone weighs 200 tons. Compared to this, the stone on top of the BrihadeeswaraTemple will qualify only for the ‘lightweight’ category.
So, how did the Chinese bring the ‘heavyweight’ stone from the mine to the Forbidden City? An explanation provided on a board next to the Large Stone Carving is that the stone was quarried from the Fangshang mountains some distance from Beijing and heaved to the City in winter using logs and by pouring water on to the snow, till the resulting ‘ice’ made it easier to slide the huge block forward. This happened in the 15th century.
So, the same challenge of transporting a large stone was overcome with two different engineering solutions in two different places using different resources. We had the elephants, the Chinese had the snow.