Art, architecture, and heritage is the trinity that defines the essence of Thanjavur. Ruled by Cholas, Nayaks, Marathas and eventually the British, it is believed that each empire influenced the city in their own unique way. The Marathas are credited for introducing Sambar (when a cook tried to make dal and added tamarind) whereas the British…
Famously known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Tamil Nadu; Thanjavur is home to UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Great Living Chola temples of India. Here is my complete guide to the best things to see and do in Thanjavur.
Where did the name Thanjavur originate from?
The name, Thanjavur has an interesting origin. Accordingly to mythology, ‘Thanja’ was an asura (demon) killed by Lord Vishnu and hence the place came to known as Thanjavur. Historians believe that the city was named after a Mutharayar King, Thananjay
History of Thanjavur
Thanjvaur, formerly known as Tanjore, has a unique position in Tamil Nadu’s history. It thrived as the ancient capital of the Chola kingdom. Between the 10th and 14th centuries of the Chola period, Thanjavur was at its peak. The first mark of its prominence was when it served as the empire capital paving the way in making the city a great centre of learning and culture.
As years passed, the Chola Empire eventually grew into one of the most powerful empires India had ever witnessed under the rule of Rajaraja Chola I (also known to many Tamils as Rajaraja the Great) and his son, Rajendra Chola I. During the reign of Rajendra Chola I, the capital was moved from Thanjavur to the nearby Gangaikonda Cholapuram. After the Cholas, the empire was ruled by the Nayaks, the Marathas, and even the British.
What is Thanjavur famous for?
Famously known as the “South India’s Cradle of Arts”, this small and sleepy town has much to offer. You can visit the Brihadeshvara temple, which a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bronze foundries, watch artists create the famed Tanjore paintings, spend time at the Thanjavur Royal Palace and do so much more!
Best places to visit in Thanjavur
Thanjavur Royal Palace
Thanjavur’s Royal Palace also called Aranmanai, is home to historical artifacts and structures, the Saraswati Mahal Library Museum, Saraswati Mahal Library Museum, Mahratta Darbar Hall, bell tower, and Saarjah Madi, all these are a must-visit during your trip to Thanjavur.
Visitors are required to purchase tickets and once you enter, you can begin by visiting the Maratha Palace complex. The Royal Palace Museum showcases sculptures, weaponry, elephant bells, and the headgears adorned by the rulers.
Maharaja Serfoji Memorial Hall commemorates the enlightened Maratha scholar-king Serfoji II (1798–1832), with a better collection overlooking a once-splendid, now crumbling courtyard
Mahratta Darbar Hall where Maratha rulers gave audience in a grand but faded pavilion adorned with colourful murals (including their own portraits behind the dais). As you exit the passage, the magnificent Saraswati Mahal Library Museum is on your left, through a vibrant entranceway.
Leaving the library, the Art Gallery is on the left. It is set around the Nayak Palace courtyard behind the bell tower. It contains a collection of stone carvings and superb; mainly Chola, bronzes, including some fabulous Natarajas in the New Visitors Hall.
This temple has a legend about Airavata, the white elephant of Lord Shiva, worshipped him here to get rid of a curse given to him by Sage Durvasa. It is also said that Yama, the Lord of Death, worshipped Lord Shiva here as well. This temple is located in Darasuram, the Airavatesvara Temple is one of the many Shiva temples in Thanjavur. Along with the other temples in Thanjavur, this is considered one of the greatest living Chola temples.
The architectural magnificence of Thanjavur is not complete without the beautiful temple carvings seen in the Gangaikonda Temple, which has been declared as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. This temple is about a thousand years old and is known as an integral part of Tamil History.
This church was constructed by Rev. Schwartz more than 200 years ago. Though there is nothing much great about the artistic work compared to other sites, the church is still operational under the CSI Trichy-Tanjore Diocese. The morning service which is conducted in English takes place every Sunday at 7:00.
Siva Ganga Garden
This garden is a captivating little park in the middle of the Brihadeshwara Temple and the Schwartz Church. It is very pleasant to watch children play in the heart of the park and witness their innocent laughs and smiles. The park also has an eye-catching little train and a temple in the middle of the pond, which is called theppakulam. Boating is also available in the pond.
What are some famous souvenirs from Thanjavur?
Thanjavur Dancing Doll, Tanjore Paintings, and Tanjore Art Plates like the Lord Balaji are some of the popular souvenirs in Thanjavur
If you are planning to get souvenirs from local shops, it is advisable to use cash though many local vendors have started using Google Pay as an option. An outlet inside the palace sells old and new artworks in which credit cards can be used as a payment. If you want a gallery that exhibits and sells a wide range of artistic bronze idols, Thanjavur paintings, and artistic plates, Poompuhar Art Gallery is the place to be.
Getting around Thanjavur: Some Useful Tips
- Auto Rickshaws – negotiating a rate with the driver first is advisable. The tour within the city costs around approximately INR 100 to INR 150 depending on your destination.
- Tourist Cabs – This is the best choice in case you want to visit the temples around Thanjavur. Drivers don’t follow a fixed method for charging rates, but it is wise to negotiate at least the rates that are applicable in Chennai.
How to reach Thanjavur?
Thanjavur is the headquarters of the Thanjavur District. The city is an important agricultural centre located in the Cauvery Delta with an area covering 128.02 km²(49.43 sq mi) and had a population of 290,720 in 2011. It is also known as the Rice bowl of the state of Tamil Nadu.
If you are traveling via air transportation, you can reach Thanjavur via Tiruchirapalli International Airport which is 59.6km away from the city. Roadways are the major means of transportation and the city has rail connectivity. If you are travelling via sea transportation, the nearest seaport is Karaikal, which is 94 km away from Thanjavur.
Do you have any questions on Thajavur? Let me know in the comments below 🙂