Thanjavur properly situated in the Cauvery delta is the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. A fertile land that was also fertile for art, architecture and culture. Thought it was a famous city from early time, its importance was fully understood only by the later Cholas (AD 846-1276) who built an empire making it their capital. Thanjavur was Vijayalaya who founded the later Chola kingdom here and Rajaraja the Great (AD 984-1014) and his son Rajendra I (AD 1012 - 1044) were the real architects of the Chola empire that held sway over India upto the Ganges in the north and held colonies in Myanmar, Malaya and the East Indies It became the original home of the Dravidian art and architecture besides being the centre of Tamil classical dance which is now known as Bharatha Natyam all over the world. Even today, the teachers Bharatha Nadyam hail from Tanjore. Its further glory is the Carnatic music which in essence is nothing but classical Tamil music. The only remains of its glorious past are the beautiful temples that were built by the Cholas known for their amazing architectural wonder, and not less than 74 of them are around Thanjavur itself. The Pandyas, the Nayaks and the Marathas ruled the city after the later Cholas and finally the British made it a district.
Full of Natural beauty, located in the fertile Kaveri Delta, Thanjavur is the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. Capital of the great Chola Empire for three centuries and later of the Thanjavur Nayaks, it is resplendent with its striking architecture. It is the home of classical music and dance and the house of exquisite bronzes.
The origin of the town goes back to the beginning of the Christian era. It rose to glory only during the later Chola reign between the 11 and the 14-centuries. At the height of their power, Cholas held sway over India up to the Ganges in the north and controlled parts of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaya, and Sumatra. It was the great Raja Raja (985-1o44AD), who were the real architects of the Chola Empire. They lavished their enormous wealth to build temples at Thanjavur, Gangaikondachola-puram, Thirvarur, Darasuram, and Srirangam in Trichy. During the period, Thanjavur became the centre of Tamil culture and learning. The Pandyas, the Nayaks, and the Marathas also ruled the city and finally the British controlled it.
Of the several temples built by the Chola kings, the Brahadeeswarar Temple or the Big Temple is one of the World Heritage monuments. The magnificent Thanjavur Palace Complex is yet another tourist highlight of Thanjavur. The Pongal celebrations in January throughout the district are a big draw.
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The Big Temple (or) the Brahadeeswara Temple
The Big Temple (or) the Brahadeeswara Temple: This temple, the marvel of Dravidia art and architecture needs several days to go round and enjoy inch by inch, even then one would not go with complete satisfaction. It was built by the Great Rajaraja I the nonpareil of the later Chola dynasty. Begun in AD 1003 it was completed in 1010. He He was a king of magnificence and his temple also stood magnificent, true to its name Dakshina Meru. Unlike other temples, the vimanam (the tower ove the sanctum) soars higher than the usual gopuram or portal tower. It soars to a height of 64.8m (208ft). It rises from a square base and shaped like a pyramid with 14 tiers, on the top of which is a higher monolithic cupola carved out from 81.3 tonne block of granite. It was perched there from the village, 'Saarappallam' by rolling it along a ramp of earth six km along like the way in which the Egyptian pyramids were built. It is set on a spacious parkara of 240m by 125m. The Lingam in the sanctum is 3.70m high, 6m long, and 2.50m wide which is the handiwork not of Chola but added by the Vijayanagar rulers. It is the second largest in India, the first being the one at the Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh.
The dwarapalakas flanking the doorways are 5.5m in height. The complex is flanked with various mandapams. There are three gateways with gopurams to enter the temple. The basement is crowded with inscriptions telling the various grants and gifts offered to Brahadeeswara by innumerable kings, chieftains and nobles. The establishment of the temple had 1000 persons, 400 of them were female dancers. The outer side of the exterior wall is divided into 2 storey's with niches filled with images of Saivaite iconography. There are also Vaishnavaite and Buddhist themes in sculptures. One difference here is that even the sculptors name is engraved.
While the outer walls is ornamented with stone images, the inner wall of the sanctum is covered with Chola murals. They were concealed by the superimposition of Vijayanagar Nayak paintings. It wasonly in 1930, the originals were brought to light by a special chemical process. Sundaramurthy Nayanar, Cheraman Perumal, Tiripuranthaga, Rajaraja, Karuvur Thevar and Dakshinamurthi were thus discovered to the world manifesting the marvel of Chola painting. With permission from the archaeological department one could see them dazzle in floodlight inside the inner corridor. The outer wall of the upper storey is carved with 81 dance poses of Bharatha Natyam, the classical dance of the Tamils. A look at the inside of the spiraling 14 tiers is quite amazing and the precision of the engineers of the Chola period makes one spellbound. another wonder is that the shadow of the cupola never falls in the ground a testimony to the engineering skills of the Chola architecture.
The shrine for the Goddess was added by Pandian rulers in the 13th century AD. The subramania shrine was added by Vijayanagar rulers. Samabaji, the maratha ruler of Thanjavur renovated the Vinayaka shrine.
The glorious Chola legacy has left behind not less than 74 temples in and around Thanjavur, of which the Brahadeeswarar or Big Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 1010AD is the crowning glory of the Dravidian temple architecture. There has been continuous worship for over a thousand years, the architecture of the temple symbolizes the fusion of ritual, and philosophic concepts that flowered in the region. Phone: 04362-274476.
Tanjore Tour Information
The Sangeetha Mahal located within the palace is an acoustic marvel. It brings out the best in the singer's voice and from the musical instruments used in concerts. A miniature replica of the court of Tirumala Nayak Palace at Madurai, it is tastefully decorated with fine etchings.
The Royal Palace Museum in the palace contains a collection of royal memorabilia weapons, dresses, utensils, musical instruments, most of it dating from the early 19-century. Timing 0900-1800hr daily.
Other places of interest include the Schwartz Church in the palace garden, built in 1779 AD by Raja Serfoji, is dedicated to the Danish missionary. C. Schwartz. Located north of the Big Temple is beautiful laid, Sivaganga Park with a children park and a tank. 7km from the town is the Tamil University. Established in 1981, it is engaged in research and study of the Tamil language University reception Phone: 04362-227434. It has a Museum containing a collection of coins and old musical instruments Timing 1000-1730hr, closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
On the route from Chidambaram to Kumbakonam, 9km south, the Coleroon River marks the northern edge f the Kaveri Delta. It passes through Sirkazhi, crosses over the Kaveri River to Mayiladuturai on to Tirubvanam to reach Kumbakonam and the main route continues to Thanjavur.
This is the earliest image of Kali in Potters Street 1.6km to the east of the Big Temple. The image of the Goddess is five feet tall wearing a garland of skulls, a snake covering Her breasts, teeth protruding and in unbearable wrath trampling the two demons Chandan and Mundan. This image was installed by Vijayalaya Chola in commemoration of his victory over the Mutharayas which enabled him to found the later Chola kingdom.
The Archaeological Museum on the southern side of the courtyard houses an interesting collection of sculptures and photographs that show the temple before restoration. It also has some maps and charts detailing the history of the Chola Empire.
Not far from the temple and in the heart of the old tower lies the palace with vast labyrinthian buildings, enormous corridors, big halls, watchtowers, moat, fort and courtyards. The palace was built by the Nayak rulers around 1550 AD and subsequently renovated and enlarged by the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur. Though a portion is in ruins, much of it is still in its original beauty. Some government offices are located inside besides an art gallery, a library, the hall of music, the audience hall and even today in a portion live the preset legal heirs of the Thanjavur Marathas.
Nayaks of Madurai built it around 1550 and later added on by the Marathas. Located on the East Main Street, not very far from the Big Temple the palace is a series of large labyrinthine buildings, huge corridors, spacious halls, watchtowers, and courtyards.
The encircling walls are pierced by massive gateways to the north and east. You enter from the East Main Street to a large quadrangular courtyard, which leads to a many-pillared hall. A small inner courtyard gives way to a large one. On the southern side of the third quadrangle is Gudagopura (Armoury Tower), 58m high with eight storey's. This gopuram, which housed the armoury of the Marathas, was deliberately built to resemble a temple vimana so that invaders attacking the city might leave the arsenal untouched in the belief that it was a religious structure. There are aesthetic frescoes that adorn the walls and ceilings of the palace.
The Rajaraja Chola Art Gallery
It is inside the palace. It has a beautiful collection of granite and bronze idols from the 9th to the 12th centuries. They are fine pieces of workmanship of Chola art. Most of them were brought from the temples in and around Thanjavur and preserved here. The collection holds the onlooker spellbound with their minute details and grace. The Raja Raja Chola Art Gallery within the palace has some beautiful pieces of the Chola bronzes and the stone sculptures dating from the 9-12 centuries. It has a large representation of Hindus deities that abound in various myths and legends. Timing 0900-1300 and 1500-1800hr.
Nearby the Bell Towers (Sharja Madi) is worth the climb to have a panoramic view of the city. Timing 0900-1300, 1500-1800hr daily.
The Saraswathi Mahal Library
The Saraswathi Mahal Library inside the palace was founded in 1700AD. Its collection includes over 30000 palm leaf and paper manuscripts in Indian and European languages and more that 4000 foreign books or texts collected by the patronage of the Nayaks and the Maratha rulers. The Tamil works has a treatise on medicine and commentaries on the works from the Sangam period. It also has a rare and valuable collection of paintings housed in a museum inside, which also exhibits the whole Ramayana written on a palm leaf and explicit pictures of the Chinese torture of prisoners Phone: 04362-233568. Timing 1000 - 1300, 1330-1730 hr, closed on Wednesdays.
To the left of the library is the magnificent Durbar Hall, where the king held audiences, has some bronzes on display.
It is inside the palace and a specimen of soundproof and acoustically perfect music hall. It is tastefully decorated with fine etchings.
Inside the palace could also be seen a churh on the eastern side. It is called Schewartz Church and was built in AD. 1779 by Raja Serfoji in honour of revered Schewartz of Denmark.
This is another museum in the palace complex, very interesting to see. It contains a good collection of manuscripts, weapons, dresses, utensils and musical instruments used by the members of the royal family of Thanjavur.
On the eastern rampart of the fort is this big Beerangi (cannon). It is called Beerangi Medu or Dasmedu.
It is also located in the palace complex. It is a storeyed building opened for tourists to have a panoramic view of Thanjavur city. There are beautiful wooden carvings and sculptures inside the Sharja Madi.
This was built during the 8th World Tamil Conference. There is a small garden with children's play materials in it.
Rajarajan Museum is in the ground floor of the Manimandapam and under the control of the State Archaeological Department containing interesting exhibits, charts, maps etc. on the history of the Chola empire.
During the 8th World Tamil Conference the Sadukkam (square) was built to commemorate the memory of the ancient grammarian Tolkappiyar who was the author of Tolkappiyam, the oldest Tamil grammar available now in full form in print. From this tower, one can have a panoramic view of Thanjavur.
Sivaganga Park is beautifully laid-out park with a tank known for its sweet water and children's play materials are also kept there.
Founded in 1981, this University specializes in research and advanced study of the Tamil language. It is 7km away and located in a vast area with beautiful buildings. A very good library with a good collection of English and Tamil books is functioning in the University complex.
Places around Thanjavur
All the places mentioned hereunder can be reached mostly by town buses or by hired vehicles without and difficulty.
Mariamman Temple is at Punnainallur 6km away from Thanjavur. It is one of the local temples of Thanjavur and attracts enormous crowd.
Thiruvaiyaru Temple is about 13km from Thanjavur on the banks of the river, Cauvery lies this ancient temple dedicated to Panchanadiswara (Lord of 5 river). Cauvery, Vennaru, Vettaru, Kudamurutti and Vadavru form a network like garland to this Lord. Thiruchattruruthurai, Thiruvaddikkudi, Kandiyur, Thiruppoonthuruthi and Thiruneithanam are Saptha Stalas to which the Deity of Ayyaru proceed during Chitthirai (April-May) festival which attracts great crowd. On the way to Thiruvaiyaru at Kandiyur one can see the beautiful image of Brahma and at Thiruppoonthuruthi the superb panel of Ravana lifting Kailas,Siva mounted on the bull with Uma, Ardhanari and Dakshinamurthi with veena in His hands are fine pieces of art that should not be missed. In Panchanadiswara temple that contains specious halls and corridors, the idol of Lord Brahma is very exquisitely executed. Some sculptures here are of Chalukyan style having been brought as war trophy.
One of the musical trinity, Thyagaraja's samadhi is on the banks of the river. Near the Siva temple is a one roomed house where Thyagaraja composed some of his greatest works. The samadhi itself is a fitting tribute to the saint and one can see almost all the scenes of Ramayana as they appear in his songs beautifully sculptured in black marble by Bangalore Nagarathinammal, a devote of Thyagaraja. There is also the samadhi temple with the saint's statue. The Thyagaraja Aradhana festival is held in January when most of the leading exponents of Carnatic music come to perform and are listened to by lakhs of ardent fans of classical music. a huge complex is under construction here to accommodate the ever increasing number of devotees.
Thiruvaiyaru is about 13km from Thanjavur, this little sleepy town on the banks of the river Kaveri enjoys the same status as the pilgrimage destination of Varanasi. Many Hindus immerse the ashes of dead in the river here and a saying goes 'to die in Thiruvaiyaru is to attain salvation'. The famous temple at Thiruvaiyaru, Panchanadiswara, dedicated to Shiva signifies five rivers Kaveri, Vennaru, Vettaru, Kudamurutti and Vadavaru.
Thiruvaiyaru is more famous for the memory of the devout 18-century saint and composer, Thyagaraja, who lived and died here. He composed most of his songs on Lord Rama, his revered deity. His compositions are a unique blend of simple fervor of words and the aptness of the ragas. His Samadhi (Resting Place) is on the banks of the river and his one roomed house is near the temple. One can see almost all the scenes of Ramyana as they appear in his songs beautifully sculptured in black marble in his Samadhi. There is also a temple with his beautiful statue. The annual Carnatic Music Festival in January. Exponents of classical music from all over the country throng Aradhana, held in his honour.
Grand Anicut (Kallanai)
This barrage was built at the delta head of Thanjavur by Karikal Chola of the Sangam Age and serves even today. This was built by Slave labor, the slaves being the prisoners of war from Ceylon. Stones were piled up across the river for 1080 ft. It was 60ft. wide and about 20 ft, high. That it stood the ravages of time and floods for over 1500 years is a testimony for the skills of ancient engineering. It is fully made of stone and earth. In 1805, the dam was repaired by Captain Caldwell. It is the overhead regulaor of the water of Cauvery for irrigation. Excessive flood waters were left in Kollidam. There is a park and it is a nice picnic spot. Buses are operated from Thanjavur and Kumbakonam. It is about 48km from Thanjavur.
This Siva temple is about 18km from Thanjavur. There is a 18km from Thanjavur. There is a separate shrine for Chandra (Moon God) in this temple and it is one of the nine places of Navagrahas. It attracts pilgrims on all days.
Ganapathi Agraharam is about 5km east of Thingalur. A famous Vinayaka temple is here. Next to it is a Vishnu temple. The Vinayaa Chathurthi festival (August-September) is very famous and thousands of people gather here at that time.
This famous Siva temple is 43km from Thanjavur and near Kumbakonamon the Mannargudi Road. It is one of the temples of Navagaha (Nine Planets) and this place has the shrine of Guru (Jupiter). On all days, pilgrims throng this temple from all over India. The temple is of the Chola period and exposes Chola architecture.
Papanasam is 30km from Thanjavur. It is a historic town. There are two temples here, one Pallavanatha Swamy temple constructed by Chola king and the other is called 108 Sivalingam. There is a granary here of 80ft breadth and 36ft height for storing 3,000 'kalams' of paddy. It was constructed by the Nayak kings in AD 1600-1634. It has been declared as a monument by the state archaeological department. The 108 Sivalingams in one temple is in the Papanasam tow. There is also a famous temple at Thirukkarukavur nearby dedicated to Mullaivana-nathaswamy.
This place near Swamimalai has a shrine for Vinayaga. The temple is an architectural marvel. As the river Cauvery changed the course tothe right (valam) the place came to be known as Thiruvalanchuzhi. The image of Vinayaga is in the form of sea foam. It is named Swetha (white) Vinayaga. Beautifully chiselled stone pillars and stone latticework of pillars and stone latticework of intricate design could be seen here.
Poondi Madha Shrine
This village is about 3.5km from Thanjavur. The nearest railway station is Budalur. It is a Roman Catholic pilgrim centre like Velankanni and people from all over India visit this place. The church authorities provide accommodation to pilgrims.
Manora is 65km on the way to Kodaikkarai in Saluvanayakkappattinam. A 11 storeyed tower stands here built by Raja Serofoji in 1814 to commemorate the victory of the British over Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo. It served as an observatory and a lighthouse for some time. The tall tower could be seen from a distance of 5km. It was utilized to keep books on shipbuilding, by the king.
How to get there?
Thanjavur is directly connected by rail with Chennai, Nagore, Trichy and Madurai. It is connected to all major cities with road. The local transport system runs buses to all places in and around Thanjavur. Auto rickshaws and taxis are also available. Frequent bus services are available to Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Dindigul. The nearest airport is at Trichy, 58km away. The Indian Airlines and Air Lanka operate flights to Sri Lanka. Indian Airlines operates flights to Chennai and Madurai. It is about 350km on the railway line from Chennai.
Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) 56km from Thanjavur is the nearest airport connected by flights to Chennai, Kozhikode and Trivandrum. Trichy Airport, Indian enquiry Phone: 0431-2341601.
Thanjavur is directly connected by rail with Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Kumbakonam, and Chidambara Railway enquiry Phone: 0431-230131.
There is a regular bus service for Chennai (334km), Kumbakonam (40km) Chidambaram (125km) and Dindigul (150km). Buses stop at Thanjavur on their way to Trichy and Madurai. Central Bus Stand enquiry Phone: 04362-226455. Locally auto rickshaws, taxis, and city buses run to important places in and around Thanjavur.
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