Thanjavur was once the capital of the Chola, Nayak and Maratha rulers and is situated in the delta of river Cauvery. The name Thanjavur is said to have been derived from Thanja, a demon who was haunting the locality and who, according the legend, was destroyed by Lord Vishnu. As per the dying request of the demon, that the city be named after him, it came to be called as Thanjavur. It is also called as the City of Refuge, derived from the word Thanjan. The place is called as the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu.
The history of Thanjavur is far older than the Chola period itself. The city rose to glory during the later Chola reign between the 10th and 14th centuries. It reached its zenith becoming the centre of Tamil learning and culture during the Chola rule. It continues to enjoy the importance even today due to its culture and contribution to music and dance. In the city, there are rare specimens of old art and architecture, inscriptions and paintings created centuries ago. It is known for its exquisite handicrafts, bronze castings and articles and South Indian musical instruments.
Raja Rajendra Chola conquered the Pandyas and the eastern Chalukyas in about the middle of the 10th century and founded a mighty kingdom with Thanjavur as his capital. He and his successors in the dynasty enriched the place with grand temples and palaces.
Brihadishwara Temple: This grandest temple is one of the most famous living monuments of the world. Conceived by the great Raja Raja Chola and built by master architects, this monument is one of the finest contributions by the Chola dynasty. Inspite of the city having come under the sway of diverse rulers, the temple has been carefully preserved. Tradition has it that the chief architect and masons were specially brought from Kanchipuram.
Resting on a wide base, the tower rises to a height of 72 metres and contains 14 storeys. The gilded Kalasha rests on a single block of granite weighing about 80 tonnes. In front of the temple is the huge Nandi hewn out of a solid block of stone. This is said to be the second largest Nandi in the country. The walls of the temple are full of beautiful sculpture of various types.
Palace Building: This is a cluster of fabulous buildings with huge corridors and halls. Built by the Nayaks in 1550 and enlarged later by the Mahrattas, two of the palace towers, the Kudagaparam and the Madamaligai are visible from all parts of the city. After the recent renovations of the palace, the portion of the halls have been utilised as a museum and Art Gallery. Many bronze idols and works of art are exhibited here.w
Saraswati Mahal: A portion of the Thanjavur Palace has been converted into Maharaja Sarfoji Saraswati Mahal Library. It contains many useful and very rare or nearly unique books, many of which are unknown or quite difficult to procure. The library has the original works of many Nayak and Mahratta kings, as also those great scholars who flourished under their patronage. Besides, there are a number of palm-leaf manuscripts collected from families of scholars. The volumes collected are in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi on a variety of subjects such as, science, medicine, engineering, astronomy, painting, music and dancing
Sangitha Mahal: This is also called as th e Mansion of Music perfectly planned in acoustics, auditorium and other details. Renovated recently, it brings back the past glory. This monument was built by
Raja Sarfoji and bears resemblance to the court of the Palace of Tirumala Nayak at Madurai.
Other places of interest in Thanjavur are the Sivaganga Tank, well known for its sweet water and the Schwartz Church built in 1779 by Raja Sarfoji as a token of affection and esteem for the Rev. C.V.Schwartz, the Danish Missionary who was also Rajah’s teacher and guardian
Places of interest around Thanjavur:
Thiruvaiyaru: 13 kms. Situated on the banks of river Cauvery, the place has the samadhi of Saint Thyagaraja, the famous composer who lived in the 19th century. A beautiful temple has come up over the memorial due to the initial efforts of the famous musician Bangalore Nagarathnamma and several other music lovers. Every year, in January, on the day he attained immortality, a vast gathering of musicians and lovers of music assemble here to honour the memory of this great composer. There is also an ancient Shiva temple at this place dedicated to Panchnatheshwara which has spacious five enclosures. A number of beautifully sculptured idols adorn this temple. There is a rare glass palanquin which is used during certain festivals.
Thirukandiyur: 10 kms. In a small village leading to Aralur, one can see a little shrine of Subramanya. One of the greatest deeds accomplished by Lord Shiva in this temple was the removal of the fifth face of Brahma according to mythology. This place enshrines the Shiva temple known as Brahma Sirachedana Ishwara. In this well lighted temple, there are several sculptures worthy of study. Besides the large figure of Brahma, there is a row of different types of Ganesha idles and also a rare form of Ardha Nari Shiva in a sitting pose. Vishnu is worshipped here as Harapapa Hari Perumal or Hara shapa Vimochana Perumal, the God who expiated the sin committed by Shiva in removing one of Brahma’s heads.
Karundhittangadi Temple: 2 kms. Within the outskirts of the city is a famous Shiva shrine north of Vadalur river dedicated to Vasishteshwara along with his consort Tripurasundari Ammal. It is said that this temple was constructed a century before the great Brihadishwara temple was planned. It has several beautifully carved sculptures around the walls of the temple. One of the inscriptions mentions that King Rajendra Chola donated a gold chain to this deity. It would be interesting to note that a few neglected sculptural idols lying in the enclosure gave rise to the starting of the Art Gallery at
Thanjavur. Realising the excellence of such valuable lithic pieces, the then Collector took personal interest to transport them to the Raja’s Palace to the exhibited.
Kalyanapuram: 8 kms. This is a small village very near Thiruvaiyaru and has the famous Srinivasa Perumal temple. The popular belief is that Lord Srinivasa chose this place not being able to bear the noise of Tirumala. A notable feature in this temple is that the Thiru Kalyanam takes place for five days strictly according to the Vaikhanasa Agama.
Pullaimangal: 16 kms. A tiny village having an ancient Shiva temple dedicated to Brahmapureeshwara, is very close to the main road. It is not only a temple of art and sculpture but also a centre where other arts flourished in the past. The origin of the temple goes back to the 10th century relating to the reign of Paranthaka Cholan. The temple has many specimens of excellent sculpture around the main shrine.
Poovanoor: 38 kms. A small village with quiet atmosphere having an ancient temple dedicated to goddess Chamundeshwari. The majestic tower of the temple with five tiers attracts the visitor on the main road. It is believed that the goddess Chamundeshwari is worshipped only at this temple in South India next to the one situated at Mysore in Karnataka.
Manora: 65 kms. This place has an eight storey tower built by Rajah Sarfoji in 1814 to commemorate the victory of the friendly British Army over Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo.
Thiruvarur: 55 kms. Known in the olden days as Poonkovil, the sacred Shiva temple here is dedicated to Thyagaraja Swamy. The place is considered as sacred as Chidambaram and Varanasi. It is the practice of this place not to take out the procession image of the Amman deity outside the temple premises as she is called Padi Thandal (one who would not cross the steps). A rare Spatika Linga (crystal Linga) of this temple is worthy of seeing for its beauty The huge chariot of the temple is called Aazhi Ther, which is said to be the biggest in the whole of Tamil Nadu. This chariot with beautiful carvings requires a few thousands of devotees to pull it round the streets. It is worthy to note that the Trinity of the music world, Thyagaraja, Shyama Shastrigal and Muthuswamy Dikshitar were born in this village.
Kuthanur: 20 kms. A rare temple of goddess Saraswati is located at this village which is said to have been built in the 9th century by Kulottunga Chola. This deity is associated with poet Ottakuthanur as he is said to have been blessed by the goddess as a result of which the village itself came to be called after his name. Poet Kamban used to visit this place and he has composed Saraswati Andadi in his own style.
Thiruppugalur: 30 kms. This village has a Shiva temple dedicated to Agneshwara. The majestic tower on the entrance has five tiers profusely decorated. The main Lingam of the shrine is in a slanting position which is attributed to the fact that the Lord accepts worship from any angle.
Tirukannamangai: 35 kms. Popularly known as Kannamangai, this tiny village has an ancient temple dedicated to Krishna. Although Shiva and Muruga temples are common in south India, this rare temple of Krishna is visited by many pilgrims as it has the seven essential features of a Vaishnava shrine. Hence is called as Sapta Amrita Kshetram. The main deity is called as Bhaktavatsala. Muthuswamy Dikshitar has composed a song in praise of this deity in the rare raga Hamsauati.
Thanjavur is connected by rail as well as by an excellent road system. All the tourist spots can the visited by road as a number of buses operate in all directions. There are excellent lodges apart from the tourist department rest houses and choultries. Taxis and autorickshaws can be hired for local transport.