Renowned as the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur, located in the fertile Cauvery delta, is popular for its temples, arts, handicrafts, paintings and history. A prominent centre of rice cultivation, Thanjavur is also known by the sobriquet ‘Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu’.
The city is believed to have been named after an asura (demon) ‘Tanjan’ who was killed by Lord Vishnu. Another school of thought believes the city gets its name from ‘Than-sei-oor’, which means a place surrounded by rivers and green paddy fields. During the colonial period, the name got anglicized to ‘Tanjore’.
The city shot into prominence as the capital of the might Cholas between 11th and 14th century. During these periods, the Cholas built several temples in the city and developed Thanjavur as an important centre of art and culture. Brahadeeshwarar Temple stands testimony to the wealth and might of the Cholas. Thanjavur remained the capital of the Cholas till the construction of Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Today, Thanjavur is well-known for its agricultural activities. Rice is the main crop cultivated in the city. Due to large scale of agricultural production, the city is also called as the ‘Granary of South India’.
Though it ceased to be the capital after the end of Chola rule, Thanjavur remained an important city. The city became the capital again under the Marathas.
Remnants of Thanjavur’s historic past can be seen in the form of its grand buildings. The main attraction of the city is the Brahadeeswara temple, built in the early 11th century by Rajaraja Chola I. Thanjavur Royal palace, Saraswathi Mahal library and the Vijaynagara fort speak eloquently of the city’s past.
Thanjavur is renowned for its culture, music and art. Thiruvaiyaru, about 54 km from the city, is the birthplace of Sri Thyagaraja, the numero uno musician-composer of Carnatic music.
Thanjavur is also renowned for its paintings which originated around 1600. The city is a shopper’s paradise and is the best place to buy handloom silk and cotton saris. Paintings, bronze and brass idols and jewellery are also worth a buy.
The city has been ruled by the Nayaks, Marathas, British but it were the Cholas who developed Thanjavur into important centre of art and culture. During the regime of Rajaraja Chola, the city was divided in two parts Ullalai, which means the inner city and Parumbadi, the other city. Thanjavur was under the Cholas till the 13th century, later it was conquered by the Pandyas. The Marathas took over the city in the late 17th century from the Nayaks. The death of Raja Serfoji II in 1833 led to Thanjavur’s merger with the Madras Presidency in 1855.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation options are several in the city. One can find many budget, mid-range and luxury hotels.
WHERE TO EAT
There are many multi-cuisine restaurants in the city, which serve Indian, Chinese, continental cuisine. One should try the local South-Indian dishes, which can be found at the local food stalls in the city.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Thanjavur is during the months of October to April.
WHAT TO SEE
Brahadeeswarar Temple: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Brahadeeswarar Temple is unparalleled for its beauty and scale. Located at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is among the largest temples in the world.
Also called the ‘Rajarajeswara temple’, it was built by Chola king Raja Raja I between 985-1012 AD
Thanjavur Royal Palace: Located within the Vijaynagara fort, the palace was the residence of the Nayak kings of Thanjavur. Built in the 16th century, it later became the seat of the Maratha rulers in the 17th century. The palace has many attractions like the Nayak hall, Durbar hall, Serfoji’s Saraswati Mahal library and the arsenal tower.
Vijaynagara Fort: Located about 2 km towards the north east of Brahadeeswarar temple, the fort was built by the Nayak King Vijay Raghav but its construction was completed by the Maratha rulers. Within the fort, you find Thanjavur Palace, Sangeetha Mahal, Serfoji’s Saraswati Mahal library, Art Gallery and Siva Ganga Garden.
Our Lady of Sorrows Church: Considered to be the oldest church in the Thanjavur district, the church is also called as Viagula Madha Church. The Church is also popular for its annual car festival, which is held in the third week of September.
Schwartz Church: Thechurch was built by Raja Serfoji, the last sovereign ruler of Thanjavur, in 1779 to honour the Danish missionary Reverend Frederick Christian Schwartz. It is built from white marble and has intricate carvings depicting the final moments of Schwartz.
Saraswathi Mahal Library: Declared as the ‘most remarkable library in India’ by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Saraswathi Mahal library is one of the few medieval libraries that exist in the world today. The library consists of valuable collection of manuscripts, books, maps and paintings relating to arts, culture and literature.
Siva Ganga Garden: Located within the Vijaynagara Fort, the garden possesses a large square tank, built in the 16th century to provide water to the Thanjavur Palace. The garden as well as the tank was built by Sevappa Nayaka, the 16th century Nayak ruler of Thanjavur.
NEAR TO THANJAVUR
Thiruvaiyaru: It is popular for its association with Saint Thyagaraja who along with Muthuswamy Diskshitar and Shyama Sastri comprised the trinity of Carnatic music. The place also boasts of an old Shiva temple. One can visit the room where Saint Thyagaraj composed some of his great music; the room is located near the Shiva temple. The samadhi of the saint stands on the banks of the Kaveri river.
Poondi Matha Basilica: Located about 35 km from Thanjavur, the basilica is an important pilgrimage centre.
Papanasam: Located about 30 km from Thanjavur, Papanasam is popular for its temples. The Pallaivanatha Swamy temple built by Cholas and the 108 Sivalayam temples are noteworthy. Another attraction is the granary, 86 feet wide and 36 feet high. It had the capacity to store 3,000 kalams of rice.
Darasuram: Located about 34 km from Thanjavur, Darasuram is known for its temple built by Rajaraja Chola II. The Airateswara or Darasuram temples are the best example of 12th century Chola architecture.
Thiruvarur: Located about 55 km from Thanjavur, the place is the birth place of Saint Thyaagaraja. The Thyagarajaswami temple has the biggest temple chariot in Tamil Nadu. Every year the Arulmigu Thyagarajaswamy Car Festival is celebrated in March-April.
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Thanjavur is as given below. The best time to visit Thanjavur is also specified.