Thanjavur – Ancient Capital of Cholas

Thanjavur also called as Thanjai or Tanjore, a World Heritage Site is also called as Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu. This glorious capital was founded by Cholas to mark the victory and further expansion of Chola Kingdom till Sri Lanka and some parts of the Malaya Archipelago. Thereafter, in later part, it became the Capital for Marathas and Nayaks. The most important landmark in Thanjavur is the Great Brihadeeswara Temple also called as Big Temple (Smaller one, similar to this, is the Brihadeeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram).

By 09:00 am, I was back to the hotel at Kumbakonam after visiting the Adi Kumbeshwara Temple, checked out, took an auto to the Kumbakonam Bus Stand. Next destination was Thanjavur.

I did not book the hotel online, deciding to check on the spot. I realized my folly later. Hotels I had zeroed in were Hotel Victoriyaah & Hotel Naadi. As soon as, I reached Thanjavur Bus Stand, I took an auto to Hotel Victoriyaah. There are two bus stands in the Thanjavur, Old in the City and New one outside City. Connections to the both are good. The auto guy charged Rs. 60 and I did not have change. I asked the guy at the Hotel Victoriyaah for room, he said it was full, which was a lie, because as per local, they don’t accept on the spot booking. Also, it was off-season time. I was disappointed with them. Instantly, I booked Hotel Naadi online, for Rs. 749/-, asked the auto driver to drop me to Hotel Naadi which was near New Bus Stand. I activated the google map. On reaching the designated place, we couldn’t find the Hotel. After calling the owner many times and co-ordinating, realised, Hotel Naadi was actually a small Bungalow with no sign board. It had blown away, a day before, during thunderstorm, as mentioned by the Caretaker. The room was in a mini Apartment style and good. Families would love it.

I loved the stay though the location was bit, outside the city. I had to walk for 5 mins to reach the New Bus Stand. There was Hotel Annapurna, had a Vegetarian (Thali) Meal, took the bus to Old Bus Stand. Since, it was 2:00 PM, I decided to check the Tanjavur Palace Complex first. Because, the temples are usually closed during afternoon from 12:30 PM – 4:00 PM

I walked following the Google map, since it showed 1 km to Palace Complex from Old Bus Stand. Rain started drizzling, all the places, I had visited in this Trip, rain accompanied me everywhere. Thankfully, it didn’t play spoilsport though, managed to keep the crowd to minimum. It was wise decision to carry an umbrella. On the way, saw few shops selling Thanjavur Dolls. I decided to check them out later, while returning.

Entry Ticket was for Rs. 50/- as well as extra Rs. 50/- for Photography. The Saraswati Library Museum, Artillery Museum, Handicraft Shop, Maratha Durbar Hall, Art & Bronze Museum and Bell Tower with Whale Skeleton are all placed within the Palace Complex. It was the royal residence of the Bhonsle Family, the Maratha Ruler who ruled Thanjavur.

Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji’s Saraswathi Mahal Library is one of the oldest Medieval Manuscript Library in Asia. It started as a Royal Library, with access only to the Nayak Kings, during their reign. Later, the Marathas captured Thanjavur in 1675. They developed the Royal Palace Library till 1855. Notably, Serfoji II (1798-1832) was an eminent scholar in many branches of Learning and Arts.

Once, you enter the Complex, you will come across a beautifully painted building. The picture of Rishabha Kunjavaram is painted on the roof. You have to pass the security and Photography is restricted once inside the Library Museum.

As per their website, This Library Museum is organised into different sections highlighting ancient Manuscripts, Illustrated Manuscripts, Printed copies of the Original Drawings, Atlases, Thanjavur- style Paper Paintings, Canvass Paintings, Wooden Paintings, Glass paintings, Portraits of the Thanjavur Maratha kings, and the Physiognomy charts of Charles Le-Brun.

The Library has wide collection ranging from rare collection of Palm leaf & Paper manuscripts almost 49,000. Manuscripts are in various languages like Tamil, Sanskrit, Marathi, Telugu and Manipravalam (Lilatilakam, a fourteenth- century text, was written in this language. It literally means “diamonds and corals” and consists of two languages- both Sanskrit and the regional language). There are many ancient books on Medicine, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, ancient scrolls, Paintings, a book published in 1804 CE explaining the spine chilling punishments given by the Chinese Government during those days, Painting of Humans, Animals and Birds. A very vivid and diverse collection can be seen here. As per the survey conducted by Encyclopedia Britannica, this Library has been voted as “Most remarkable library in India”. True to this, the collection amazed my curiosity level hoping to visit it again, in future and spend an entire day, rather than 30 minutes, which I spent now.

Collections in the Library as per various online materials read are-

  1. Around 39,300 manuscripts in Sanskrit written in scripts such as Grantha, Devanagiri, Nandinagari and Telugu.
  2. Over 35,00,000 Tamil Titles in Literature, Music and Medicine.
  3. 3076 Marathi Manuscripts written mostly on Paper by South Indian Maharashtrians of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
  4. Around 846 Palm Leaf Manuscripts in Telugu
  5. 22 Persian and Urdu Manuscripts written mostly in 19th Century.
  6. Medical records of Ayurveda Scholars, patient case studies and interviews.

After the brief rendezvous with amazing Museum, I was totally overwhelmed, I can only imagine, the amount of vast knowledge these Libraries store, only if you can grasp the whole content in your lifetime.

Later, I moved towards the Watch Tower area. There is a Maratha Durbar Hall with huge Tanjore Painting of Rama Pattabhishekam, other paintings of Ganesha & Lakshmi, miniature paintings of various Tanjore Maratha Kings, two big Portrait of Serfoji II, statue of Goddess Parvati.

Moving ahead, there is a Art and Bronze Gallery, wherein you will find different Galleries dedicated to Nataraja and Amman in Brass, early Indian Lifestyle, Ancient Coins and various bronze statues belonging to Chola Period.

The pillars and arches are decorated with Ramayana and Mahabharata stories. The Nataraja Museum actually thrilled me. After the Chidambaram visit, I was happy to see so many Natarajas under one roof.

Adjacent to that was another museum of Indian lifestyle and other art. I was clicking the photographs when the lady asked me to go to Watch Tower to see the Skeleton of Baleen Whale, since it would close down by 05:30 pm.

I dashed off towards the Tower. Baleen Whale Skeleton is almost 92 feet and is located in the Arsenal Tower. The whale washed ashore in the year 1955 on the Tranquebar beach. There is a information board with details for identification.

After visiting the whale skeleton, I came down to see the remaining sculptures. The ground floor had lots of Art to view.

I finished the Complex by 05:30 PM. On the way back, I stopped at a small shop selling Thanjavur Dolls. Bought a pair of them for Rs. 700. It was bit costly. Other shops quoted more than that.

I took an auto (Rs.50 – one way) to Brihadeshwara Temple directly outside the Shop, I was very tired, I could feel light fever creeping in, I was about to skip it and see it next morning as per the original plan, but the hectic idea of travelling to & fro from Hotel (located outside city) in the early morning made me, go for it. The auto driver left me at the left entrance of the Temple instead of the main gate. Hence, I missed the main Gopuram at start. There is a shoe stand to keep the your shoes safely. It was drizzling a bit, but luckily stopped. One of the magnanimous temple.

Brihadeeswara Temple or the Big Temple also called as Peruvudaiyar Kovil or Periya Kovil is epitome of architectural brilliance showcasing the might of the Chola Rulers during that era. One glance at the entrance Gopuram called as Rajarajantiruvasal, you can judge the magnanimity of structure.

The huge Dwarpalas welcome you on both sides,of the Gopuram. This magnificent Temple was built by Emperor Rajaraja Chola I in 1010 AD, under whom the Chola dynasty spread its wing afar. It is one of the three living Chola Temples (other being the Brihadeesvara at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara at Darasuram). I was glad, I visited all three in this trip.

Beyond the main Gopuram, there is 33,000 sq.ft. temple complex. First is the Nandi Mandapam, where 12 foot tall monolithic intricately carved Nandi sits. Being evening, the place was bit crowded. At the temple entrance, again the Dwarpalas greet you.

There is front Mandapam (as per the inscriptions known as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam), Antarala and Garbagriha. The Garbagriha has huge 3.66 metre tall Shivalinga with a circumambulatory path called Pradakshina around it.

The temple walls are decorated with intricate Mural Paintings. The second storey around the Garbagriha has Eighty-one of the one hundred and eight karanas or poses of Bharatanatyam.

This Dravidian temple has 216 feet in height 13 -tier Vimana. The Shikhara is huge and weighs around 80 ton. It is said that the shadow of the Shikara never falls on the ground.

The Vimana is intricately carved with God and Goddesses. The Temple inside and out including the pillars are carved ornately with Nataraja, Durga Vishnu, Laxmi, Ganesha, their favourite animals and 63 Nayanmars throughout.

The temple complex has other temples. Brihannayaki (Parvati) Temple built by the Nayaks. It has lion pillars which is found in most of the south Indian temples.

There is also Subrahmanya Temple built during the Vijayanagara period and Ganesha Temple by the Maratha rulers.

I walked back with heavy heart hoping to spend more time. It was already 7 PM, I had to go back, because I had to walk alone from New Bus Stand to Hotel.

I went to the stop after crossing over the bridge, waited for bus to drop me to the New Bus Stand. Walked the way back to hotel, halting for dinner, had Onion Uthappa.

I had ignored the fever during the temple visit, hoping it would subside down. My next stop was Trichy. Thanjavur, I am coming again and this time will spend a more than a day exploring this amazing “Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu”

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