Thanjavur: Treasure trove of Tamil heritage

Cultural circuit in Chola capital


July 9, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Thanjavur: Treasure trove of Tamil heritage

One of the largest temples in India of Lord Shiva is located on the banks of the Kaveri River (Cauvery) in Thanjavur (MIG photos)

Thanjavur, the capital of the Chola dynasty is one of the important cities in Tamil Nadu renowned for its rich heritage, dating back to the 11th century, as well as its art, architecture and the city boasts of its own, unique style of painting. Over 1,000 years later, Thanjavur remains a strong magnet for tourists seeking to experience one of the richest cultural sites in India.

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Thanjavur was built by the great Chola emperor Rajaraja I, who reigned over vast tracts of not just India but also South East Asia, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The splendour of his era can be seen even today in Thanjavur where the ensemble of Chola heritage remains intact and bears witness to the importance attached to arts and crafts by one of the greatest rulers in India. Here are a few marvels of Thanjavur:

Brihadishwara Temple

Brihadishwara temple, also known as Thanjai Periya Kovil (Tanjore big temple) as well as Rajarajeshwaram was built by Raja Raja Chola I, in 1010 AD to signify Chola Empire’s strength and wealth as well as patronage of art. One of the largest temples in India of Lord Shiva, it is located on the banks of the Kaveri River (Cauvery) in Thanjavur. The massive temple complex has several mini temples inside. The sanctum occupies centre of the rear half the rectangular court and its sanctum tower or vimana rises to 59.8 m. In a fine display of Thanjavur’s style of painting, the temple walls have expansive murals and its walls have carvings depicting 81 karanas.

Brihadishwara is one of the three large temples built in the 11 and 12 centuries by Rajaraja-I and his descendants. Surprisingly, even after over 1,100 years, the temples retain the entirety of their beauty and are living temples where regular prayers are conducted every day. In 1987, all three temples, Brihadishwara, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram, were named as World Heritage sites by UNESCO and labelled the Great Living Chola Temples. “The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting,” says UNESCO.

The massive temple complex has several mini temples inside (MIG photos)

“Each and every sculpture has uniqueness, it mesmerises me to think about the artists, how creative and perfectly they had built it,” says Abhitha, 22-year-old student in Thanjavur.

“The biggest marvel here is the kumbam or pinnacle, which weighs 80 tonnes, I still wonder such a heavy stone was lifted and put so high in those days,” she adds.

Another wonder at the temple, Abhitha says, is an idol of the Nandi bull, also carved from a single rock, and that is about 4 m high and 5 m long. “I was told that the names of all the artisans who were involved in the construction of this temple have also been craved on a wall here,” she says.

Besides the Brihadishvara temple, Thanjavur has many other places that can be of immense interest to any visitor.

Royal Palace Museum

There are two underground paths at the Royal Palace Museum (MIG photos)

Also known as Maratha Palace, this museum includes ancient sculpture, coins, royal clothing, hunting weapons, ornaments, artifacts and many more unique and rare objects on display. “There were lot of different types of idols which were very different from one another, and the sculptures were amazing. There is also a 28-m long skeleton of a Whalebone Whale which had  washed ashore in 1955 at Tharangampadi beach,” says Abhitha. “It is an interesting place to visit, but it’s not well preserved. Many sculptures were cracked too,” she says.

There are also two underground paths here, one short and the other long. Visitors can explore the shorter path. “I went inside the shorter path with my brother, due to our curiosity. It was completely dark and many bats and rats had made it their home. The longer path connects the Maratha Palace to Brihadishvara temple and was used by the kings during wars,” Abhitha tells Media India Group.

Sarasvati Mahal Library

Sarasvati Mahal library, also known as Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati library, is one of the oldest libraries in India. It has several texts of the medieval period as well as a rare collection of palm leaf manuscripts, paper written in Tamil, Sanskrit, Marathi and a few other languages. Though there are many collections, only a few are on display. The library’s walls are decorated with beautiful paintings depicting scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. Unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed due to poor upkeep of the museum.

The library also houses old and rare collection of ancient books on medicine, ancient Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Sanskrit texts. Not only books, it also contains, maps and manuscripts.

Tamil University museum

Thanjavur painting is the unique and classical painting style of South India (MIG photos)

The museum of Tamil University has a rare collection of artifacts, inscriptions and paintings. It boasts of a unique collection of over 3,000 objects, related to crafts, arts and material dating back to era of the ancient Tamil dynasties of Chola and Pallava that depict the luxurious lives lived by these mighty kings. “There were lots of cultural objects, tools of making bread, ancient Dravidian burial urns, inscription on stone in different languages, coins, sculpture, paintings, utensils and much more and it is the best place to understand our history,” says Abhinaya. Archaeology students and students interested in history will specially enjoy this place, she adds.

There are many other places of interest in Thanjavur, like Shiva Ganga Garden, Thanjai Manmani Kovil and the Apatsahayesvarar temple.

Thanjavur painting is the unique and classical painting style of South India. The unique colour scheme, decorative jewellery with stones and cut glasses and remarkable gold leaf work. The use of gold leaf and precious and semi-precious stones make the painting more beautiful and attracts the visitors. Most of these artists are practising this art form from more than four-five generation.



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