Brihadeshwara Temple is a major example of the amazing progress made by the Cholas in Tamil architecture. Dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, it is India’s largest temple and the world's first temple structure built completely in granite.
The grandeur and the sheer scale of serenity emanating from the temple, coupled with its architectural brilliance has resulted in it being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site's ‘Greatest Living Chola Temples’.
It was built by Rajaraja Chola - I. Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, the Brihadeshwara Temple houses a statue of a Nandi Bull, considered sacred among Hindus. It is believed to have been created from a single rock piece and is said to weigh 25 tonnes.
In the month of May, the annual festival is held within the Temple. During the course of the festival, the deity is soaked with the aromatic Champaka flower and bathed in water.
The Vijayanagar Fort is situated about 2 km to the north east of the Big Temple or the Brahadeeswara. The Nayaks and the Maratha rulers are responsible for its construction in separate undertakings during the middle part of the 16th century AD.
The Tanjavur Palace, the Sangeetha Mahal, the Tanjavur Art Gallery, the Siva Ganga Garden and the Saraswathi Mahal Library are all housed inside the fort. The purpose behind building the Fort was to safeguard the palace against enemies and intruders. Most of the fort is in ruins now, and part of it is open to the general public as an attraction.
Tourists interested in art, architecture and history are advised to visit the fort and the other attractions that are nestled inside of it, preferably over the course of half a day so as to not miss anything of significance.
The Saraswathi Mahal Library of Thanjavur is one of the oldest of its kind in Asia and boasts of an exceptional collection of manuscripts on palm leaf and paper books written in a multitude of languages including Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Marathi and English.
The Saraswathi Mahal Library was started as the Royal Library of the Nayak Kings who ruled from 1535-1675 AD. The Maratha Kings soon gained control of Thanjavur and under Serfoji-II (1798-1832), the library flourished.
Since 1918, the library has been under the control of the state of Tamil Nadu. The library is open to the public and computerization of library activities was started in 1998. Rare works such as the Madras Almanac printed in 1807, and the pictorial Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1791 are housed in the library.
A museum is also located in the library building in order to spread awareness regarding the importance of the library to the masses.
The Art Gallery in Thanjavur was built in 1600 AD and is home to a wide variety of figures and paintings from South India. It is located in the Thanjavur Palace and is an architectural wonder in its own right.
The Thanjavur Art Gallery is widely renowned for a huge range of artifacts, relics and bronze images that reflect the prominent artistic awareness that existed during the period from 9th to 12th centuries. Many of these have been brought from the numerous temples in the district of Thanjavur.
Some of these relics were buried earlier due to fear of theft. The Gallery is divided into three sections, namely Indira Mandir, Pooja Mahal and Rama Chowdam Hall. The Pooja Mahal displays stone sculptures, the Indira Mandir houses arsenal and various forms of God in stone while the Rama Chowdam Hall has a collection of idols and images in bronze.
Sangeetha Mahal or the Hall of Music is a must-see place for tourists who visit Thanjavur. It is located in the Thanjavur Palace on the first floor. It was built in the early part of the 17th century during the rule of Sevappa Nayak, a Nayak king.
In the times of Chola and Nayak rulers, the Sangeetha Mahal was used as a place for performances by various musicians and dancers. It is a lasting symbol of the excellent craftsmanship exhibited by the builders and architects of the period.
The perfect acoustics of the musical hall are guaranteed to leave many a visitor in a contemplative mood as it pertains to the supreme knowledge possessed by those who designed it.
In its heyday, music contests between great musicians of the time used to be held in the hall. The Sangeetha Mahal now houses handicrafts exhibitions where the local fare from artisans is on display.
Manora Fort is located about 65 km away from Thanjavur, and was built by Serfoji-II, the Maratha King during the years 1814-1815. Its construction was to commemorate the British advance that proved successful against the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Consisting of eight stories, it is a hexagonal tower that stands at 23 m in height.
The word ‘Manora’ is derived from ‘Minaret’. In the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the fort was damaged but the structure has been renovated since then, and several other facilities such as a tourist’s shed and an upgraded children’s park have been added.
An unsubstantiated legend exists along the lines that the Fort used to overlook a part of Sri Lanka and trade used to flourish at the fort. It is also rumored that the King might have hidden some treasure within the mazes and a lot of damage has been sustained as a result of the locals searching for it.
Schwartz Church was constructed by Raja Serfoji, the Chola King, in 1779 AD. Seated in the Thanjavur Palace Garden, it was constructed by the King in an effort to show his fondness and respect for the Danish Missionary, Reverend Frederick Christian Schwartz.
Schwartz Church is still seen as a sign of open-mindedness and tolerance by Chola rulers towards various religious beliefs. In the Church, there is a monument or the tablet executed by John Flaxman on the orders of the Raja of Thanjavur that shows the King holding the hand of the dying missionary whilst receiving his blessing.
The monument is in white marble and is a popular attraction for tourists. A legacy of Thanjavur’s colonial past, Schwartz Church continues to be cited as an important shrine by believers of the Christian Faith of the God’s work being carried across the seas by those entrusted with it.
The Lord Murugan Temple (also known as the Swaminathaswamy Temple) is built on an artificial hill at an elevation. A flight of 60 steps leads up to the temple, based on the longstanding Hindu conviction of being in line with the average life span of a human being, which is 60 years.
The Temple has three floors and access to the higher floors is available by means of a rather steep staircase. On the topmost floor, the sanctum sanctorum is located. If one wants to do ‘Abhishekham’, they are taken into the inner sanctorum. The Abhishekham lasts for about 60 minutes during which hymns are sung and different gifts are offered to the Lord.
The middle segment is a walk around the temple. The lowest comprises of Temples of Lord Shiva. Accommodation and food are also provided by the temple, or one can opt for the many restaurants around the divine building.
The Punnainallur Mariamman Temple is a famous Hindu Temple situated at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Legend has it that Mariamman appeared in a dream of the then King Venkoji Maharaja Chatrapati and indicated that her idol form was situated in a forest of Punna trees, about 3 km away from Thanjavur.
Upon reaching the place and recovering the idol, a temple was constructed by the King at the very spot and the idol was installed. This is how the deity of the temple came to be known as Punnainallur Mariamman.
Another legend surrounding the Temple is of how the Goddess cures those who worship her of all bodily ailments. The daughter of Tulaja Raja, who was king of Thanjavur for a period in the early 18th century, was blinded by an illness, and it is believed that upon offering prayers at the temple, she regained her vision.