Thanjavur, formerly Tanjore,is a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Thanjavur is an important center of South Indian religion, art, and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, are located in and around Thanjavur. The foremost among these, the Brihadeeswara Temple, is located in the centre of the city. Thanjavur is also home to Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region.
Thanjavur is the headquarters of the Thanjavur District. The city is an important agricultural centre located in the Cauvery Delta and is known as the “Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu”. Thanjavur is administered by a municipal corporation covering an area of 36.33 km2 (14.03 sq mi) and had a population of 222,943 in 2011. Roadways are the major means of transportation, while the city also has rail connectivity. The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli International Airport, located 59.6 km (37.0 mi) away from the city. The nearest seaport is Karaikal Port, which is 94 km (58 mi) away from Thanjavur.
Scholars believe the name Thanjavur is derived from Tanjan, a legendary demon in Hindu mythology. While the early history of Thanjavur remains unclear, the city first rose to prominence during the reign of Medieval Cholas when it served as the capital of the empire. After the fall of Cholas, the city was ruled by various dynasties like Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and the British Empire. It has been a part of independent India since 1947.
According to local legend, the word Thanjavur is derived from “Tanjan”, an asura (giant) in Hindu mythology who was killed in what is now Thanjavur by the Hindu god Neelamegha Perumal, a form of Vishnu.The word Thanjavur is indeed a Tamil name.”Than”-cold, “chei”-farmland, “ur”- city, a city surrounded by cold farmlands.The word “Thancheiur” has become “Thanjavur”
There are no references to Thanjavur in any of the Sangam period (third century BC to fourth century AD) Tamil records, though some scholars believe that the city has existed since that time. Kovil Venni, situated 15 miles (24 km) to the east of the city, was the site of the Battle of Venni between the Chola king Karikala and a confederacy of the Cheras and the Pandyas.The Cholas seemed to have faced an invasion of the Kalabhras in the third century AD after which the kingdom faded into obscurity. The region around present day Thanjavur was conquered by the Mutharayars during sixth century, who ruled it up to 849.
The Cholas came to prominence once more through the rise of the Medieval Chola monarch Vijayalaya (841–878) in about 850.Vijayalaya conquered Thanjavur from the Mutharayar king Elango Mutharayar and built a temple dedicated to Hindu goddess Nisumbhasudani. His son Aditya I (871–901) consolidated the hold over the city.The Rashtrakuta king Krishna II (878–914), a contemporary of the Chola king Parantaka I (907–950), claims to have conquered Thanjavur, but there are no records to support the claim. Gradually, Thanjavur became the most important city in the Chola Empire and remained its capital till the emergence of Gangaikonda Cholapuram in about 1025. During the first decade of the eleventh century, the Chola king Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014) constructed the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur. The temple is considered to be one of the best specimens of South Indian temple architecture.
When the Chola Empire began to decline in the 13th century, the Pandyas from the south invaded and captured Thanjavur twice, first during 1218–19 and then during 1230. During the second invasion, the Chola king Rajaraja III (1216–56) was set in exile and he sought the help of the Hoysala king Vira Narasimha II (1220–35) to regain Thanjavur. Thanjavur was eventually annexed along with the rest of the Chola kingdom by the Pandya king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I (1268–1308) in 1279 and the Chola kings were forced to accept the suzerainty of the Pandyas. The Pandyas ruled Thanjavur from 1279 to 1311 when their kingdom was raided and annexed by the forces of Malik Kafur (1296–1306) and Delhi Sultanate. The Sultanate extended its authority directly over the conquered regions from 1311 to 1335 and then through the semi-independent Ma’bar Sultanate from 1335 to 1378. Starting from the 1350s, the Ma’bar Sultanate was steadily absorbed into the rising Vijayanagar Empire.
Thanjavur is believed to have been conquered by Kampanna Udayar during his invasion of Srirangam between 1365 and 1371. Deva Raya’s inscription dated 1443, Thirumala’s inscription dated 1455 and Achuta Deva’s land grants dated 1532 and 1539 attest Vijayanagar’s dominance over Thanjavur. Sevappa Nayak (1532–80), the Vijayanagar viceroy of Arcot, established himself as an independent monarch in 1532 (1549, according to some sources) and founded the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom.Achuthappa Nayak (1560–1614), Raghunatha Nayak (1600–34) and Vijaya Raghava Nayak (1634–73) are some of the important rulers of the Nayak dynasty who ruled Thanjavur.Thanjavur Nayaks were notable for their patronage of literature and arts.The rule of the dynasty came to an end when Thanjavur fell to the Madurai Nayak king Chokkanatha Nayak (1662–82) in 1673.Vijaya Raghunatha Nayak, the son of Chokkanatha, was killed in a battle and Chokkanatha’s brother Alagiri Nayak (1673–75) was crowned as the ruler of the empire.
Thanjavur was successfully conquered in 1674 by Ekoji I (1675–84), the Maratha feudatory of the Nawab of Bijapur and half-brother of Shivaji (1627/30-80) of the Bhonsle dynasty. Ekoji founded the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom which ruled Thanjavur till 1855. The Marathas exercised their sovereignty over Thanjavur throughout the last quarter of the 17th and the whole of the 18th century. The Maratha rulers patronized Carnatic music. In 1787, Amar Singh, the regent of Thanjavur, deposed the minor Raja, his nephew Serfoji II (1787–93) and captured the throne. Serfoji II was restored in 1799 with the assistance of the British, who induced him to relinquish the administration of the kingdom and left him in charge of Thanjavur fort and surrounding areas. The kingdom was eventually absorbed into British India in 1855 by the Doctrine of Lapse when Shivaji II (1832–55), the last Thanjavur Maratha ruler, died without a legitimate male heir. The British referred to the city as Tanjore in their records. Five years after its annexation, the British replaced Negapatam (modern-day Nagapattinam) with Thanjavur as the seat of the district administration. Under the British, Thanjavur emerged as an important regional centre. The 1871 India census recorded a population of 52,171, making Thanjavur the third largest city in the Madras Presidency.After India’s independence, Thanjavur continued as the district headquarters.
Tourism and culture
Thanjavur is an important pilgrim centre and a major tourist destination of Tamil Nadu.South Zone Culture Centre in Thanjavur is one of the regional cultural centres established by the Government of India to preserve and promote cultural heritage of India.There were 2,002,225 Indian and 81,435 foreign tourist arrivals in 2009 to Thanjavur.The most visited monument in Thanjavur is the Brihadeeswarar Temple, whose construction, the historian Percy Brown described as “a landmark in the evolution of building art in South India”. Built in the 11th century by the Chola king Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014), the temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.The walls of the sanctum are covered with wall paintings from the Chola and Nayak periods. The temple was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is replicated in the Gangaikonda Cholesvarar Temple constructed by Raja Raja’s son Rajendra Chola I (1012–44).
The Thanjavur Maratha palace was the official residence of the Bhonsle family who ruled over the Thanjavur region from 1674 to 1855. It was originally constructed by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayak kingdom and after their fall, it served as the official residence of the Thanjavur Marathas.When most of the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom was annexed by the British Empire in 1799, the Thanjavur Marathas continued to hold sway over the palace and the surrounding fort. The southern side of the third quadrangle of the palace has 190 ft (58 m) tower like building, called the Goodagopuram.
The Saraswathi Mahal Library, established around 1700 and located in the premises of the palace, contains over 30,000 Indian and European manuscripts written on palm leaf and paper. Over eighty per cent of its manuscripts are in Sanskrit and many of them are on palm leaves. The Tamil works include treatise on medicine, and commentaries on Sangam literature. The Rajaraja Chola art gallery is located inside the palace – it has a large collection of stone and bronze images from the ninth to 12th centuries. Most of the idols present in the gallery were collected from various temples in the Thanjavur district. The Sivaganga Park is situated to the east of the Brihadeeswarar Temple and encompasses the Sivaganga Tank believed to have been built by the king Raja Raja Chola. It was created as a people’s park by the Tanjore municipality in 1871–72.It has a collection of plants, animals and birds and serves as a zoo for children within the city.
Schwartz Church, a historic monument located in the palace garden, was built in 1779 by Serfoji II as a token of affection for Rev. C.V. Schwartz of the Danish Mission.There are five museums in the city namely Archeological Museum, Tamil University Museum located with the Tamil University premises, the Saraswathi Mahal Library Museum located inside the Saraswathi Mahal, Nayak Durbar Hall Art Museum and Rajaraja Chola Museum.Raja Rajan Manimandapam is one of the tourist attractions in Thanjavur, built during the Thanjavur Tamil Conference in 1991.”Sangeetha Mahal” has a permanent handicrafts exhibition centre. Thanjavur is the cradle for many of the arts and crafts in South India.Carnatic music was codified in Thanjavur and the art flourished during the Nayak rule in the 16th century. Bharathanatyam, a classical dance form of South India, had its major styles developed in Thanjavur
Sathaya Thiruvizha is the annual birthday festival of Raja Raja Chola held during October every year.Thanjavur is the base for the Tyagaraja Aradhana, a Carnatic music festival held annually during January – February at Thiruvaiyaru, located 13 km (8.1 mi) away from the city.
Thanjavur painting is a major form of classical South Indian painting from Thanjavur. It dates back to about 1600s, the period of Nayakas of Thanjavur, who encouraged art, classical dance, music literature, both in Telugu and Tamil. The art is usually a combination of raised and painted surfaces, with the Hindu god Krishna being the most popular image depicted. In modern times, these paintings have become souvenirs of festive occasions in South India, wall decors, and collectors’ items for art lovers.