Monday, March 11, 2013

@ Thanjavur - The land of rich culture

It was 10.a.m when we reached Thanjavur, the head quarters of the Thanjavur district. Before i share my travel experience, a brief history of Thanjavur which i am proud of:

 Thanjavur which was the domain of the The Great Chola rulers is the cradle of Tamil culture . The successful Chola kings patronized art, craft, cuisine, architecture and literature during their epoch making period marking a cultural renaissance. To name a few are the famous Chola period Bronze sculptures of which is the famous dancing shiva called ‘Nataraja’. It is not news anymore how this idol fetches a huge value in the international market even today(courtesy: Subhash Kapoor). The famous dance form ‘Bharatanatyam’ originated from the temples of Thanjavur. The traditional seat of Classical music- The carnatic style also has its birth here,  The thanjavur art plates with intricate engraving and in-lay work called thanjavur thattu, the papier maiche mirror work plates, The rich art called  'Thanjavur painting' made with gold leaf and gems,  bell metal castings, the grass mats called 'Korai Paai', the musical instruments like veena, ornamental jewellery called ‘The temple jewellery’, handloom silk and cotton, the beautiful GIS bobble head dolls called ‘Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai’ , The famous Thanjavur cuisine -  all owe its origin to this civilization. No wonder, people who originate from here take pride in the fact that they are Tanjoreans.

 This district's prime occupation  is agriculture and it is famous for its agricultural activities and is rightly acclaimed as the Granary of South India. All thanks to the River Cauvery, which was channelized due to the foresightedness of a great chola king whom I mentioned here.  The criss crossing network of the river channels irrigate the paddy fields, coconut groves, mango orchards, sugarcane plantations lending its name. Apart from agriculture, it is also famous for pisciculture or marine fishes. Sadly though, of late many agricultural lands have been transformed into  industrial and residential plots due to famine and ryot problems.

The Cholas extended their territory in the north till the Ganges and in the south till Anuradhapura in Ceylon. Their epoch making 1000 year rule was taken over by the Pandyas, Khiljis, Nayaks,  the Mahrattas( son of Chattrapati Shivaji)  and then the British till 1947.

All these rulers have left their stamp of power and  genius in the  form of art, culture and architectural grandeur none of which were massively destroyed during alien invasions.

We marked our presence at some of the places. The Thanjavur palace, The Saraswathi Mahal library, the Palace Art gallery and the finest specimen of  Chola architecture - the Grand Brihadeeswara temple- a UNESCO world heritage site again which is a historian and archaeologists delight.

Our first entry was at India’s best kept secret - the Royal Saraswathi Mahal library which was on my bucket list for long. The library was formed and developed in the name of ‘Saraswati Bandar’ by the Nayak kings. The Mahratta kings later developed the library into a Royal Palace library in their palace compound. King Serfoji II ( the second son of Chattrapati Shivaji) is called the architect of the library which has some of the world’s rarest manuscripts(47,334) and personal collection of books numbering 67,233. The Encyclopedia of Brittanica hails it as the ‘most remarkable library in India’. Photography again was not allowed inside the library museum which is small but gives a glimpse of what’s store in the huge library. We missed the library due to the ‘facelift’ given to the library. But the small library museum itself housed some rare time defying treasures like  rare photographs called Daniel prints, maps of 1786 A.D( in this map Australia was marked as New Holland) and some rare paintings. It was an enriching experience. 
Check  a few pics here. Will make a photo post with the remaining pics later.

The board at the entrance to the library museum

The stats of the library at the entrance(click on it to read them)
                                               The art worked ceilings in the portico. (An elephant and cow)

                                                         The artwork @ the arched portico

                           The entrance to the Palace art gallery adjacent to the palace library

                               The mil-dewed goodagopuram called the watch tower, one can take the narrow steps above which gives a view of the city,. It has beautiful stone sculptures in the open space around. The right side is the durbal hall of  king serfoji. Actually the palace is not a palace in the true sense, it is a  huge royal mansion of the Nayak kings and later the mahrattas.

The corridor in the palace,  the palace is not maintained to be showcased. It has some secret passages which leads to the Big temple. The H and sonny boy tried entering  by going down a few steps, but it was suffocating and  not well maintained. Infact, no one dares to venture. The palace needs a huge revamp to be showcased to the world.

                         Another view of the durbal hall and the art gallery housing bronze sculptures
The artwork above the durbar seat

A statue of King Serfoji gifted by the Dutch on the durbar seat has a removable cap and scabbard. Many foreigners are in awe and fascinated by the  Indian culture and bought lot of handicrafts. There were more foreigners than Indian tourists. In the pic, you see Italian tourists from Tuscany with their guide who are on a south indian trip.

                                               These are a glimpse of the artefacts in the art gallery. There were huge Idols too.

The bell tower near the art gallery

  The Brihadeeswara temple, another UNESCO world heritage site, maintained by the ASI. This temple is  a huge mystery to archaeologists. The temple is made up of granite the strongest stone in the world. It amazes them to how they have cut and carved when there were no high precision tools 1000years ago.
                               One of the three temple towers through which you enter the temples. The rocks, the guides say were filled with water and after a long period the rocks eventually broke.

This temple recently celebrated its 1000th year. It gives you goosegumps as you run your fingers over them.

That is the main temple tower called Vimanam which is a architectural wonder made of single stone granite. The biggest wonder is the huge cap stone in the top of the big temple. The weight of the cap stone is 80 tons . It is amazing how the stone was lifted to the top when there were no high end equipments like cranes. It is said the elephants carried the stone to the top and a ramp was used.  It is constructed in such a way that the shadow of the temple gopuram does not fall on the ground. It falls on itself. Not an easy task wonder archaeologists.. 

The bull(Nandi) overlooking the shiva is supposed to be the second largest in India. 

 The huge temple has corridors on all the three sides. Alongside run shivlings like these with  high quallity paintings and inscriptions on them. The paintings explain the greatness of the Chola kings and depict many stories. It is sadly concealed behind grilled bars like these and not easily seen. The colors chosen for the paintings are still good and healthy.
The temple also has lot of secret passages and underground passages which are now closed. THe passages had lots of paintings too said the guide. The  temple was crowded unlike GKC and it was difficult to capture the temple without visitors.It has a temple elephant which blesses the visitors.
Now off to Tranquebar - my next travel post.


  1. What a rich heritage in art, architecture and culture we have got from the Chola dynasty. Amazing pictures and very interesting travelogue!

    1. The cholas and the guptas are some of the dynasties which have left a huge legacy behind, I enjoy reading about them. Thank you shilpa for the amazing adjective, coming from an ace photographer is a compliment i will cherish:)(some are clicked by me, some by family)

  2. Wonderful informative post. I had no idea about the Saraswati Mahal library. Leant much form your post, as indeed I do from every one of your travelogues. Why did Serfoji II choose Thanjavur as the site for the library, I wonder.

    The Brihadeeswara temple is, of course, a great monument and maintained very well by the ASI. Its a real treasure to visit - visiting in Mar or April sees less crowds - apparently all the mamis are busy forcing their children to study for the exams and therefore don't come !

  3. Glad you found the post informative, Ramesh. Coming from a scholar blogger like you is a huge compliment:) Serfoji II is a descendent of the Royal Mahratta Bhonsle family which ruled Thanjavur after the nayaks. Though wiki claims him as a half son of Shivaji, The hierarchy map in the Royal library museum shows him as the second son of Shivaji. Most of the collections in the library are his personal books and the library is adjacent to his royal home, that explains the site.

    LOL at the exam mania but march- april would be very hot in Thanjavur.