Sunday, 17 February 2013

Tanjavur - the historical town

Carnatic Music was coded here; Bharatanatyam had its major styles developed here; a unique painting with gold originated here; Thousand year old Temple acclaimed as World Heritage Site is here; Nayaks and Marathas enjoyed their princely opulence here – Tanjavur!

Trichy to Tanjavur (Rs.35, 90min) bus reaches the new bus stand at Tanjavur. The city bus stand at the city centre is 2km away reachable by local bus. Accommodation is cheaper near the New Bus Stand, N.M.Lodge, No.928, Baskarapuram (Tel: 04362 226910, Mob: 91595 81716, dbl Rs.390) is the best value accommodation owned by a retired cop. Aarya Vilas restaurant opposite to bus stand provides excellent vegetarian dishes.

Brihadeeshwara Temple aka Big Temple: The vast temple complex displaying the architectural mastery of artisans dating back thousand years is a feast to the eyes. The enormity of the complex gave us a comfort feeling with lot of fresh air and a perfect ambience to step inside a temple with no boards stating “no entry to non-Hindus” to the main sanctum. The priest were rather welcoming and giving us the history of the temple and the idols worshipped. Two gopuras – Rajarajan Tiruvasal, Keralantka built in 1010 C.E. The sheer gigantic size of the main tower soars to 60.96m built through a corbelling system. The top portion of the gopuram does not cast a shadow that fall on the ground within the temple premises. Shiva depicted as Tripurantaka and 81 karanas (dance poses – postures of Bharatanatyam) adorn the circumambulatory. The huge Nandi statue is carved out of a single rock measuring 16ft long and 13ft high is the largest of its kind.

In the morning, with very minimal number of tourist and two girls singing wonderful Keertanas made us fall in love with not only the architecture but the temple as a whole. The evenings are magnificent with shades of sky and lit up premises but be prepared for crowds who treat this heritage site as a picnic spot.
Royal Palace and Museums: surrounded by a few schools this maze of palace, museum is undergoing a major restoration process after a long time of neglect. The Durbar hall is well kept with bronze sculptures and unique wall paintings is the main attraction. Saraswathi Mahal Library, one of the oldest libraries in Asia displays 18th century manuscripts, war reports with detailed sketches of London, Bangalore. Some of the rare books include Dr.Samuel Johnson’s dictionary from 1784, ancient maps of the world, The Madras Almanac printed in 1807 and town planning documents of Tanjavur. Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall and Royal Palace Museum house a small collection of thrones, weapons and photographs from early 19th century. A rare collection of bronze vessels and porcelain decorative items are yet to be restored by the Curator. The whole complex was built by Nayaks and Marathas.

The feminine counterpart of Brihadeeswara Temple was built by Rajendra Chola I is located at Gangaikondacholapuram, 35km north of Kumbakonam. To reach here ride a bus to Kumbakonam (Rs.22, 90min) – one of the worst roads in Tamil Nadu. Take another bus from Kumbakonam to Jayakondam and get down at Gangaikondacholapuram (Rs.15, 1-2hrs depending on your luck with the notorious one way bridge on the way). Rajendra Chola I got the name Gangaikondan due to his successful campaigns up to Ganga valley. Maintained by ASI, this temple has an octagonal tower rising up to 180ft and two deep wells within the grass lawn premises. Sphinx like lion statue leads to a well. British caused damage to this monument when engineers used the stone slabs for lower Anicut dam built across river Kollidam in the recent centuries. There is an excavation site 3km away from this temple.


There are small cottage industries in and around Tanjavur manufacturing Veena, Mrudangam supplying to most of the shops in South India. To watch how a Veena gets its finishing lines from a piece of jackfruit wood, visit Veena Narayanan’s house near Rontgen Laboratory, South Main Street – walkable distance from Big Temple.
For an enthusiast in classical dance and music, architecture, culture, history Tanjavur is a top choice, as one gets a feel of the above as well as in-depth knowledge. Tanjavur is in the list of places to be visited a second time!

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