This ‘Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu’ is also the capital of art and literature of Tamil Nadu that was nourished even under the rule of Marathas and the British. The sweet smiling people of the city add to the beauty of the city along with colourful dancing dolls and shining Thanjavur paintings. This city proves to be a perfect destination for an art and architecture lover and for an explorer in search of a new haunt. It is said to have been named after a demon named “Tanoj”, who wished the town to be named after him. Reaching to this city is quite easy from any main town of Tamil Nadu. There are many amazing places to see in Thanjavur.
Best time to visit: August to October and January to March
How to reach:
- By Road: Direct buses ply from Chennai (approx. 7 hrs.), Tiruchirapalli (1 hour), Bangalore(8 hours) and Madurai (4-5 hours).
- By Rail: Regular trains run from Chennai, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Bangalore, Tiruchirapalli, Chidambaram (in case you are on a temple run in South India).
- By Air: The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli from where Thanjavur can be reached just in an hour. A car can also be rented from Tiruchirapalli to travel to the nearby places and towns.
The moment you reach to the city you will get yellow colour sharing auto-rickshaws (6 INR from the Railway Station) most of which go to the famous “Big Temple” called….
The temple is the specimen of the architectural brilliance during the rule of Chola Kings. The city’s art and architecture reached its zenith during the rule of the king Raja Raja Chola I. He built this stunning Shiva temple showcasing the Dravidian art in the very heart of this city which is at a walkable distance from the old bus stand and the new bus stand. It is one of the three Living Chola Temples. Intricately carved huge entrance on the main road will take you to the temple complex which seems to be a spiritual heaven with a 60 metre tall shrine of Shiva and the classical songs and hymns describing the glory of God. The early mornings and the evenings are the best time to visit this temple. Do not be surprised if you find any visitors singing to the Goddess in the Parvati Temple as it is a normal phenomenon to please the goddess with their sweet voice.
It is quite well maintained as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You need walk a bit to reach the main shrine. On the front-right side of the temple there is a Parvati (the wife of Shiva) Temple which has the lion pillars common in most of the South Indian Temples. Outside the Parvati temple, exactly in front of the Shiva Temple is a 13 ft tall monolith of Nandi (Bull) facing His Lord. The garden in the temple complex is quite well maintained where you can sit and gulp in a few sips of the surrounding spiritual vibes.
The main temple has the carvings of the Natraja form of Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi surrounded by their respective favourite animals, Goddess Durga, Kaali and other ornamental designs on the pillars and the outer walls of the temple. The main Sanctum has a huge 3.66 metre tall linga representing the Lord.
- Visit the temple twice; once in the early morning and after the sunset when it turns cooler and witness the wonderful silhouette of the temple.
- Sharing auto rickshaws are available from across the railway station (6 INR)
- Other option is to take the local bus from outside the Thanjavur and reach the old bus stand. From there, the temple is just a 5 minutes walk. (4 INR)
- Direct auto-rickshaw would charge you 60-70 INR. But you can always bargain for lesser charge considering that the temple is just at a distance of 1.5 km.
- Cloak room is available inside the temple premise. (10 INR per bag)
- Carry enough water and energy as you would be walking a little too much in the complex.
After taking the blessings of the Lord early in the morning, you can relax and enjoy the Sun at Shivagangai Park located right beside the temple.
The park has a lot to provide you apart from its beautiful garden and fountains. You can enjoy the cable car ride across the Shivaganga Tank or can have a toy train ride in the garden. A small swimming pool has also been made for the enjoyment of the tourists on a hot day. If none of these interests you than you can just take leisure walk in the naturally shaded avenues of the garden or can just sit and relax on the lawns. Enjoying a boat ride in the lake is another option.
As the Sun reaches over head you can move towards the old bus stand to have some delicious food.
- If your taste buds are addictive to North Indian taste, you can go to ‘Bombay Sweets’ that serves all variety of food.
- In case you would like to try the local food, Ariya Bhavan is the perfect place to binge on dosas and variety of spicy, tangy chutneys.
The immediate left after Ariya Bhavan will take you to the Palace Road. It is advisable to take an auto- rickshaw if it is too sunny. While returning, you can take a walk through the road and see the beautiful Tanjore Paintings.
Thanjavur Maratha Palace (Aranmanai)
The huge place complex comprises of a few artillery museums, a handicraft shop, Darbar Hall, Saraswati Mahal Library, Bell Tower and an ancient artifacts’ museum. It was the royal residence of the Bhonsle family, the Maratha ruler who ruled Thanjavur.
You can start with the beautiful Darbar Hall which is in a dilapidated condition, but still look beautiful with vibrant paintings on its walls, ceiling and pillars. The paintings and the wall art has Shiva family, Vishnu and other gods and goddesses as its main theme. The carvings on pillars also depict the luxurious life of the kings and their consorts in dancing posture. An old horse-cart, Thanjavur dolls and a Royal statue of a lion is also kept at the entrance to the Darbar Hall. Do not forget to take a look in the garden for the ancient stone statues of consorts and gods.
On the way to Darbar Hall you would see the entrance to the museum for which you would have pay extra. I personally feel it’s not so worth visiting. You can opt to buy certain craft articles from the handicraft exhibition cum shop.
Further, you can visit the library which is one of its kinds in the world that is open for public. The old Tamil literature has been preserved here in Bamboo manuscripts. For the convenience of the researchers and students, each leaf has been scanned and stored in the digital media library. Thousands of years old books have been preserved here and are also being translated in certain local languages for the understanding of the people. A few books about the library and its history have been put up for sale in the corridor of the library. Don’t forget to notice the colourful ceiling at the library entrance. After getting mesmerized by the excellent collections and the conservation, you can move to the art museum on the right side of the library. (You will have to ask for the direction to the art museum)
The art museum showcases the ancient stone sculptures all around its garden. You can also climb the bell tower and can have a stunning view from the top. The terrace at the bell tower showcases a carcass of a huge whale. After moving down, you can enter the bronze statue gallery that has the collection of age old bronze statues of Natraja, Ganesha, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi, other dancers, musicians and the wedding pose of Shiva-Parvati marriage. The beautiful Indian design can also been seen on the ceiling of this hall.
The entire stroll through the palce complex would at least take an hour. Be sure to arrive at the audio-visual room at 4:30 pm in the Saraswati Mahal Library for a documentary on the history, art, architecture and culture of Thanjavur. The documentary takes you through the city and its surrounding places in just half an hour.
- Timing: 9 am to 6 pm
- Entry fee: 50 INR
- Still Camera Charge: 50 INR
While moving back towards the temple, opt to walk through the palace road that has end number of art galleries. Being a tourist town, the prices might be too high but bargaining always works at tourist places.
Tanjore Art Gallary
A small shop on your right while moving towards the bus-stand sells the Thanjavur Bommai (The dancing dolls) at a reasonable price. The dancing dolls are the specialty of this town that wouldn’t fail to grab your attention. At Tanjore art gallery, you would get the same dolls with ornamental stone work on it. The dolls are made of plaster of Paris and are made in such a way that they keep on dancing with even a slightest blow of wind.
- The dolls can be bargained for 500 INR a pair. And 250 INR for a single plain doll.
- The dolls with stone work would cost you around 450-500 INR.
- These are worth buying as a souvenir of your trip to Thanjavur.
The Thanjavur paintings are famous for its gold plate work and the painted figures in between. The flat plates are hammered to engrave designs on the plates that can be filled with the paint. It is interesting to see the artists diligently engrossed in the paint work at their workshops.
Apart from these paintings, Thanjavur is also famous for its bronze production which is exported in different parts of India as well as abroad.
If you plan to extend your trip for more than day, you can plan to visit, Manor, the port fort built by the Thanjavur Marathas and the Kallanai Dam also called Grand Anicut built cross the River Kaveri. If you are on a long journey in South India, you can also visit the other Chola Temples at Kumbakonam or the famous Ranganathaswamy Temple at Sri Rangam in Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) or visit the birth place of Natraja at Chidambaram to find out ‘The Secret of Chidambaram’.
- Travelling to and from the railway station to any other town is the best mode of transportation.
- Passenger trains run from Thanjavur to nearby places in the morning as well as in the evening.
- Local transport is easily available from outside the station.
- Public transport buses to nearby towns might a bit crowded and uncomfortable.
- Remember and look out for big yellow auto-rickshaws that run on sharing bases.
- Cross the main road to get the sharing autos from the Big Temple to the Railway Stations.
- Sharing autos for the bus-stands will be available at the exit of the temple.
- Be sure as to which bus-stand you wish to reach as there are two bus stands, the old and the new.
- Traffic police or the tourist information desk outside the temple and at the Railway station are the best places to put forward your queries related to transport within and outside the town.
- If you do not know Tamil, Muslims can be approached for help as they might know Hindi/Urdu, where as English is partially understood by everyone in the town.
- The one day trip with in the city can be completed in 400-500 INR including food and excluding the travel expense to reach Thanjavur.
- Don’t forget to try the famous “Ghee Roast” (Butter Dosa) at Ariya Bhavan.
Enjoy this forgotten Chola Kingdom of the South and travel easy following the pro tips in the blog. Stay tuned to Travel Hippies…. and follow me on Instagram for the beautiful pictures of my journey.
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