The cultural capital of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur is located in the fertile Cauvery delta and is just as popular for its temples, arts and handicrafts as it is known for its paintings and rich history. Thanjavur is also a prominent center for rice cultivation and is therefore called the ‘Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu’.
Intriguingly, the city is believed to have been named after an asura (or a demon) Tanjan who was killed by Vishnu. Another school of thought believes the city gets its name from Than-sei-oor, which means a place surrounded by rivers and green paddy fields. Eventually, the name was anglicized to Tanjore.
The city shot into prominence as the capital of the mighty Cholas between 11th and 14th century. During this period, the Cholas built several temples and developed Thanjavur as an important center of art and culture. Brahadeeswarar Temple stands testimony to the wealth and might of the Cholas. Thanjavur remained the capital of the Cholas till the construction of Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Though it ceased to be the capital after the end of Chola rule, Thanjavur remained an important city. The city became a capital again under the Marathas. Remnants of Thanjavur’s historic past can be seen in its grand buildings. The main attraction of the city is the Brahadeeswarar temple, built in the early 11th century by Rajaraja Chola I. Thanjavur Royal Palace, Saraswathi Mahal library and the Vijaynagara fort speak eloquently of the city’s past.
Thanjavur’s culture, music and art are renowned over the world. Thiruvaiyaru, about 54 km from the city, is the birthplace of Sri Thyagaraja, the legendary musician- composer of Carnatic music. The Thanjavur school of art originated around 1600.
The city is a shopper’s paradise and is the best place to buy handloom silk and cotton saris as well as paintings, bronze, brass idols and jewelry.
Thanjavur was under the Cholas till the 13th century, later it was conquered by the Pandyas. The Marathas took over the city in the late 17th century from the Nayaks. The death of Raja Serfoji II in 1833 led to Thanjavur’s merger with the Madras Presidency in 1855.
Over centuries, the reins of Thanjavur changed several hands but it was the Cholas who really took it to great heights of glory and the several monuments scattered around the city are a constant reminder of that.