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Royal Palace Museum | Thanjavur

Royal Palace Museum


The royal objects that are on display in the museum include royal clothing, headgear and hunting weapons. On the upper floor is a skeleton of a 92-feet whale that washed ashore near Tranquebar in 1955. Thanjavur Palace has the famous Saraswathi Mahal library, an art gallery and the Royal Museum with an interesting collection of artifacts, paintings, books and other memorabilia. The paintings in the Darbar Hall retell the stories from the epic Ramayana. The walls and ceilings are covered with detailed stucco figures of gods and goddesses.

Art & Bronze Gallery

Thanjavur Art Gallery, located in the Thanjavur Palace has an exquisite collection of ancient sculptures and coins. It is officially called the “Raja Raja Chola Art Gallery” and locally known as “Thanjavur Kalaikoodam”. These bronze sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses range from 9th century A.D to 19th century A.D. Some very unique deities and saints can be seen. Early Indian lifestyle, their clothing, ornaments and even hairdo are carved in these statues. Another interesting feature is the collection of old coins. Coins from as early as 300 B.C are exhibited here, which is quite astonishing.

Artifacts are placed in a hall which used to be the Kings’ royal court (Durbar Hall). The walls and the ceiling of Durbar hall are superbly ornamented with paintings and statuettes. Even the pillars and arches are decorated with fascinating scenes from Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. The highlight of the art gallery is of course, the collection of ancient bronze statues. A lot of stone sculptors and bronze idols that belong to the Chola period, Vijayanagara period and later period are found here. This section is comparatively interesting in the palace complex.

The birth of Thanjavur’s Art Gallery was by accident. When an archaeologist from Calcutta spotted a neglected idol by the riverside and wished to take it back to Calcutta Museum, locals demanded that it should stay within the district. The idol was brought and placed in the empty corridor of the palace building. The Collector decreed that all such derelict sculptures should be stored here and thus, the Art Gallery came into existence in 1951.

The high domed hall at the entrance called Pooja Mahal showcases stone sculptures, notably a Muruga idol from Sirkazhi and 12C sculptures from Darasuram Gajasamhara Siva and Bhikshatanar. On the western side of the quadrangle is Rama Chowdham, the private audience hall of the Nayaks. Built in 1600, its massive pillars are capped with stucco figures and a white statue of Maharaja Serfoji with folded arms greets every visitor.

The upper walls are so richly decorated with black and white floral designs, imperial crests, lions and angels; one might miss the real show below glass cases full of exquisite Chola bronzes. Rishabhavahana Devar or Lord Shiva as a peasant with Parvati, Subramanya holding bow and arrow, several Natarajas and Kalyanasundarar, or Lord Shiva’s marriage, is outstanding pieces.


The Thanjavur Palace is a huge complex that has many architectural features. The massive complex consists of huge halls, wide corridors, multi-storied observation towers and a shady courtyard. As you walk across, you can see that some parts of the complex are in ruins while other parts show that restoration work has been taken up to revive and protect the monument.

Another intriguing feature is the extremely narrow staircases with short steps, sharp turns and low ceilings. This was a measure to prevent enemies’ rapid advance. Cavalry advances would be impossible through the stairs, and the foot soldiers cannot climb up with great speed. The enemy foot soldiers would be easy prey to the men waiting for them above. Again: this was built as a fort, not a palace.

The State Department of Archaeology protects the important monuments in the palace complex, such as Arsenal Tower, Bell Tower, Darbar hall of the Marathas and Sadar Madi (Sarjah Madi). The Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall and the Royal Palace Museum are situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace. TheSaraswathi Mahal Library is situated with the Thanjavur palace complex.

Thanjavur Palace with its architectural beauty reflects the ‘Marathas’ and ‘Nayaks’ patronage towards art and culture. Paintings in the Darbar hall depict the scenes from epic Ramayana and stucco figures of Gods and Goddesses are well projected on the walls and ceiling.

Arsenal Tower (Gooda Gopuram)

Gooda Gopuram, the Arsenal Tower, is 192 feet height with eight storeys. It was constructed during the period of the Marathas in 1855 CE. It was used as a watchtower and an armory to store weapons and ammunition imported from European countries. After the English captured the palace in 1855 CE, all the contents were transferred to Tiruchirappalli, in 1863.

The initial building was constructed by Nayaks in 1645 with only 2 floors. The Marathas later renovated and finished the tower in 1855, and used it for various military purposes. The top floor was used as a watch tower, and the remaining floors were used to store arms and ammunition. The second floor was exclusively used for the King’s martial arts training.

A dead whale’s skull is found in this section. From this tower, one can get bird view of Brihadeeswarar Temple Vimana. Arsenal Tower is a structure, which attracts the visitors to Thanjavur even as the Tower of the Big Temple does. This Arsenal Tower is 190 feet height with eight storeys and was constructed in 1855 CE during the period of Marathas.

Bell Tower ( Maadamaaligai )

Bell tower is situated in the Northwestern side of the Arsenal Tower. This tower is also known as “the wide holed ear pavilion” to the public and designed in the style of the Gingee Nayaks. The seven-story bell tower has superb views of the Big Temple and a bird’s eye view of the city of Thanjavur.

It is also believed that Vijayaraghava Nayakkar climbed it every day at noon to worship the towers of the Srirangam Ranganatha temple, visible from the top of this tower.

Today this tower has only seven story’s though it is said to have been higher with more levels that were damaged by thunder and lightning. A research note says that there was a huge and unusual clock on the tower in which the figure of a monkey used to strike the gong every hour.

There is nothing particularly found in the Bell Tower. People use this place to climb up and get aerial view of Thanjavur city. This is another interesting building with a construction style exactly opposite to the Arsenal Tower. It looks like rectangular construction resembling the modern day skyscrapers. Maadamaaligai in Tamil describes it accurately – Rectangular Mansion.

This building is shorter than the arsenal tower and has 7 floors. It once housed a mechanical bell which rung every hour from the top. The people of Thanjavur used it as their time teller. For this reason, this building is also called as “Manikoondu”.

Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall

The Sardar Mahal is more than 175 years old and is situated north to the Krishna Vilas Tank, which is now closed. This hall was the residential palace of King Serfoji and his descendants. Performing arts like drama, dance, music and other art forms were performed at the Sadar Mahal Palace. Proof of this is evident from the Marathi Modi documents in the Saraswati Mahal library.

The eighth World Tamil Conference gave a new lease of life to these Mahals, which are now preserved by the Department of Archaeology, State Government of Tamilnadu. The arts and artefacts collected by King Serfoji are displayed in the erstwhile Residential palace of Serfoji.

This was opened to the public on 12th October 1997. This was done with the aim of showcasing the contribution of the Maratha kings to Thanjavur and to South Indian culture and literature and also to make the general public aware of their history.

The Palace was named Rajah Serfoji’ s Memorial Hall in 1997 and was registered as a trust with Srimant Tulajendra Raja P Bhosle, a descendant of Rajah Serfoji. The hall was restructured and repainted; it originally had some stucco work on the upper borders of the wall. On display are household articles, costumes, gold and silver ware, armouries, earthenware, manuscripts, wooden and ivory objects, various kinds of paintings like oil, water colour and so on.

A small garden has been developed at the place where the Krishna Vilas Tank stood. A secret underground passage located on eastern side of the Sardar Mahal, which was in use till 1855 before being closed has also been reopened to the public. Few artifacts, paintings and coins, which were collected or used by Serfoji II, are displayed in this section of the palace.

Royal Family’s Temple

A very modest temple is located on the ground floor, inside the palace. This is the Chandramoulishwarar Temple, which was constructed by the Achuthappa Nayak in 1589. The temple has a lingam on the floor with two Nandhis (Sacred Bulls) in front.

Two small decorated enclosures are kept with locked doors, suggesting some more deities may be present inside them. Royal families held their worshiping sessions here every morning.


On the ground floor of the palace, plenty of stone sculptures are placed all around. These sculptures range from 8th Century A.D to 18th Century A.D.

You can capture some very interesting details, if you have the eye for it. Most sculptures are well labeled and the most interesting carvings were done during the Chola period.

Secret Chambers

There are at least 3 hidden chambers with secret, interconnecting doors. These were used as torture chambers and to have discreet meetings. One hidden chamber, located at the base of the Arsenal tower is acoustically designed in a way that you can hear even the smallest whisper from 3 floors above.

This must have been used as a way for sending secret voice signals over multiple floors. Sadly, the Government has completely prohibited all access to these hidden chambers.

Sharjah Mahdi

Sharjah Mahdi is the Royal balcony, that is located in the eastern part of the Thanjavur Palace Complex.

The balcony has been decorated with wooden carvings.

The renovated Sharjah Mahdi is best admired from East Main Rd for its ornate balconies.

Underground Tunnel

There are two underground passages in the palace, only one of them is partially accessible by tourists.

This is a relatively short passage and the Government is renovating it as of 2014. Another secret tunnel which is a mile long connects the Brihadeeswarar temple and the palace.

It is wide enough to ride 2 horses in parallel, and was designed as a getaway route by Kings during war times.

Connectivity :

It is located at the heart of the City and located very near to the world famous Brihadeeswarar Temple. Autos and Buses are available to reach this place from Bus Stands & Railway Stations.

Airways :

The nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli airport.

Railways :

Nearest Railway Station is located at Thanjavur.

Roadways :

Maratha Palace is 950 Meters (11 Minutes) from Thanjavur old bus stand, 6.9 Kms (17 Minutes) from Thanjavur New bus stand, 58 Kms from Trichy.

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