The Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex, known locally as Aranmanai, is the official residence of the Bhonsle family who ruled over the Tanjore region from 1674 to 1855. The original name of Thanjavur Palace is Sivaganga Fort, which is rarely used these days. If you observe carefully, there is even a small moat around it which provided security against enemy access. Often mistakenly called the “Thanjavur Maratha Palace” was not built by Maratha Kings, but by Thanjavur Nayaks. However, the Marathas made some enhancements to suit their needs. It is more popularly called “Thanjavur Aranmanai” by the people of Tamil Nadu.
Thanjavur’s royal palace is a mixed bag of ruin and renovation, superb art and random royal paraphernalia. The maze-like complex was constructed partly by the Nayaks who took over Thanjavur in 1535, and partly by a local Maratha dynasty that ruled from 1676 to 1855. The two don’t-miss sections are the Saraswati Mahal Library Museum and the Art Gallery.
Seven different sections of the palace can be visited – and you’ll need three different tickets to see them all. The Art Gallery, Saraswati Mahal & Library Museum are included in the ‘full’ ticket, along with the Mahratta Darbar Hall, the bell tower, and the Saarjah Madi. The main entrance is from the north, via a lane off East Main Street. On the way in you’ll come to the main ticket office, followed by the Maratha Palace complex.
Past the ticket office, a passage to the left leads to, first, the Royal Palace Museum, a small miscellany of sculptures, weaponry, elephant bells and rajas’ headgears; second, the Maharaja Serfoji Memorial Hall, commemorating the enlightened Maratha scholar-king Serfoji II (1798–1832), with a better collection overlooking a once-splendid, now crumbling courtyard; and third, the Mahratta Darbar Hall, where Maratha rulers gave audience in a grand but faded pavilion adorned with colourful murals, including their own portraits behind the dais.