Thanjavur – Cultural Capital of Tamil Nadu

The cultural and academic capital of the state of Tamil Nadu is located in the fertile Kaveri delta, and is popular for its temples, art and handicrafts and is known for its paintings and rich history. This is also a prominent centre for rice cultivation and is often also known as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. The town is famous for its Thanjavur painting, a classical south Indian painting style, which was inaugurated from this town, and spread across the adjoining and geographically contiguous Tamil Country. This art form draws its immediate resources and inspiration from the Nayaka period of Thanjavur who encouraged both classical dance and music, as well as this style of painting. Today, Tanjore paintings are highly sought after, and this art form as been both revived and combined with other styles of paintings and been recreated on different mediums.


The city is believed to have been named after an Asura, or a demon Tanjan, who was killed by Vishnu. Another school of thought attributes the nomenclature to Than-sei-oor, which means a place surrounded by rivers and green paddy fields. Eventually, it was Anglicized from Thanjavur to Tanjore.

In this city are the ochre foundation blocks of perhaps the most remarkable civilization of Dravidian history, one of the few kingdoms to expand Hinduism beyond India, bedrock for aesthetic styles that spread from Madurai to the Mekong delta in China. A dizzying historical legacy was forged in this city during its heyday. The cultural, architectural and the scholarly pursuits of these rulers are reflected in the form of great monuments like the grand Anaicut, Serfoji Mahal Library and the grand temple of Brihadesshwara. Today, it is a mid sized, crowded Indian town, but the past is still very much present. The grand Brihadeeshwara temple, where thousands worship everyday, stands a testament to the legacy of the Cholas. The tower cut out from one rock, the 13 ft lingam or the deity, with a circumference of 54 ft and a monolith Nandi or the Shiva Bull are just some of the attractions in this city. The Thanjavur labyrinthine royal palace preserves memories of many other powerful dynasties of later centuries that ruled this city. The little fort and the big fort are the two forts in this town. The Thanjavur royal palace stands within the big fort. The palace complex houses the temple of Lord Chandra Mauleeshwara. It is a grand pile of fascinating buildings, huge corridors and spacious halls. The Saraswati mahal library was established in the 16th century and exhibits unparalleled repository of cultural antiques and inexhaustible treasures. It houses some of the rarest collections of manuscripts, books, maps and paintings. There is a small museum in the library complex. The sangeetha mahal or the house of music is an acoustically perfect music hall, located within the premises of the library and is a striking example of the skills of the architects of the yesteryear. The Serforji Memorial hall, also located in the palace complex displays rare antiques possessed by the Maratha Royal family, manuscripts, weapons, royal robes and other handicrafts made out of ivory, jade, lacquer, glass, porcelain and wood, and are worth viewing.


In addition to the places of interest above, found within the town of Thanjavur, one must venture outside the small town as well, as there is much to be imbibed. The Punnai Nallur Mariamman is a Shakti (power), anointed by Lord Shiva to destroy the demon Tanjan. A temple dedicated to her is located about 10 kms outside of town. The Thirukandiyur, also located about 10 kms from the town of Thanjavur is dedicated to Lord Shiva, reincarnated as Brahma SiraKandeeswarar Temple.


Carnatic music

Thiruvalyaru, about 13 kms from town is a temple located on the banks of the river Kaveri, and this is associated with the music trinity, the saint Thyagaraj. The music saint has composed innumerable kritis, sung and researched Carnatic music and is revered by music devotees all over the world. Elaborate annual festival called Thyagaraja Aradhanai, with his pancharathna kritis is organized and the pancharantha kritis rendered by all, including some of the most popular and revered Carnatic vocalists. Thousands of ardent fans and devotees for this genre of music assemble here for this festival.

Centre for learning

The town of Thanjavur is also a center for great learning. The Tamil University was established in the year 1981 and is devoted to the cause of Tamil literature and language. It concentrates on advanced studies in Tamil literature, grammar, linguistics, religion, manuscripts, art and architecture. In addition, the town boasts to the highest population of institutes and universities and is often called as the university town, because of the high population of the students who reside here.

Express Info

Previous known as Tanjore, the headquarters of the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu is a town in the state of Tamil Nadu famous for its Chola culture and architecture.

Getting there

Air: There are no regular flights from other major cities to Thanjavur. Nearest airport is in Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, which is 48 kms away and the Pondicherry airport in Puducherry which is 138 km away.

Rail: Thanjavur is well connected by trains to most major cities in the south of India and therest of the country.

Bus: There is good road connectivity and regular buses from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pondicherry, Trichi, Coimbatore, Madurai and other major south Indian cities ply on the regular basis.

Boarding and lodging

The best months to visit Thanjavur range from autumn to spring, through winter. The summer is extreme and difficult to bear. There are hotels that cater to most budget ranges and are reasonably to very comfortable.


Local eateries serve Tamil style food, often served on Banana leaves, and is a must try. If one is looking for food one finds in the metropolis, there are several continental and multi-cuisine restaurants about town.

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