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Places to Visit in Thanjavur: Where India’s Ancient History Comes to Life

Brihadeeswarar Temple

Thanjuvar, one of the most ancient temple towns in Tamil Nadu, is visited by people from all across the globe. It is a city which is known for its cultural legacy. Thanjuvar is located in Tamil Nadu and this place includes a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some of the architectural masterpieces that defined ancient India. The city is home to some gorgeously carved temples, ancient libraries, impressive museums and art galleries. There are a lot of things to do and places to see in Thanjuvar.

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Top 13 Places To Visit In Thanjavur

  1. Brihadeeswarar Temple
  2. Gangaikonda Cholapuram
  3. The Vijayanagar Fort
  4. Thirukandiyur
  5. Adi Kumbeswarar Temple
  6. Airavatesvara Temple
  7. Siva Ganga Garden
  8. Thanjavur Palace
  9. Kumbakonam
  10. Manora Fort
  11. Our Lady of Sorrows Church
  12. Poondi Matha Kovil
  13. Poompuhar

1. Brihadeeswarar Temple

Brihadeeswarar temple is noted as one of the holiest temples of our nation. This temple is also a popular landmark of Thajavur. It was built in the late 11th century and is the masterpiece of Chola architecture. The Brihadeeswarar temple is also addressed as Peruvudajyar Kovil or even as Periya Kovil. The first thing that will captivate your attention is the visual grandeur. Devotees of Lord Shiva visit Brihadeeswarar temple from all over the world. Being a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also popularly known as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples. The complex is spread over 33,000 sq ft. Once you enter the temple, you will be spellbound by the intricately carves Nandi Mandapa. The walls inside the temple are surrounded by beautiful corridors and they were built to provide shelter to small shrines. The temple is made with hard sandstone which is hardly available in Thanjavur area. You can visit the temple in between 7 AM to 12 noon and again from 4 PM to 8.30 PM. If you enjoy seeing architectural wonders, then you must visit Brihadeeswarar temple.

2. Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

If you are wondering about the other tourist attractions in Thanjavur and another architectural marvel to visit in Thanjuvar, then you must visit Gangaikonda Cholapuram for sure. This beautiful and historically relevant piece of architecture was the capital city of Chola Empire and they kept it as their capital for about more than two centuries. This palace was built as a victory over the Pala dynasty by a Chola King. The Chola King Rajendra along with his son King Rajendra, decided to build this palace in the city. Today, this palace has turned into a Shiva temple and is surrounded by a small village.

3. The Vijayanagar Fort

At just a distance of 2 km from Brihadeeswarar Temple lies the stunning Vijayanagar Fort. This fort was built by the Nayaks in the period of 1550 AD. This fort has a Sangeetha Mahal, Tanjore Palace, library, and also an art gallery. Most parts of this fort are in ruins, but nevertheless, it is worth visiting Vijayanagar Fort once and it is one of the best places to see in Thanjavur.

4. Thirukandiyur

Thirukandiyur is a temple town located 12 km from Thanjavur. The main tourist attraction of Thirukandiyur is the Temple of Hara Sapavimochana Kandeswarar. This temple is considered to be one of the 108 Divyadesams. This temple is an excellent specimen of Dravidian style of architecture and was built by the Emperor Mahabali.

5. Adi Kumbeswarar Temple

Adi Kumbeswarar Temple

The Adi Kumbeswarar Temple is one of the holy 127 temples on the banks of the river Cauvery. The presiding deity is ‘Adhikumbheswara’ and the consort is called ‘Mangalambhika’. The largest Shiva temple in Kumbakonam has a unique attraction, which is the Lingam of the temple that is said to have been created by Lord Shiva himself. This temple is also the site of the Mahamaham festival which takes place every 12 years during the Tamil month of Masi. Devotees flock by the thousands to the temple to get blessed.

6. Airavatesvara Temple

Airavatesvara Temple

Airavatesvara temple is one of the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu and is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites and part of the Great Living Chola temples which include the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur and the temple of Gangaikonda Cholisvaram at Gangaikonda Cholapuram.

Built in the 12th century A.D., this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is famous for its famous 85 metre high chariot. The famous idols are Indra, Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Brhama, Vishnu, Surya, Saptamatrikas – Durga, Ganga Yamuna, Saraswati, Ganesha and a special idol of Periyachi Amman. Your visit to Thanjavur will be incomplete without visiting this most favoured of tourist attractions.

7. Siva Ganga Garden

A relic from the times of the Nayaka dynasty in the city, Siva Ganga Garden is one of the best tourist attractions in Thanjavur. Located in the middle of the city, this is a 16th century square tank that used to serve as the water resource for the palace back in the day.

The garden has a playing area for children, a pond for boat riding and all of this is nestled amidst the green environment here. Apart from this, there is also a small toy train here that offers joy rides to all. Enjoy a day out here in the midst of greenery.

8. Thanjavur Palace

Thanjavur Palace

Thanjavur Palace is undeniably one of the prime tourist attractions of Thanjavur and is a place steeped in history.  Constructed partially by the Thanjavur Nayaks in 1550 AD, it later on acted as the residence of the Marathas from 1674 to 1855. The palace is noted for its grandiose structure.

Divided into two parts – one part houses the Sarawathi Mahal Library, Royal Museum, Maratha Darbar Hall and Sangeetha Mahal. The second part constructed during the Nayak rule consists of Goodagopuram, Manimandapam and Art Gallery.

The gallery houses a collection of precious bronze icons, stone sculptures and other artefacts. Durbar Hall, which is a part of the gallery, houses beautiful paintings and murals on the walls and the ceilings.

Most of the artworks in the gallery belong to the Chola period from 9th to the 13th century, and the post-Chola period from the 17th to the 18th centuries A.D. The gallery also houses a few Pallava paintings and a collection of Tanjore glass paintings.

Also, not to be missed is the bell tower which is an eight-story structure used as a watch tower. The tower offers excellent views of the entire Thanjavur town and is one of the best places to see in Thanjavur.

Another place within the palace premises that should not be missed is the Saraswati Mahal Library which is home to some of the most important oriental manuscripts in India. The library was established in 1700 A.D. and contains over 44000 paper and palm leaf manuscripts in Indian and European languages. More than 80 per cent of the manuscripts are in Sanskrit and many of them are on palm leaves, and are very rare. The Tamil works include works on medicine and commentaries on the literature from the Sangam period.

9. Kumbakonam

At a distance of 43 km from Thanjavur lies the temple town of Kumbakonam which is definitely one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thanjavur. Kumbakonam has existed since the Sangam ages and is thus an ancient place which is famous today for its temples and mutts (monasteries). During the British reign, it was at its zenith as a centre for European education and Hindu culture. It was called the Cambridge of South India at the time.

Today, there are 188 Hindu temples within the municipal area of Kumbakonam. Apart from the Adi Kumbeswarar temple mentioned above, there are temples such as Nageswaraswamy temple and Kasi Viswanathar temple which are Shiva temples. Sarangapani temple is the largest Vaishnanva temple here.

There are also quite a few mutts in Kumbakonam. Prominent among them are the Sri Sankara mutt of Kanchipuram, two Vellalar mutts and a Raghavendra mutt. Apart from these religious centres, the town is also famous for its Panchaloha idols, silk products, brass and metal goods.

10. Manora Fort

Manora Fort was built during 1814 -1815 by the Maratha ruler Serfoji but at the behest of the British who built the fort as a symbol of victory of the English over Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Waterloo. There is an inscription about this event in the ruins of the fort even today.

The fort is 23 metre high and it served the dual purpose of being a lighthouse as well as a royal residence. The fort overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Though time and weather have left their imprint on the fort, it is one of the best places to see in Thanjavur.

11. Our Lady of Sorrows Church

This is another of the prominent tourist attractions to see in Thanjavur. The Our Lady of Sorrows church is also known as the Viagula Madha church and is the oldest church in Thanjavur district. It is famous for the annual car festival that is held every year in the month of September. People from all religions and walks of life celebrate this festival with great joy and splendour. This church is one of the prominent symbols of harmony in Thanjavur.

12. Poondi Matha Kovil

Another church that attracts pilgrims from across India, Poondi Matha Kovil or the Church of Mary Queen of Immaculate Conception, was built by the great Jesuit missionary of the 18th century, Rev.Fr. Constantine Joseph Beschi.

The church is at a distance of 33 km from Thanjavur and although a catholic centre, it attracts people from all over the country, irrespective of faith. Pooni Matha Kovil was given the status of Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1999.

13. Poompuhar

Poompuhar was once the capital and port city of the Cholas. According to legend, Kovalan and Kannagi from the great epic “Silappathikaram” lived in this town.

An unmissable tourist attraction and one of the best places to visit here is the Silappathikara Art Gallery which is a dream come true for any art lover. Scenes from Silappadikaram are depicted on the walls of the gallery here with “Silappathikara Kalaikkodam”, which is a group of sculptures. These sculptures have been crafted by sculptors from the Mamallapuram Art College and are a great symbol of Tamil culture.

Another place to visit is the Masilamani Nathar Koil temple which was built in 1305 by Maravarma Kulasekara Pandiyan and despite being in a state of ruin, manages to capture the attention of tourists with its architectural richness.

The Danish history of the town can also be seen in the fragments of Danish buildings such as the Danish Fort and the Danish Governor Bungalow. The Fort was built in 1620 and is home to the Archaeological department today, where a museum is also housed. The Danish Governor Bungalow is used by the Tamil Nadu Tourism department and used to be home to the Danish governor in 1784.

Final words

Thanjavur is one of the gems of Indian culture that has managed to capture the attention of the world despite its relatively small geographical size. Any narrative of Indian history and culture will remain incomplete without the mention of this ancient city that still acts as a cultural magnet of India. A visit to Thanjavur is a must for any cultural aficionado or anyone passionate about the past. Easily accessible from all major cities in Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur is best visited between the months of November and March. Have a great time here unearthing the hidden gems of India’s ancient history.

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