Tamil Nadu’s ancient temple town of Thanjavur is home to some of the most exquisite examples of Tamil architecture, including a World Heritage Site such as the Brihadeeswarar Temple. Steeped in history, this cultural town is popular among travellers for its magnificent temples and buildings and artistic venues. It not only was the foundation for the Dravidian civilisation but also one of the few kingdoms to expand Hinduism beyond India; from Madurai to the Mekong. What was once a capital of the great Chola empire during its heyday is today a crowded, hectic and modern Indian town – but with the charisma still intact. The nearest International Airport from Thanjavur is Tiruchirappalli International Airport, Tamil Nadu, roughly a one-hour drive from Thanjavur. The best time to visit is from October to March when the temperature goes down a bit.
Be it in the morning, when the honey-hued granite catches the morning light or in the evening when the myriad hues reds, oranges, yellows and pinks reflect on the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture – this temple is a sight to behold. The World Heritage Site – Brihadishwara Temple was built between 1003 and 1010 by Raja Raja I. The outer fortifications were later put up by Thanjavur’s Nayak and British rulers. The park at the northern end of the Brihadishwara temple compound contains the Sivaganga Tank, which too has a great historical significance.
Thanjavur’s Royal Palace is a mixed bag of ruin and renovation, superb art and spell-bounding creativity. The maze-like complex was constructed partly by the Nayaks in the 16th century and partly by a local Maratha dynasty that ruled from the 17th-19th century. The two sections you shouldn’t miss at any cost are the Saraswati Mahal Library Museum and the Art Gallery.
Opposite the palace, Kandiya Heritage is a great place to buy antiques like reproduction bronzes, brightly painted wooden horses and dolls, jewellery and old European pottery.
At the northern end of the Brihadishwara Temple compounds stands this 18th-century neoclassical Schwartz’s Church which is the oldest church in the region and is well-known for its architectural style and beautiful sculptures by a famous Italian sculptor.
Watch a Bharatnatyam concert and buy Tanjore dolls
The ancient Chola kings were known for their patronage of the arts and the region around the city played an important part in developing various art forms, including Bharatanatyam, the state dance of Tamil Nadu. Thanjavur was where Bharatanatyam was codified, and watching the art form here would be as authentic as it could get. Also, Tanjore dolls are popular for pioneering the art of making bobblehead dolls and make for great souvenirs to take back from the city.