Thanjavur abounds in everything that is quintessentially Tamil Nadu – the folk traditions, art, music, temples, and silk sarees. The city takes every visitor by the hand to lead through its ancient streets. Every sight is familiar for this city has reinvented itself over centuries to continue being part of our culture. Not only does it ring of a glorious past, but it also speaks of the ability of age old traditions to stand the test of time. Thanjavur, the renowned Chola capital on the banks of Kaveri, beats the passage of time with the same grace that marks its music and architecture.
Music in the air
Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur is the birth place of Thyagaraja Swamy, the legendary musician who is considered as one the trinities of Carnatic music. One of the occasions for celebration in Thiruvaiyaru is the 'Thyagaraja Aradhana,' a commemorative music festival held every year in the months of January and February in honour of the great musician.
The temple architecture of South India finds one it's most breathtaking illustrations in the Brihadeeswara temple of Thanjavur. King Rajaraja Chola is credited with building the temple in 1010 AD. With an 80 ton granite kumbham on top, a huge hollow in the centre, and stones arranged around it, the technology used by the Cholas for its construction beats even the modern-day engineers. The gopuram is visible from any part of the city and the architectural marvel continues to draw tourists from around the world to this small town.
Quite flows the Kaveri
The capital of the mighty Chola empire was established in Thanjavur primarily because of the fertile land here. Sitting on the delta formed by the Kaveri river, the thriving agrarian economy fed the abundance that marked the glorious Chola age. It earned the sobriquet 'rice bowl of Tamil Nadu' because of the fertility bestowed by Kaveri. The practice of offering 'pithru tharppanam' on the banks of Kaveri in Thiruvaiyar has been going on for centuries. Every year, the Thyagaraja Smrithi Mandapam on the river bank in Thiruvaiyar witnesses the Thyagaraja aradhana which is a national festival of sorts for this city. In recent years, a recreation of the festival was prominently featured in the Vikarm-starrer blockbuster 'Anniyan.'
Thanjavur Art Gallery
The Thanjavur art gallery which forms part of the Thanjavur palace complex is a major tourist attraction. Established in 1951, the relics and artefacts belonging to the Chola age are on display at the gallery. Important structures in the palace complex include the eight-storey, 190-ft-high arsenal tower, bell tower, Darbar Hall of the Marathas, and the sarjah madi.
The city streets were once lined by artisans who made the famed Thanjavur Veena. As the years passed, musicians and instrumentalists migrated to bigger cities in pursuit of better fortunes. The city’s tradition of carving the veena out of a single piece of wood is today a handicraft fighting extinction.
The two types of veena traditionally made in Thanjavur are – Ottu veena, the parts of which are separately made and assembled into a whole and the Ekantha veena, which is carved out the entire wood of a single jack fruit tree.
Thanjavur is rich in weaving traditions too. Silk weaving attained glorious heights during the Chola age. Accounts of trade during the period mention gold and silver embroidered silk and silk piece goods from Thanjavur. The silk manufactured in the Thanjavur-Kumbhakonam region receives references in the texts of the age. The weavers of Gujarat who migrated to Thanjavur for trade honed the silk spinning into glorious finesse.
The classical South Indian painting style – Thanjavur painting – takes the name of its place of origin. It is said that the rich hues, the famed gold coating, the glass beads and the precious stones that composed the paintings were sources of light in homes in a pre-electricity era. It is considered auspicious to adorn homes with Thanjavur paintings. They continue to be coveted possessions and rank among collector's items.