The Tanjore (alternate city name – Thanjavur) Palace was built about 1550 by the Nayaks, and added to later by the Marathas. It is presently one of the big attractions for those who visit this ancient Chola capitol city. It features a library with over 30,000 palm leaf books and paper manuscripts, and a gallery filled with ancient statuary from the Chola period, 1000 years ago, and other cultures who ruled this ancient city. There is also one of the palace towers in which you can climb up the stairs and explore and look out on the surrounding grounds and city.
We visited this palace as a part of our tour of the southernmost parts of India, which we wrote about in this post.
As we enter the Palace grounds, we first see archways that are painted in colorful, complex designs.
This is the entrance to the Sarasvati Mahal library, where many old books are exhibited, including some of the collection of palm-leaf books and 6,000 paper manuscripts and books. The library is the result of the three hundred years of collections by the Nayak and Maratha kings. No photos were allowed in here, so we can show none of them to you. You will just need to visit yourself. I found this surprisingly interesting.
Next is the entrance to the Palace itself. Again, wonderfully painted.
Below, the doorway, with painted columns and a lotus flower light at the top.
A sign in the entrance.
The photos below show two examples of the statuary in the entrance hall:
Ayyanar, 15th century.
Rajaraja and consort, 12th century, late Chola period.
Past the entrance hall is an open courtyard, with the main tower just ahead, 190 feet high with eight stories, called the Goodagopuram. As you walk across, you can see many sections of the palace are in ruins, as well as restoration work that has been taken up to protect the monument.
On the other side of the courtyard are more statues.
On the walls above the courtyard are many well executed figures. The example in the photo below is situated above the exhibit of Nataraja bronzes, I think. You can see the Nataraja at the top.
More carving above these doorways. These are part of the original structure, still preserved.
A Goddess in a niche in the wall.
We approach the other big exhibit of stone statuary. We can see that many pieces are shown here.
Muruga, 13th century, late Chola.
Here was my favorite part of the exhibit.
A group of five Siva Ganas (Attendants of Siva) with drums, 12th century.
Bhikshatanamurti, Siva in beggar form, 12th century.
Seven Rishi Patnis, 12th century, Chola.
In the photo below, I find the two Rishi Patnis (wives of Hindu saints) on the right, one with her arm around the other, very moving somehow. I cannot really explain my reaction. I have seen nothing like it before. This seems to combine the spiritual murti with something akin to personal art, showing the easy friendship that is such a part of Tamil life.
Here is even Lord Buddha, 11th century Chola. Before the Hindu Bhakti revolution about 1000 years ago, which ended up moving Buddhism out of India, Buddhism was quite popular (as was Jainism) in South India.
Looking back at the exhibits.
We then went into the Nataraja hall, where many bronzes were shown.
Here are three Natarjas, from the 17th century, the 12th century, and the 19th century.
Two more, from the 11th, then the 12th century.
In the back of the hall is a set of full-size Natarajas.
Under Nataraja’s foot is the Demon of Forgetfulness (forgetfulness of who we are).
This 17th century Nataraja is unusual, shown in a yoga position, with one leg raised up above the head.
This is a clay burial urn. It is large enough to fit a person inside.
After we saw the exhibits, we wanted to go into the tower. Time was running out, it soon would close, so we had to hurry.
Narrow stairs led from one floor to another. There were many school boys coming down, so we had to wait to go up.
Here is a rooftop one or two stories up.
Climbing into the narrow stairway.
Looking out a window.
Inside the building. The Moorish arches show a clear Moslem influence in the design.
Looking out from the center chamber of the building.
Below is the courtyard we were just in. The Nataraja hall is to the left side, on the diagonal.
A building that looks like a Hindu temple rises out from the trees. We were not able to see this building any closer.
Here is our driver, Valen and his new wife, Sathya.
Looking down a stairway, Valen is at the bottom.
Looking down a stairway into one of the hallways.
Looking out on the grounds and courtyard.
The city spreads out. One of the towers of Brihadisvara Temple is visible in the distance.
Down more stairs.
Through another hallway, and we get out.
Here is another wall, covered with complex and beautiful designs.
At the center of this design is a group of figures surrounding Krishna.
Below these figures is a status of Raja Serfoji, who ruled from 1797 to 1832.
In one corner is a Hindu shrine, with Nandi and a lingam outside.
Sathya whispers into Nandi’s ear. This is a common thing to see. You can approach Nandi, Siva’s vahana (mount), to get a message to Siva, even when you do not feel like you can approach Siva.
Near the entrance is a poster showing “Cholaland.” Many significant temple centers are within 50 km of Tanjore. About 25 are shown on this sign.
Next to the sign were dolls that we are told are a specialty of Tanjore, clay ‘bobblehead’ figures called “Tanjore Dolls.” Four dancing figures are on the second shelf. Bobblehead Saivite men and woman are on the bottom shelf.
The Tanjore Palace was another place that seemed unusually interesting to me, with a combination of art and architecture from hundreds (to about one thousand) years ago. These are well preserved and well exhibited. Definitely worth a visit.
There is another museum that were did not visit, called the Royal museum of Tanjore. This museum has a mixed collection of manuscripts, weapons, dresses, utensils, musical instruments and other very interesting things. All these things once belonged to the royal families of Tanjore. This royal memorabilia is a real eye catcher and fascinates tourists coming to Tanjore Palace.