Travel Magazine

Thanjavur: Centre of South Indian Tradition, Art and Culture

By Rashmi Gopal Rao

The erstwhile capital of the great Chola dynasty, Thanjavur aka Tanjore is truly the embodiment of South Indian art, architecutre, culture and heritage. Located in the Cauvery basin of Tamil Nadu the town is also known as the “rice bowl” of the state. Synonomous with the world renowned Tanjore paintings, splendid temples with stunning Chola architecture and the Tanjore or Saraswati veena, Tanjore is a city where the rich legacy of the past is evident even today.


There is a lot to see and explore in the city especially for the discerning traveler. Here are my top picks of what you can do while in the city.

Brihadeshwara temple:


Literally the soul of the city, this architectural marvel is one of the finest examples of Tamil architecture during the Chola period.  Built over thousand years ago (the temple was completed in 1010 CE), it is one of the largest temples in India.  Surrounded by fortified walls, the temple tower itself is a massive 100 feet long and the monolithic Nandi (sacred bull) at the entrance is 16 feet tall!  Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is just stunning and a ‘must do’ while in the city.

View of the temple at night

Thanjavur art gallery:

The palace complex
The palace complex


A haven for art and history lovers, this gallery is housed in the Thanjavur Royal Palace that was built by the Nayaks in 1600 A.D. Established in 1951, the gallery is divided into three sections Pooja Mahal, Indira Mandir and Rama Chowdam Hall and is a treasure house of artefacts, paintings and sculptures.


Government Handicraft emporium:


While in Tanjore, do visit the handicraft emporium for the famed Tanjore paintings, hand crafted dolls and other handicrafts.  The Tanjore painting is a classic painting style that is characterized by the use of bold and  bright colors with intricate work and inlay of super thin gold foils. Reasonably priced, the showroom has some authentic collections that you can pick as gifts or souvenirs.


Local markets:

As always, my favorite in any city are the small native markets found near temples and also in the town interiors.  The local shops are a great place to pick up antiques and bronze artefacts.


Take a stroll around the streets to soak in the pulse of the town while sampling the local cuisine including the delectable “melt in your mouth” idlis and vadas.  The “mini” flower markets at the temples introduced me to some new varieties of jasmine native to the region.  Unique in appearance and in its fragrance, it is amazing to see the number of jasmine species that exist in South India!



Thanjavur is easily reachable by air, train and road. The nearest airport is at Trichy, about 55 km from the city.   Thanjavur lies at a distance of about 350 km from Chennai and 400 km from Bangalore.

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