Tamil Nadu · Travel

Thanjavur: centre of South Indian tradition, art and culture

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.

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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! Read about some of them here and here.



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.

33 thoughts on “Thanjavur: centre of South Indian tradition, art and culture

  1. Rashmi, a beautiful post on temple town of Tanjavur..I have lived in Tanjavur for couple of years during the period 1995-1998 and fell in love with the magnificent Peria kovil as Brihadeeshwara temple is called. It is an architectural marvel and the mammoth monolithic Nandi is breathtaking.
    Quoting wikipedia…
    A widely held belief is that the shadow of the Vimana never falls on the ground. However, several photographs exist showing the shadow on the ground, which I have not seen.. The temple is said to be made up of about 60,000 tons of granite. The capstone itself is made of four pieces of granite and weighs about 20 tons which is on top of the main gopuram and is believed to have been taken to the top by creating an inclined slope to the height of 66m to the top of the gopuram.
    As it is part of the world UNESCO heritage, the surroundings are well kept in terms of manicured lawn etc, however, the town of Tanjore needs to get a face lift as it has become very dirty and repels the tourists.

    1. Thanks Sunita; it is a great place and I would love to visit again as my visit for quite hurried. Great trivia too; the temple really needs to be seen to be believed.

  2. Ah! Its been years since I went to this beautiful place. Your post stirred fond memores for me. I love every bit of Tanjore- the people, the music, the dance and the malli poos… Awesome!!!!
    I still i remember a small little tambrahm hotel in an obscure lane where I feasted on Adai and aviyal!!!

  3. Another fascinating and informative post.I am hoping to visit India next year, and the more of your posts I read, the more I relise how culturally rich and vast that beautiful country really is.

  4. Great post.. Recently we visited Brihadeeshwara temple, but we could not visit the emporium, palace and other places due to time constraint.. But the temple alone is tempting us to go back again to Tanjore.. Whenever we plan next, we will refer this post.. thanks for sharing this useful information..

  5. As usual, a detailed post with wonderful pics 🙂 Keep writing such a wonderful work.

    ‘Periya (big) temple is one of the greatest masterpiece in ancient architecture in South Indian history. There are lot of interesting historical facts about this temple and the King – Raja Raja Cholan. I think the place is not maintained well now a days which is a sad part 🙁
    I have written some interesting facts in my Tamil blog.

    Nice work.

  6. Beautiful place Rashmi! Loved this one because I’ve only heard about Tanjore paintings & it’s been a dream to learn it someday
    The temples, art & architecture make me want to visit someday:) thank you for sharing:)

    1. Thanks Divya! You should visit some time and am sure you will learn the art of Tanjore painting pretty soon:)
      Given your talent and skill for all things creative, am sure you will master this craft as well!

      1. Wonderful article. Inner beauty of Thanjavur have been brought out nicely. Visited Thanjavur very often when I was working as Branch Manager at SBI BHEL Branch, Tiruchi. Saraswathi Veena at our house was bought there only. Your write up is very interesting.

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