Inspiring Thanjavur palace - once the seat of Nayaks and Marathas

Paintings on the palace wall.  

Part of Thanjavur palace.

court yard and the arsenal tower

Above image:  Courtyard and the Arsenal tower in the back.Thanjavur Palace - Arsenal Tower (Koodagopuram) was also used as a watch tower in the bygone days. Tourists are allowed to climb up to certain floors.The spiral steps are made of bricks and lime............

The State of Tamil Nadu has innumerable monuments and Hindu temples that date back to several centuries. Thanjavur  district (I refer to old composite district) is well known for art, culture, music (carnatic) and dance (Bharata natyam, Theru koothu, etc). Since the days of Cholas, these art forms have evolved, however during the reigns of Nayaks and Maraths, they saw rapid development with systematic and standardized coaching and learning.

Darbar hall, Thanjavur palace. TN

Darbar hall, Thanjavur palace. 

Above image: Darbar Hall: yet another view. The spectacular spray of painted arches and ceilings in the durbar hall of Thanjavur palace. They bear   testimony to the hey days of Nayaks and Maratha rulers and their interest in arts. Note the high arches, artworks and colorfully painted wall murals and ceilings of the ancient 17th-century durbar hall Maratha Palace in the town of Thanjavur.........

The Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex, on the East Main street, Thanjavur city,  known locally as Aranmanai, was actually  built by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayak kingdom. It is about 1.2 K.M from the world famous 1000 year old Brihadeeswarar Temple, a UNESCO recognized heritage temple. An important point that ought to be emphasized  here is the word 'palace' is just a misnomer and the Nayaks built it  only as a fort with a moat around it and they never built  a luxurious palace with harem, etc for pleasant living. Hence,  people visiting this structure are disappointed over the lack of ornate and beautiful artistically designed halls, well decorated door ways, rooms adorned with  with impressive  lights, chandeliers, furniture, etc  that one would find normally in the palaces. 

Serfoji memorial

Above image: Serfoji memorial museum on the first floor carries  lots of antiques dating back to a few centuries. Thefts of valuable antiques by hoodlums were reported in the past........

Thanjavur Thanjavur palace  Saarjah Madi.

 Above image:Thanjavur palace, Saarjah Madi: It has  five floors with balcony &  latticed windows; built during the Maratha rule.  Facing East main street near entrance to the palace  .........

Lowest floor, Bell tower, Thanjavur palace, TN..

Bell tower, Thanjavur. 

 Above image: The Bell Tower: it was once used as a clock tower (just hourly bells) by locals. Also called  Madamaligai or the 'Bell Tower' it, was built so that the Nayak ruler could worship Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam  in the direction of the temple every day on the top floor. Lightning destroyed the tower and now there only six levels survive. Building below the ground level was discovered more than 15 years ago. This bell tower was designed based on the model and  style of the Gingee Nayaks, Tamil Nadu..................

Arsenal tower Thanjavur palace

 Above image: Arsenal tower Thanjavur palace complex: Arsenal Tower (Koodagopuram): This is a 192 feet tall pyramidal structure with eight floors. The  early building was constructed by Nayaks in 1645 with only 2 floors. The Marathas later renovated and completed the tower in 1855, and used it for various military purposes.  It was used to store arms and ammunition; top floor was  used as watch tower. The cumbersome stairways are very narrow so that enemies - cavalry, foot soldiers, etc can not make advance upward that easily.  Arsenal tower is acoustically designed in  such a way that you can hear even the smallest whisper from 3 floors above. It was a way of sending secret voice signals over multiple floors. Sadly,  hidden chambers are prohibited areas. The second floor was  meant for training in martial arts training. ...........

Many people living in this are not aware that the Aranmanai as it is locally called and  now serves as the  official residence of the descendants of the  Thanjavur Maratha rulers  was built by the Nayaks who were the  first builders of this fort and the palace which was earlier called  Sivaganga palaceAfter the fall of the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom, Maratha rulers took over the kingdom and the Bhonsle family ruled over the Tanjore region from 1674 to 1855. The Bhonsle family members are the descendants of the great Maratha warrior  Chatrapati   Shivaji Maharaj. The family members here still have close contacts with the royal families in the Satara and Kolhapur area, Maharashtra. 

After the British  take over of the city as well as the palace from the Maratha rulers, most the valuables from the palace were shifted to the nearby city Tiruchirappalli town in 1863. Post independence, they are under  the ASI as a heritage site. Both the Nayak and Maratha rulers made valuable contributions towards the developments of arts and culture in this part of Tamil  Nadu and maintained and built several Hindu temples. The Mahamaham temple tank in Kumbakonam was well developed during the Nayak rule. The Maratha rulers donated vast cultivable lands to the famous Nagore Durgah in Nagoor, near Nagapattinam. Achuthappa Nayak built the Chandra Mouliswarer temple in 1589.This small temple is in the open court yard near the art gallery. Both the Nayak and Maratha rulers were ardent devotees of this god. Srirangam temple swa lots of development during the Nayak rule at Thanjavur.

Beautiful ceiling Darbar Hall Thanjavur

In 1799 the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom was  taken away by the British who deposed  the last ruler Sivaji II under the doctrine of lapse. The ruler did not have legal heir to the throne. As per this doctrine, adopted son as legal heir was not acceptable.

Thanjavur palace, Sangeetha mahal

 Above image: Thanjavur palace complex, Sangeetha mahal: It was built to conduct concerts, etc. The music and dance flourished under the patronage of the kings. The building has special acoustics for listening pleasure. Inside the hall it is cool in the hot summer because of high ceilings and good aeration. It  is a miniature of the surviving court of Thirumalai Nayak Mahal, Madurai. The first floor was meant for women to watch the entertainment and the windows have latticed doors. Presently, part of the building on the first floor is used for selling handicrafts. A nice place for collectors of art works, etc. 
Darbar hall.Thanjavur Maratha palace.    

Above image:  Thanjavur palace darbar hall: The walls are adorned with impressive images of gods and goddesses like Shiva and Vishnu with their consort and Indra and other familiar figures; there are Ramayana paintings as well; part of this hall is used as Art gallery. These sculptures range from 8th Century A.D to 18th Century A.D. and old coins. There are innumerable stone and bronze image of great antiquity. There  is  plenty of interesting information about this place. An ancient burial urn called Mudhumakkal Thazhi is of interest to the visitors. .........

Darbar hall.Thanjavur Maratha palace.

Statue of the King Serfoji

 Above image:  Statue of the King Serfoji II (1798–1832):  It is in the Durbar Hall which is the royal court hall. It  currently houses the Thanjavur Art Gallery. Serfoji was a famous and secular ruler and he expanded the Sarwathi Mahal library initially built by the Nayaks. His mentor was Jesuit father Christian Frederick(h) Schwarz, German Lutheran Protestant missionary to India. He was a well-read ruler and had a  Protestent church built in honor of Fr. Schwarz and this historical church is adjacent to the Sivaganga Park and is being under the management of ASI, Govt. of India.  ........

The Bhonsle family continued to control part of the palace  complex where the  family members live  and the present prince is an active member of Aranmanai Devasthanam that runs lots of Hindu temples dedicated to lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Parasakthi (Durga, Mari Amman, etc). 

Palm manuscripts, Saraswathi Mahal library thanjavur.

entrance, Saraswathi Mahal library, Thanjavur

Saraswathi mahal libray,Thanjavur palace.

 The Saraswathi Mahal library:  It owes it origin to the Nayak rulers - 1535 - 1675 AD who used it as a Royal library to enrich their knowledge.  Later the Maratha rulers who captured Thanjavur in 1675  were patrons of local  culture and art and took no time to develop further  the  Library until 1855.  Widely considered as  one of the few medieval Libraries that exist in the world, it is, undoubtedly an excellent  repository of  Indian culture ,arts, medicine, science,music  literature in many  Indian languages, etc. it is simply  an amazing  treasure-house of knowledge  nurtured  by the successive dynasties of Nayaks and Marathas of Thanjavur. The collections include  rare and valuable manuscripts on all aspects of art, culture and literature.  Most notable among the Maratha Kings was Serfoji II (1798–1832), who was an eminent scholar in many subjects and  arts. In his early age Serfoji studied under the influence of the German Rev. Schwartz, and learned many languages including English, French, Italian and Latin.
Thanjavur Maratha palace.

The majority of the manuscripts (39,300) are in Sanskrit, written in scripts such as Grantha, Devanagari, Nandinagari, Telugu. The library has Tamil manuscripts number over 3,500,000, comprising titles in literature, music and medicine,  3076 Marathi manuscripts from the South Indian Maharastrian of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries; this includes the works of the followers of Saints of Maharashtra belonging to Sri Ramadas and Dattatreya Mutts; 846 Telugu manuscripts in the holdings, mostly on palm leaf, and 22 Persian and Urdu manuscripts mostly of 19th century. The library also has medical records of Ayurveda scholars, including patient case studies and interviews in the manuscripts classified under the Dhanvantari section. Besides there are 1342 rare bundles of Maratha Raj records written in Modi script (fast script for Devanagari)  of the Marathi language available at the Library.  These records  throw light on the political, cultural and social administration of the Maratha kings of Thanjavur. It has on display a rare collection of Palm leaf manuscripts and paper written in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, English and a few other languages indigenous to India. The collection includes well over 60,000 volumes, though only a small fraction of these is on display. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica in its survey of Libraries of world mentioned  this as "the most remarkable library in India  .................

The palace complex has several parts: the Sadar Mahal Palace, the Queen's courtyard and the Durbar Hall, the Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall, Bell tower, the Saraswathi Mahal Library,  Saarjah Madi. and the Royal Palace Museum which is situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace. The  world famous Saraswathi Mahal Library is  also in the precinct of the palace complex. The entire palace complex is surrounded by tall, thick walls. Maratha rulers, under their regime made innumerable modifications. The palace can be   accessed on other sides as well, and the main access is through the East Main Street. Parts of the palace complex have state government departments. The over all up keep of this place is not good. The government should take steps to keep the palace complex and the surrounding places clean.

When we turn our attention back to the history of this palace, historical records show that  after the reigns  Cholas in 1200s A.D, and  later by  Pandyas , Sevappa Nayak, the representative or resident ruler of Vijayanagara captured Thanjavur and became the King in 1532.  Under his rule the construction of Thanjavur Palace began in 1534 and was completed in 1535. The palace was the seat of power until 1674 when the Maratha ruler Venkoji captured it. The Marathas  made improvements to the palace and enhanced the original structure and expanded the palace complex. It was used by them until 1799 when British finally annexed the Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom.

The palace boasts of underground passages, probably to be used in case of emergency by the ruling class in case of attack; one secret passage, it is believed, connects the big temple 1,2 km away from here; the passages are wide enough to allow two horses side by side. They are under renovation.