Thanjavur Maratha building - ''Mangala Vilas,'' South Main Street can be made a heritage hotel!!

1869 image Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.

Non-classified heritage Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.
Photo credit. J,R.Anand.

Thanjavur city, the present  district capital decades back in the 1960s  was  the capital of composite district of Thanjavur, comprising present districts of  Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Mayiladuthurai and part of Pudukkottai (commonly called delta districts). Thanjavur city has  the rare distinction of having numerous interesting  vintage buildings, mostly residences constructed during the Maratha period  (1674 to 1799).  They are mostly confined to the fort area comprising four main streets (Raja veedhis) - east, west, north and south  including ramparts - wide open space near the fort walls (it is gone in most places) with a moat all around.  In 1799 the British East India Company, annexed Tanjore kingdom with the Madras Presidency, however ruler  Serfoji II was left in control of only the Fort and the surrounding areas  and the rest of the delta district was put under the district collectorate system first introduced by Sir Thomas Monroe, an upright and humane  British officer who also introduced the Ryotwari system (1820).which made the peasants  and cultivators/ owners of the land. 

Mangala Vilas bldg. at far end. South Main street Thanjavur, facebook. 

The huge palace complex (on East main street) presently under the control of the Archeology department includes many structures - huge halls, darbar hall, open yards, elephant, horse stables and mandaps, tall arsenal tower,  etc.  The Thanjavur Fire Service Station, Thanjavur West Police Station, an annex of St. Peter's school (one of the oldest in TN) are functioning in the palace buildings close to the palace grounds that were  once used by the VH School and St. Peter's School as  playgrounds in the 50s, 1960s. they were the venues of many inter district school  cricket matches 

 With the growth of the city and its population in  the last three decades, many of these old buildings have either been modified or demolished to construct new modern  structures with better amenities. Only in the recent past the ASI has put restrictions on the construction or alteration of buildings in certain monument zones  around the big temple and the palace complex on the East and North main streets. In the past two years Smart City project has been underway covering many areas of the city. close to the famous Big temple, a UNESCO recognized Hindu temple.  There are many non-classified heritage buildings in the fort area; one being the Mangala vilas building (locally called Aranmanai building), an odd-looking tall landmark structure on the busy  south main street.

Jharokha in  Saarja Madi, Thanjavur

west wing Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.
Photo credit. J,R.Anand

Above image: Mangala Vilas building - Projected window- Jharokha with wooden lattice door on the , first floor west wing, note the decorations on the arch below. The vertical rods in the window below  are cast-iron steel to avoid rust formation, These rods are old - more than 100 years. Note the cornice and capital on either side of the window in the buried columns. VHS In the late 1950s and early 60s occupied the first floor and second floors conducting middle classes (VI to VIII forms). classes were held in the  elongated room with jharokha on the first floor, but no classes were conducted on the east wing front room first floor. On the first second floor classes were held in the huge temporarily partitioned halls with big masonry pillars. Students were not allowed to enter certain damaged parts. My brothers, sister and I studied in this school in the late 1940s and early 1950sThe Middle classes are still being held in limited spaces on the first floor.................  

 west wing Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.
Photo credit. J,R.Anand.

Above: Mangala Vilas building, South main street, Thanjavur. Jharokha  on the first floor and chhatri with  vertical iron rods missing on the second floor. Note the  eaves to drain out rain water and the umbrella-shaped covered roof Chhatri). Many rooms have time-tested Madras roofing system with wooden rafters and the benefits are reduction in radiation and heat, good water roofing and easy maintenance. since 170s it has been replaced by concrete roofing and structure..................... 

East wing Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.
Photo credit. J,R.Anand.

Mangala vilas bldg. south main st. Thanjavur across CUB/SBI
photo credit: J Ramakrishna Anand.

Above image:  Front part of Mangala Vilas building, a non-classified heritage structure on Therkku Raja Veethi. . Entrance to the small open space (court yard or chowk) between East and west wings is occupied by a sanitary stoneware Co. The ground floor has  huge large pillared halls.  Jharokha on the west wing first floor is barely visible. Abetting  the west wing  is open space and the entrance to the school (VHS) functioning in the building.............................. 

Chhatri atop, Mangala vilas bldg. South Main st.Thaanjavur.

Above image: The Mangala Vilas building, Thanjavur. Note the  Chhatri on the second floor of the building on either side of the wings facing the street. Chhatri, a decorative dome structure with  umbrella shaped roof, is a  Hindustani word literally meaning umbrella or elevated dome-shaped pavilion.  It is  and is found throughout the northwestern region of Rajasthan as well as in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Chhatris have been around us for a long time and their origin goes back as far as 2000 years  at Fort Kangara. The jharokhas in the Mangala Vilas building very much similar to the ones in Saarja Madi Aranmanai building on the East Main street, Thanjavur were first introduced by the Marathas in this part of Tamil Nadu. One can see beautiful wooden carvings in 
the windows..........................

1869 image Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur. 

Above images; The two-story Mangala Vilas building, with chhatris and sloping eaves or ‘Chajja’ on the second floor and jharokhas on the first floor (barely visible), is  just across the City union bank building; on the left side of the street facing north direction.  It was built by the royal family of the Thanjavur Maratha Bhonsle Dynasty. You can see  more or less similar chhatris at  New Palace (constructed during 1877-1884), Kolhapur of the Bhonsle Chatrapatis, MH;  even today, it is the residence of Shreemant Shahu Maharaj.  Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara, GJ  styled on the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, built by Maharajah Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890, Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior MP of the Scindias and Rajwada, Indore, MP of Holkars.  - all these palaces have well designed decorative Chhatries and Jharokhas in the facade of the structures.  This rare vintage photo was taken way back in 1869 by one Samuel Bourne and this photo was one among the six chosen for an  international award and a gold medal for its unique architecture. (this photo appeared in one of the issues of  popular Tamil weekly ''Ananda Vikatan'' in the 1980s (details are sketchy). ...................

Chhatri, with eaves or Chajja  Jodhpur, Rajasthan,

Jharokha and eaves (to drain rain water)
Above image: While the ‘Jharokhas’ are used to improve  architectural beauty of the front portion and maintain the air flow;  the ‘Chajja’ (eaves) the projection around the roof  provides protection from both the summer sun and monsoon rain...................

Chhatris, Lakshmi vilas palace, Baroda GJ

Chhatris, New palace kolhapur

Chhatri"& curved eaves on New Palace Kolhapur

Presently being privately owned by a rich gentleman from Koothanallur town in Thiruvarur district, many parts of this massive mangala Vilas building  with a ground floor and two floors above are in a neglected state.  Many portions are damaged and  appear to be decrepit,  part of the reason is lack of regular upkeep coupled with ignorance of this architecturally rich vintage structure that so far withstood the test of time and vagaries of weather.  

The ground floor is built on a higher elevation about 5 to six feet from the street level and, as in many Maratha buildings here, dressed laterite stones (available in plenty near Vallam town ) are widely used for the foundation work. There is a small open yard between two wings and it is occupied by a Sanitaryware company. The 2 foot walls are made of thin well-fired  small clay bricks with lime sand mortar mixed with jaggery kakukai (Terminalia chebula), etc.  It is a traditional building technique for better bonding.  In the interior portion, one could see vestiges of well polished lime plaster specially prepared with well ground lime, egg yolk, etc., to impart  unique shine. On the west side,  the two floors can be accessed through a wide stairway made of granite steps.  All the three floors have huge pillared halls with high ceiling and large  windows to keep the interior  cool. There are several big rooms with Madras terrace roofing, supported  by sturdy  rafters made of quality wood.   The room on either side of wing in the front is a long one with wooden lattice window that is set on the projected balcony- Jharokhas’ or an overhanging closed balcony in the upper story of the structure.  Technically closed by ‘jaalis’ and covered with sloping eaves or ‘Chajja,’Breezeway or ‘Vaay’ that allows  passage of a breeze between structures to improve aeration.  Large pillared halls or ‘Saal’ where members  gather and talk, Chimney or ‘Dhuabari’ in the kitchen space; and Verandah or ‘Baranda to sit and rejuvenate’ are normally eco-friendly design features of Marathas  design who mixed the Rajasthani elements with the local design.

The openings in the chhatris on the second floor had sturdy vertical rust-proof cast iron rods for protection along the edge.. They are almost gone and many parts of the structure are not accessible due to poor condition of the building.  All along the edge of top terrace in many places  there was a row of balusters topped by a rail, serving as an open parapet. Now, they are almost either damaged or in ruins due to poor periodic maintenance. Besides, severe alternating hot and cold weather had a severe impact on the parapet walls. Many Maratha buildings used to have one and half to two inch diameter pure copper pipes at regular intervals on the upper terrace to drain the rainwater. 

Stone./concrete balustrade on the terrace.

As mentioned above,  a school (Veeraraghava middle School) is being run on the first floor with classes from 6th to 8th standard and it has been functioning since the 1950s  This complex with a large open pace   is built on a big plot roughly more than one and half   acres.  A part of its western boundary abets Thoppil Pillaiyar Kovil street  connecting South Rampart. This old structure is  encroached upon both in the front part of the street and other space on the west side.  I have heard a large number of people  mention that the city corporation issued a notice to the owner to pull down the building as the condition of the ceiling on the top floor on both wings - east and west  is not good due to cracks, growth of vegetation  and seepage during rainy season. Details of the history of  this classic Maratha  Aranmani, are not available. Its  history must be much older than 1800.

As to the purpose of this massive solitary 19th century building Mangala Vilas  on the empty street in the town, please read the following: Said to have been  the residential quarters of the courtesans  of the court of Serfoji II  prominent among them were Ladu Boi and Bayamma Boi.   Founded in 1824 with a rich endowment of money and land,  it consisted of many residential quarters for the children born out of wedlock. Ladies lived in one half of the Mangala Vilas -called the Ayan Mahal and the other half in the Huzur Mahal within the palace.  All of them received Moin (allowance) when Sivaji was alive and after his death the allowance was not stopped. Their children also were recipients of pensiоп. Though not married the courtesans bore children and wore Tali.( Ref: (பக்கம்:தஞ்சை மராட்டிய மன்னர் கால அரசியலும் சமுதாய வாழ்க்கையும்.pdf/

Mangala Vilas, a beautiful Maratha style building ought to be saved for the posterity as it is part of the culture of this old town  and a legacy of the Royal Maratha Bhonsle Dynasty. Their contribution to Thanjavur town is vast -  Ranee's clock tower, vast land donated by the queen where stands the Raja Mirasudar Hospital, Saraswati Mahal library, Schwartz Church near Sivaganga Park, the Maratha king Thuljaji, son of Pratap Singh, gifted  4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of agricultural land to the Nagore Dargah (Hazrat Syed Shahul Hameed Dargah), built  numerous temples and travellers' inns (Chatram). etc. in many places for the pilgrims on the way to madurai and Rameswaram.  

This architecturally unique  building  in the prime area of the city could be restored and made into  a heritage  hotel or a center for performing arts, etc. Upon completion of the Smart City Project, it is expected more tourists will visit the big temple- Brihadeeswara temple, the palace complex, etc. The four main streets in the fort area once had mostly Maratha style buildings.  Almost all are gone  with some exceptions. The Archaeology department should make efforts to  save the old structures through renovation and repairs with private participation. The privately owned buildings could be saved and the owners can reuse them as three-star hotels.