Thanjavur might not be the first choice among travellers visiting South India for the first time. You might have known the place merely as the rice bowl of South India. But you have many more to explore beyond the lush fields and the fertile, yet picturesque Carvery delta. The history of the place dates back to many centuries ago. It is also a temple city, having a treasure trove of evidence of medieval Indian architecture. If you are yet to explore the marvels of the Dravidian style of architecture, then you would regret skipping Thanjavur from your itinerary. Here’s lowdown on what you should explore there.
- The Brihadeswara Temple
You might have read about the Chola dynasty in your history book. Now it is the time to witness the regal contribution in the field of architecture. The Brihadeswara is known as one of those most famous temples in Thanjavur. The UNESCO has listed it as a world heritage site. No wonder that it attracts tourists across the length and breadth of the planet. Situated in the heart of the city, the temple, along with its peers Airavateswara and Gangaikonda are hailed as Great Living Chola temples. Raja Raja Chola built the temple in 1010 AD. Though dedicated to Lord Shiva, it exhibits the prominent influence of Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism. The amalgamation of the three different religious orders makes the temple of the “Great Lord” one of its kind. The Shiva lingam of the temple is known as one of those biggest monolithic structures that you can see in India. Also, make sure that you visit the beautiful shrines of Murugan, Parvathy, Nandi, Subramanian, Baarhi, Ganesh, Sabhapati and Chandeswara. Witness the marvels of the striking murals, sculptures and everything that the temple complex has to offer.
Visiting time – 6 AM-12.30 PM and 4 PM-8.30 PM
- The Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple
There is another Brihadeswara Temple, built by Rajendra Chola 1, who is the son of Raja Raja Chola in his newly built capital, Gangaikonda. Apart from the whispers of history that surround the temple complex, it features a very special water tank. Whenever the king, Rajendra Chola would defeat a rival, he would instruct the king to bring large vessels of water from the Ganga river. Though smaller than the older Brihadeswara Temple, its aesthetics are more refined. Also, the cascading garden that surrounds the temple is also worth a visit.
Visiting time – 8AM- 9 PM
- Aieateswara Temple
A part of the UNESCO world heritage, it was built in the 13th century by Raja Raja Chola 2. Though relatively small in size, the Aieateswara temple is known as one of most exquisite among the famous Thanjavur temples. Though a considerable portion of the temple was demolished once, its inner complex remains intact even today. Even the original sthambha (pillars), and the Nandi (bull) mandapa remains unaffected. Experience the beauty of Karakoni style of architecture. It is inspired by the horse-drawn chariots, which are seeing during the festivals.
Visiting time – 6 AM-12 PM and 4 PM-9 PM
- Ramaswamy Temple
Justifying its name, the Ramaswamy temple in Kumbhakonam is dedicated to Lord Rama. It was built around the 16th century by the Nayyakkar kings. The temple proudly carries the grandeur of the Nayak style of architecture. A pyramidal gopuram, which characterizes the south-style temple architecture is a feature of this famous Thanjavur temple. The speciality lies in the fact that the Gopuram is made from a monolithic rock, and has 64 distinct layers carved on them. Each layer characterizes specific tales from the epic Ramayana. It is also the venue for the yearly Mahamaham festival.
Visiting time – 6 AM-12 PM and 4 PM-9 PM
- Kampaeswarar Temple
Legend has it that the Kampaeswarar Temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva after He has protected people from a deadly earthquake (kampan). A bit different from the typical Dravidian temples, the Vimana of the temple is surprisingly high. Inscriptions suggest that the temple was built around the 12th century. The Shiva temple also features the shrine of Lord Sarvareswara, who is a half-lion and half-beast deity. You can also see an early depiction of Yali, the mystical creature in this temple.
Visiting time – 6 AM-11 PM and 5 PM-8 PM
- Vellai Vinayakar Koli
Another marvel from the Chola regime, this temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, features an idol made from sea foam. Even the pane of the stone windows is made from latticework called abalani. Pahardiswarar, a form of Lord Shiva, along with his consort Brihannyaki, resides with Lord Ganesha. You can also see the idol of Herandar, the sage who is known to bring the river Cauvery to Thiruvalanchuzi. Another interesting thing to note is the presence of Buddhist images that shows that the place has some influences of Buddhism, as well.
Visiting time – 6 AM-12 PM and 4 PM-8 PM
- Swamimalai Swaminathaswamy Temple
One of those oldest temples in the world and the most famous temples at Thanjavur, it is dedicated to Lord Murugan. Legend has it that this is the place where Lord Murugan or Kartikeya praised the meaning of the “Aum” chant to his father, Lord Shiva. The temple is supposed to have built during 2nd century BC.
Visiting time – 6 AM-12 PM and 4 PM-10 PM