My Kind of Place: Tanjore is steeped in history

Temple art, Carnatic music and dance, and dynastic lore unite in Tamil Nadu's historic centre for learning and culture.
The 1,000-year-old Brihadeeswarar Temple was built by a Chola king to celebrate a victory in battle. JTB / UIG via Getty Images
The 1,000-year-old Brihadeeswarar Temple was built by a Chola king to celebrate a victory in battle. JTB / UIG via Getty Images

Why Tanjore?

Tanjore in South India has been the hub of Tamil religion, art and architecture for more than 1,000 years. The city has been ruled by powerful dynasties such as the Nayaks, Marathas and Vijayanagaras. The agriculturally rich region is known as the “rice bowl” of Tamil Nadu. Tanjore was at the height of its glory during the Chola period, between the 10th and 14th centuries, and became a centre of learning and culture. It is well known for its talented artisans, silk-sari weavers and Tanjore paintings, which are embellished with semi-precious stones and gold foil. Tanjore is most famous for the Brihadeeswarar Temple, built by Raja Raja Chola in the 11th century. The walls and ceilings display some of the finest Chola murals. The central tower has 16 tiers rising to a height of 216 feet. Tanjore is also a hub of Carnatic music and dance.

A comfortable bed

The most luxurious place to stay is Svatma, a heritage resort that creates the gracious ambience of a traditional Tamil residence. The hotel, equipped with a pool and gym, has rooms done up with period furniture, and local arts and crafts, enlivened with traditional motifs. There are three restaurants serving South Indian and Continental vegetarian food and an Ayurvedic spa. The hotel offers excursions that include meeting artisans, visiting temples, cooking classes and attending chamber concerts. Rooms start from 16,000 rupees (Dh880) per night.

Another option is the Ideal View River Resort. Located on the banks of the Vennar River (a tributary of the Kaveri) amid lush tropical vegetation, the four-star resort offers tastefully decorated rooms, suites and independent cottages. Double rooms start from 5,500 rupees (Dh 302).

For comfortable lodgings near the “Big Temple”, stay at Hotel Sangam, which offers air-conditioned rooms and suites, and a multi-cuisine restaurant. Double rooms start from 3,800 rupees (Dh208) per night.

Find your feet

Head to the main tourist attraction of the town – the magnificent Brihadeeswarar Temple, simply called the Big Temple, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. This tawny, granite structure is the greatest of the Chola temples and it has exquisite frescoes and sculptures depicting the dance poses and various incarnations of Lord Shiva. Several shrines are dotted around the sprawling grassy areas of the walled temple compound, including a 16th-century statue of Nandi (Shiva’s sacred bull) carved out of a single rock. From here walk to the 18th-century Schwartz Church, which has a sculpture of the Danish missionary who built it, C F Schwartz, as well as Maratha ruler Serfoji II. Make your way to the Thanjavur Palace grounds on East Main Street, which boasts sprawling courtyards and long corridors. Entry is 150 rupees (Dh8), where with a combined ticket you can visit Nayak Hall, Durbar Hall, Saraswathi Mahal Library and the arsenal tower. Nayak Hall, built by the Nayaks, houses the Thanjavur Art Gallery, which has stone and metal statues from archaeological digs in the area. The Saraswathi Mahal Library is home to some rare palm-leaf manuscripts and old atlases. Durbar Hall, built by the Marathas, displays a throne canopy in mirror-glass work.

Meet the locals

Take a walk through the Kamaraj Vegetable Market, then head to Siva Ganga Garden between Brihadeeswarar Temple and Schwartz Church, created in 1871. This is where locals and children relax with paddle boats, water slides and a small zoo. In the evenings, visit the temple lawns to watch the sunset even as the lights of the edifice come on.

Book a table

Vasantha Bhavan on 1338 South Rampart street is a no-frills restaurant with great vegetarian food; a meal for two costs about 300 rupees (Dh16). Aaharam at Svatma serves thalis and seven-course mini-meals; a meal for two costs about 2,500 rupees (Dh130). Try the biryani at Thevars (74/36 Gandhiji Road; 0091 44 270 979); a meal for two costs about 400 rupees (Dh21).

Shopper’s paradise

Stock up on Tanjore paintings, and see how they are made in the antique shops on South Street (Therku Veedhi). Another thing to pick up is bronze statues cast using the lost-wax casting technique. The region is also famous for the veena, a stringed musical instrument. Call on M Narayanan on South Main Street to buy one (prices start from 15,000 rupees [Dh820]). The government-run Poompuhar is a great place to pick up handicrafts at fixed prices. The boutique at Svatma has cushion covers and runners with motifs drawn from temple murals. Head to Chola Art Gallery (78/799 East Main street) for the bright wooden horses made in this area, and visit the shops near Punnainallur Mariamman Temple to buy Tanjore dancing dolls.

Don’t miss

The Festival of Sacred Music is held in March, and the Tyagaraja Aradhana Festival in January at Tiruvaiyaru or the Sathaya Thiruvizha; the annual birthday festival of Raja Raja Chola is held every year in October.

What to avoid

Avoid trips to the temple in the afternoons, as temperatures soar and walking on the stony paths is difficult with bare feet.

Getting there

Air India Express flies from Dubai to Trichy for Dh980 return, including taxes. Tanjore is an hour’s drive from Trichy. Alternatively fly Emirates or Etihad to Chennai, and connect with Jet Airways to Trichy; economy return tickets from Dh900. From Chennai, flights to Trichy cost about Dh350 return.

Published: April 12, 2016 04:00 AM


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