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Adrian Scott
Adrian Scott

Thanjavur Palace: A Historical and Cultural Treasure


Thanjavur Palace: A Historical and Cultural Treasure




If you are looking for a place that combines history, culture, and beauty, look no further than Thanjavur Palace. Located in Thanjavur, a city in Tamil Nadu, India, this palace is a remarkable example of the fusion of Nayak and Maratha architecture and art, and a testimony to the rich heritage of the region. In this article, we will explore the origin, evolution, and significance of this palace, which has witnessed centuries of political, social, and cultural changes.




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The Nayak Period




The construction of Thanjavur Palace began in 1534 during the reign of Sevappa Nayak, who founded the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom. He was a vassal of Vijayanagara Empire, which ruled over most of South India at that time. He built a fortified palace complex on an island surrounded by a moat, which served as his residence and administrative center. He also built a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called Chandramouleeswarar Temple within the premises.


The palace was expanded and embellished by his successors, who ruled over Thanjavur until 1673. They added more buildings, courtyards, gardens, tanks, towers, halls, and shrines to the complex. They also decorated it with exquisite paintings, sculptures, stucco works, wood carvings, metal works, and other art forms. The palace was a hub of cultural activities, where poets, musicians, dancers, scholars, and artists were patronized by the Nayak kings.


However, their glory did not last long. They faced constant threats from their rivals such as Madurai Nayaks, Golkonda Sultanate, Mysore Kingdom, and Maratha Empire. They also suffered from internal conflicts and succession disputes. In 1673, they lost their power to Ekoji I (Venkoji), the half-brother of Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire. He captured Thanjavur and established the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.


The Maratha Period




The Marathas were a warrior clan from Maharashtra, who rose to prominence in the 17th century under Shivaji. They challenged the Mughal Empire, which dominated most of India at that time. They expanded their territory to include parts of South India, including Thanjavur. They adopted and adapted the existing palace complex to suit their needs and tastes. They also added new structures and features to the complex.


The palace served as the official residence of the Maratha rulers, who ruled over Thanjavur until 1855. They also used it as a ceremonial and cultural center, where they held durbars, festivals, ceremonies, and performances. They continued to patronize arts and sciences, and supported various schools of thought and religion. They also preserved and restored the palace and its artworks, which had suffered from neglect and damage during the transition period.


The most notable Maratha ruler of Thanjavur was Serfoji II (1798-1832), who was a scholar, writer, artist, and philanthropist. He was well-versed in many languages, including Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, English, French, and Italian. He had a keen interest in literature, history, medicine, astronomy, botany, zoology, music, and dance. He established the Saraswathi Mahal Library in the palace complex, which houses a rare collection of manuscripts, books, maps, paintings, and other documents. He also renovated and expanded the Royal Palace Museum, which displays a splendid collection of Chola bronzes, Nayak paintings, Maratha weapons, royal memorabilia, and other artifacts.


The British Period and Beyond




In 1799, most of the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom was annexed by the British East India Company after the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. The British occupied the palace complex and used it for their administrative and military purposes. They also made some changes and modifications to the complex. They converted some of the buildings into barracks, offices, courts, prisons, hospitals, schools, and churches. They also removed or destroyed some of the artworks and structures that they deemed unfit or unnecessary.


However, the Maratha kings were allowed to retain a small portion of their territory and their palace as a token of their loyalty to the British Crown. They continued to live in the palace until 1855, when Shivaji II (1832-1855), the last king of Thanjavur Marathas died without a male heir. His adopted son Shivaji III (1855-1873) succeeded him as a titular king under British supervision. He was followed by his son Rajarajeshwari (1873-1879) and his grandson Babaji Rajah Bhonsle (1879-1908), who were also nominal kings with no real power or authority.


After Babaji Rajah Bhonsle's death in 1908, his widow Sujanbai (1908-1916) became the regent for his minor son Tulajendra Rajah Bhonsle (1908-1927). She was succeeded by her daughter-in-law Lakshmi Bai (1916-1927), who was also the regent for Tulajendra Rajah Bhonsle until he attained majority in 1927. He was the last king of Thanjavur Marathas to live in the palace. He died in 1983 without any issue.


The palace complex was transferred to his brother Sivaji Rajah Bhonsle (1927-1987), who was also a titular king with no real power or authority. He died in 1987 without any issue. The palace complex is now managed by his nephew Babaji Rajah Bhonsle (1987-present), who is also a titular king with no real power or authority. He lives in a part of the palace complex with his family.


The Palace Complex Today




The Thanjavur Palace Complex today is a major tourist attraction that showcases the diversity and richness of the region's past and present. It covers an area of about 12 acres and consists of several buildings, courtyards, gardens, tanks, towers, halls, museums, libraries, temples, and other structures. Some of the main components and attractions of the palace complex are:



and windows. It offers a panoramic view of the city and the Big Temple. It was originally used by the Nayak kings as their bedroom and later by the British as an arsenal.


  • The Bell Tower: This tower is situated to the north-west of the Arsenal Tower. It was built by the Nayak kings as a clock tower, where a monkey figure used to strike a gong every hour. It was also used as a pavilion for discussions with poets and intellectuals. It has a sculpture of Rajagopalaswamy, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, at the base.



  • The Sarjah Madi: This building is located to the south-east of the Arsenal Tower. It was built by Serfoji II as his residence and library. It has two floors with paintings and stucco works on the walls and ceilings. It also has a small shrine and a tank-like structure in the ground floor.



  • The Durbar Hall: This hall is also called Lakshmivilasam or Maratha Durbar Hall. It was built by Serfoji II as his ceremonial and cultural hall, where he held durbars, festivals, ceremonies, and performances. It has a high ceiling with paintings and chandeliers, and a wooden throne with silver decorations.



  • The Royal Palace Museum: This museum is situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace, which was built by Shivaji II as his residence. It displays a splendid collection of Chola bronzes, Nayak paintings, Maratha weapons, royal memorabilia, and other artifacts. It also has a Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall, which showcases his personal belongings and achievements.



  • The Saraswathi Mahal Library: This library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in Asia. It was established by Serfoji II as his personal library and later opened to the public. It houses a rare collection of manuscripts, books, maps, paintings, and other documents in various languages and scripts. It also has a museum that exhibits some of the rare and valuable items from the library.



  • The Chandramouleeswarar Temple: This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in his form as Chandramouleeswarar or the one who wears the moon on his head. It was built by Sevappa Nayak along with the palace complex. It has a five-tiered gopuram or tower at the entrance and a sanctum sanctorum with a lingam or symbol of Shiva.



These are some of the main attractions of the palace complex that showcase the diversity and richness of the region's past and present. The palace complex is open to visitors from 9 am to 6 pm every day except on public holidays. The entry fee is Rs 50 for Indians and Rs 200 for foreigners. The palace complex is also a venue for various cultural events and festivals throughout the year.


Conclusion




The Thanjavur Palace is a historical and cultural treasure that showcases the fusion of Nayak and Maratha architecture and art, and a testimony to the rich heritage of the region. It has witnessed centuries of political, social, and cultural changes, and has preserved and restored its beauty and glory. It is a must-visit place for anyone who wants to experience the diversity and richness of India's history and culture.


FAQs





  • When was the Thanjavur Palace built?



The Thanjavur Palace was built in 1534 by Sevappa Nayak, who founded the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom.


  • Who were the Nayak and Maratha rulers of Thanjavur?



The Nayak rulers of Thanjavur were Sevappa Nayak (1532-1540), Achuthappa Nayak (1540-1560), Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1634), Vijayaraghava Nayak (1634-1673), and others. The Maratha rulers of Thanjavur were Ekoji I (1674-1684), Shahuji I (1684-1712), Serfoji I (1712-1728), Tukkoji (1728-1736), Pratapsingh (1736-1763), Thuljaji (1763-1787), Serfoji II (1798-1832), Shivaji II (1832-1855), and others.


  • What are some of the unique features of the Thanjavur Palace architecture and art?



Some of the unique features of the Thanjavur Palace architecture and art are the fusion of Nayak and Maratha styles, the use of granite, brick, lime, and wood as materials, the intricate paintings, sculptures, stucco works, wood carvings, metal works, and other art forms, the high ceilings, arches, pillars, domes, and balconies, and the incorporation of religious and cultural motifs and symbols.


  • How can one visit the Thanjavur Palace today?



One can visit the Thanjavur Palace today by taking a train, bus, or taxi to Thanjavur, which is well-connected to other major cities in Tamil Nadu and India. The palace complex is located in the heart of the city and can be reached by walking, cycling, or auto-rickshaw. The palace complex is open to visitors from 9 am to 6 pm every day except on public holidays. The entry fee is Rs 50 for Indians and Rs 200 for foreigners.


  • What are some of the other attractions near the Thanjavur Palace?



Some of the other attractions near the Thanjavur Palace are the Brihadeeswarar Temple or the Big Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and oldest temples in India, the Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a magnificent example of Chola architecture and art, the Thiruvaiyaru Temple, which is a sacred place for devotees of Saint Thyagaraja, one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music, and the Kumbakonam Temple Town, which is a cluster of ancient temples dedicated to various Hindu deities.


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