I was really upset when the planned trip to Thanjavur didn't materialise last year. Myself, as somebody with a strong inclination towards sculpturing and fine Arts, I felt ashamed not visiting Thanjavur all these years, considering that it was just 4 hrs travel from my home town. Atlast I booked my tickets in early January through www.irctc.co.in for Feb 29th, despite finding myself in 14th of RAC list. The 'D-day' had come, I was engaged in some serious official discussions, giving me a thought of cancelling the trip for a fleeting moment. But I regained and decided to continue with my plan. This time the agendas were to travel light and enjoy the retro travel. With just a white cotton pyjama and a black T-shirt, along with the camera bag, I was on.


The Rockfort express started sharply by 10:30 p.m from Chennai Egmore. Luckily I was allotted a berth to sleep. The train reached Thanjavur sharply by 6:30 a.m. It was drizzling and I was instantly attracted to the place. Wherever I landed with a drizzle, that place is bound to get closer to my heart. My first visits to Thirumurthy hills & Pollachi were greeted with a drizzle and those places are now very closer to me heart. In the railway station I refreshed in the Waiting Room and stepped out. I like speaking to the local people and get details. I had a Coffee and asked the shopkeeper for details of going to the temple & Saraswathi Mahal.

In the railway station side itself you have a bus stop, get into any bus and ask for "Periya Kovil (Big Temple)", you'll be charged with the minimum ticket charge (Rs. 2.00/-). The bus will drop you at a 4 road junction, take a walk towards the temple from there. While walking towards the temple I noticed the town. There is an old world charm in the city. It still retains the style and looks of 60's. I loved that aspect in Thanjavur.

{mosimage}{sidebar id=4}While I am walking towards the Temple, let us see the historical pride Thanjavur carries along with it. It was the capital of Chola's, the famous dynasty that ruled Tamilnadu. The Chola's rule is said to be the "Golden Period of Tamil Nadu" with arts and crafts flourishing, people living in peace, an idyllic serenity prevailed all thanks to river Cauvery, that made Chola kingdom flourish. How a country flourishes is measured by its arts, love, literature and political stability. Only when a country has no worries like from where the next meal comes from or fear of imminent war, it can indulge in other activities like arts, love and literature. If going by that yardstick, Chola Kingdom is definitely the finest. The sculpture rich temples found in the Thanjavur & around Kumbakonam is a testimony for that.

Also Thanjavur is known as the "Rice Bowl of Tamilnadu", where farming and agriculture is still predominant. Despite having few Engg. colleges and a SASTRA University, Thanjavur hadn't hit the eyes of IT Companies & other manufacturing facilities, so the sophistication and pollution hasn't touched the simple lives of these people. In short Thanujavur is a slightly overgrown village.

{mosimage}Now I have reached the temple and I am in front of the Eastern Main Entrance. The temple is well protected by a moat (அகழி) supposed to be filled with water and a 3 layered high fortress and a bouleward inside. If you cross the first entrance, there are two shrines of Lord Ganesh and Lord Muruga. You can't stop feeling awestruck at the magnificience of the structure. Once you are through with that, you see a large lawn and a second entrance, whose "Gopuram" is approximately 90 feet high.

If you enter through second entrance, normally everybody will halt for a second just by being taken away at the beauty of Lord Brihadeeswara temple. That sepia toned structure is bound to blow you away by its sheer magnificence. I was just gaping at the temple standing in the mid of the entrance for a minute or more. It was a moment of dream come true for me.

{mosimage}Just take a look around, you will find the inner walls of the second/inner compound well cloistered with roofed corridors running through the whole length of the compound approx. 500 ft length and 250 ft wide. Fortunately for me the drizzles have stopped, the sky is still gloomy with clouds, thwarting the harsh sunlight touching the earth. This is the climate every photographer would love because there won't be harsh shadows or over exposures in the frames they click. Again a beautiful lighting, I felt as if it was done specially for me. Else how could I reason sudden drizzling amidst the dry summer.

The whole floors inside the inner compound is well paved with bricks and and a beautiful grass lawn inside. The space in from of the temple has few readily built stages where the arts like dancing, oratory and "கதாகாலக்ஷேபம்" were performed. A look at the inside layout/structure gives an idea about the rich art/literature life of the Cholas.


{mosimage}The North-West corner gives the perfect angle for photographing the temple and Nandhi mandapam. Then walk to the Nandhi Mandapam, where the massive Nandhi (or Bull) of 12ft high, 19.5 feet length and 18 ft wide and weighing 25 tonnes is housed. There is a general rumour that the Nandhi was small when installed, but was growing, so the priest nailed its forehead and it stopped growing further. In the Nandhi Mandapam itself, the roof ceiling is decorated with beautiful paintings. From there if you look at anyside, you can realise the vastness of the temple.

Next to the Nandhi Mandapam stands the Lord Subramaniya Temple. Again in the ceiling, there are beautiful frescos or murals done 1000+ years back with herbal paints. The scenes are from the Hindu mythology. Until I came here I didn't know why the so called Tanjore Paintings are called by that name. The murals follow a distinct style, which is now commercially famous as "Tanjore Paintings".

{mosimage}There are may small sub shrines located around the main temple. They are Shri Ganesh Temple in the North East corner, Saint Karuvurar shrine in the back of the main temple, Goddess Brihan-Nayaki shrine next to it. The shrines of Lord Chandeeswara, the manager of the temple and Lord Nataraja are in the left side of the main temple. I took every inch of the temple in a slow pace looking at the sculptures placed in the niches around the main temple walls, the rich Chola life style they portrayed. I also noticed that they were obsessed with "Yaali", a lion faced, horse bodied structure, an India's answer to China's Dragon.

Speaking of China, there was a statue of Chinese man in the left side of main Vimana. This just proves the Chola - China trade link. The temple today is the result of various modifications in the later period by Pandiyas and Maratha kings who ruled Tanjore after Cholas. Like the Brihannayaki temple was moved to main temple premises by Pandiyas, Lord Subrmaniya temple added by Saint Arunagirinathar.

{mosimage}{sidebar id=4}Coming to the gopuram, it is called as "நிழல் விழாத கோபுரம்", which means "the shadow never touches the ground". The Gopuram is 216 ft tall with 14 storeys, replete with images and stuccos figures of Hindu Gods and other saints. The Gopuram is so tall that it was referred as "Dakshina Meru" (Meru Hill of South, as Meru is supposed to be tallest mountain in Hindu Mythology). The final "Kalasam" itself is about 13 feet height. The Kalasam had been dragged to the top by the elephants on an inclined plane spanning 4 miles, and there is a village called "Saarapallam (Scaffold Hollow)" four miles away from Thanjavur from where the inclined plane was started.

{mosimage}The "மூலவர்" (main God) here is the Lord Siva in a Lingam form. When I looked at it, the words couldn't come from my mouth because I was stunned at it. It is not a small Lingam like in most of the temples. It was so gigantic and massive that the temple autorities have now installed a steel scaffold to perform 'Pujas'. I went inside while the morning abhishekam was being carried out. So many cans of milk and Sandal were used to perform the "Abhishekam". Till date I hadn't seen such a massive Lingam in my life except in the Thanjavur. The outer walls of the Main shrine / temple carries the scriptures that carry forwarded the tales of brave, valour, religous tolerance and administrative ability of Cholas to the future generations.

You can't stop wondering at the vision and passion that went in building this temple because there is no granite rock available in 100s of miles around Thanjavur. Thanjavur falls in the Cauvery river bed and is a clay land. Still Cholas brought granites from Karnataka and built this temple when no sophiticated logistics like today were unavailable. A salute to all the souls that put their hardwork in building this temple.

{mosimage}on the walls of the cloister or roofed corridor in the inner wall of the second compound, the ancient paintings dating to many centuries back were found. Unfortunately most of them are in a dilipiated state, damaged and overwritten partially due to apathy of locals. Else how can you attribute the names of "lovers", "heart" symbols and exam numbers scribbled over these invaluable timeless gems. I stayed inside the temple for around 3 hours and I have decided to comeback again and again. I befriended a local person and he showing and explaining the nuances and subtle messages in the Gopuram, as well some stories about the temple. He left me close to my next destination - Saraswathy Mahal.


{mosimage}Saraswathy Mahal - This palace is built my Maratha rulers who ruled Thanjavur much later, a part of the palace is still habituated by the descendants of the Maratha ruler. The palace now houses a museum, which showcases the artistic heritage of ancient Tamilnadu. It takes us back to the ancient Tamilnadu - a retro journey. Unlike the Brihadeeswara Temple, the admission and photography are charged with Rs. 5 & Rs. 30 respectively for Indian citizens whereas foreigners are charged with Rs. 50/- as entrance fee. There is no charge for photography in the Brihadeeswara Temple.

{mosimage}It took a lot of time for me to cross the few feet corridor to the museum because of the time taken to look and shoot each of the sculptures there. The Museum Authorities had displayed the name, age and location where the statue was recovered from. Among many statues, one statue that commanded my attention was a Shiva Parvathy statue made in a single rock. Unlike all the statues were Lord Shiva and spouse Lord Parvathy share equal space and dignity, this sculpture had Goddess Parvathy stepping behind to the back of him, thus being more feminine and delicate that ever.

{mosimage}{sidebar id=5}There are four chambers in the ground floor of the museum - One for displaying only bronze statues, one for coins, one exclusively for Lord Nataraja in his various forms and the last one being the place for stone sculptures alone. In once of those chambers, a white marble statue of King Sarabhoji, who ruled Thanjavur is placed. In that chamber the ceiling paintings are eye catching, especially the mural of Lord Rama's Pattabhishekam (Cornonation) commands our attention distinctively.

The way then leads to the "Gopuram" of the palace, where the visitor access is restricted to first floor only. There is a large "Blue Whale's Skeleton" placed in the first floor of the palace. Immediate next to the palace is the eight storeyed building which had housed the palace members once, but the day I went it was not permitted to step in that structure.

{mosimage}The museum also sells 'Post Cards / Greeting cards' featuring Brihadeeswara Temple as well as Museum in Rs. 3.00/- and Rs. 8.00/- respectively. Also the admission & photography fee they charge us is a steal because not only the museum is a photogrpaher's delight, it is also neatly maintained. I joked with the administrative person that foreigners numbered more than our local people. Nearer to the musuem is the Sangeetha Mahal, on whose upstairs, there is a handicrafts exhibition cum sales counter. I bought few Terracota wall hangings and paintings on Banyan leaves and palm leaves. They made a very neat and safe packing that the Terracota items reached home safety despite a bumpy ride in the bus.

{mosimage}My stay at the Saraswathy Mahal was around 2 hours clicking and looking at every display. I was aware that I am skipping some other places to be seen like Sivaganga Park, Dharasuram Temple in Jayamkondan Cholapuram a place 35 kms from Thanjavur and a famous Mariyamman temple. But I decided to come next time, stay overnight and visit those places. A couple of friends from my Engg College are also there and I shall catch up with them later. May be this must happen sometime in May.


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1. Around 5:30 A.M there was a bustling activity in my train coach. Train had reached a station. I asked a passenger which station is it and she said "Trichy". I was taken aback because while going by bus, Trichy comes after Thanjavur. But when I learnt that Rockfort crosses Trichy first and Thanjavur next, I was relieved. After that I was just travelling standing near the compartment entrance, enjoying the mist, greenery and occassional drizzlings.

{mosimage}2. While I was watching the prakaram, there were this bunch of school students who came on a school trip. They were shouting like "டேய்! அண்ணா ஃபோட்டோ எடுக்கிறாருடா..". I told them to stand for a photo and they were pushing each other to steal the prime slot. So I told them to split into 3 batches and stand for photo. I even collected their school address which read as "Mozhaiyur School", and I must send their photos printed this weekend.

3. While walking with the local person I befriended, I was saying him that despite having wished to come to Thanjavur, I couldn't make it, his reply was intresting. He said without HIS invitation, you can't visit HIM. Yes, he was true. Only when GOD wishes you to visit HIM, you can see him. Else whatever you plan, it won't materialise no matter how close you were to the place.

{mosimage}4. I normally don't carry excessive cash as I am a spendthrift when it comes to books, CDs and art things. I carry ATM card always that in case of emergency I can withdraw cash. The banyan leaf painting and palm leaf painting were so beautiful that I couldn't resist buying them. After buying them I realised that I may run out of cash. I checked all the pockets, camera bag and found that I have Rs 75.00/- in cash with me. Since I don't know about the bus fare between Cuddalore and Thanjavur, I was bit scared. I had a gut feeling that bus fare won't exceed more than what I had. Still to avoid taking a chance, I literally went around the whole town for about an hour looking for an ATM. I again had to go near to temple to catch up with an SBI ATM. Withdrawing some money, I returned back to Cuddalore via Kumbakonam and the bus fare came to just Rs. 44/-. Anyway this was an experience and decided to carry extra cash when travelling to new destination in future.

5. This is the first time that in a trip, I didn't feature even in one frame. I enjoyed being behind the camera. Ofcourse in some stills, while photographing the coins & statues behind the glass wall, there are some faint reflections of mine, but other than that I am conspicuous by my absense in any of the frames.

{sidebar id=5}6. That evening a movie called "Dum Dum Dum" was aired in KTV. Previously I used to watch the song "தேசிங்கு ராஜா.." from the same movie just because it was shot in the Thanjavur Temple & Saraswathy Mahal premises. That day when I watched, I felt happy that I had seen that temple and was looking where the camera was placed. Infact these days I am more intrested in watching the locations than the lead players. Laughing

{mosimage}7. Even though I had telephoto lens & wide angle lens along with my Digital SLR, I decided that I must shoot with wide angle lens only to do justice to the such massive structure. Also through out that trip, I stayed away from using Auto mode or Presets. Instead I chose the manual settings and I even got some speed in that. I took 371 OK shots to be precise. Thats the advantage of having a Digital Camera. We can't afford to take so many photos in analog camera.

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About myself
Author: MaheshwaranWebsite: https://www.maheshwaran.com
I am a SAP Consultant in my late 30s, residing in the happeing IT City - Bangalore. My interests vary from reading to travelling to handicrafts to photography. My latest interest is on Body building. May be this vivid interest keeps me going in my life without getting bored.