Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu and the cultural capital of the country in the 18th century, Thanjavur rose to prominence during the Chola reign. Temple architecture was redefined during their rule, and a new paradigm of Dravidian architecture was set. The 11th century Big Temple or the Brihadeeswara Temple in the heart of the town stands testimony to such a tradition. The structure is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is unparalleled in terms of grandeur, scale and detailing. Conceived during the heyday of Chola rule by the great Rajaraja Chola I, the Brihadeeswara temple for centuries has attracted fascinated artists, curious historians, sociologists, and travelers who delight in its wealth of sculptures, beautiful calligraphy, frescoes, and over a hundred inscriptions on the walls. This artistic tradition was righteously carried forward by the Nayak and Maratha kings, and one can get a glimpse of it in monuments such as Serfoji Mahal Library and Tanjore Palace to name a few.
The history of Thanjavur played a significant role in defining the social, political and cultural scene in the ancient times. It was in the 12th and 13th centuries, under the rule of the culturally-inclined Chola rulers that the ancient city of Thanjavur gained prominence. There were landmark achievements in the field of art, literature and architecture. Of the great rulers from the Chola Empire, Koccengan and Karikala were most successful administrators who helped in the development of Sangam literature. In addition to this, the Cholas built beautiful temples and monuments that added to the grandeur of Thanjavur.
Another great Chola ruler who played an integral part by conquering new territories and expanding the district of Thanjavur was Vijayyalya. Among the Chola kings, Rajaraja Chola I merits a separate mention for he was a meticulous administrator, and conceptualized one of the greatest temples ever built, the Brihadeeswara Temple. From 1120 to 1163 AD, the Cholas went into a period of decline, and subsequently lost power while the Pandya kings rose to prominence. They, however, lasted for a brief span of time before being taken over by the Muslim rulers. Thanjavur went into the hands of the Vijayanagara monarchs during the 14th century who reigned till the 17th century. The Marathas too ruled the city for a short spell.
State buses ply in and around important landmarks in the city. To explore the local sightseeing attractions, auto-rickshaws are a decent option. It doesn’t cost any more than Rs 20 to 40 to get anywhere in this temple town. But, make sure to negotiate the fare beforehand in order to avoid any unpleasantness later. Not to mention, the most convenient way of browsing the city is to hire a tourist taxi, and explore at your own pace. In most cases, the cab driver doubles up as a tourist guide and takes you over to even lesser known points of sightsee. They, however, do not follow a fixed process of charging their clients, so it is again better to discuss the tariff before boarding in. Another mode of transport popular among locals is the cycle-rickshaw. It is a great way to soak up street life, drop into bazaars, and get a sense of the local way of life.