This is my second blog on the city of Thanjavur or Tanjore. The first one was obviously on Brihadeeswarar Temple being one of the most recognised temples in the country which I felt required a separate blog in itself. Surprise as it may sound the city or town of Thanjavur was for a long time ruled by the Marathas and only left after the British or East India Company started dominating the trade scene in the Indian subcontinent.
To make their presence felt the Marathas had built a modern palace which was the residence of the Bhonsle family from 1674 – 1855. However, this palace was initially built by the Nayaks but after their defeats against the Marathas by Venkoji Bhonsle (half-brother of Shivaji), the palace was taken over. This palace is however not like the ones you see in Maharashtra on Rajasthan but more of a complex of different structures which in totality forms the whole Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex.
These are the main attractions inside Thanjavur Palace:-
1) Saraswati Mahal Library
2) Royal Palace Museum
3) Serfoji Memorial Hall
4) Darbar Hall
5) Art Gallery (Nayak Palace courtyard / Arsenal Tower)
6) Bell Tower
7) Sangeet Mahal
8) Sarjah Madi (Sadar Madi)
After you enter through the main gate you will first reach the Main Ticket Counter. From here you will be able to purchase tickets for entry as well as camera fee which is applicable for all the places except for Royal Palace Museum and Serfoji Memorial Hall. For these two locations, the ticket counters are just outside its individual entry point. Please keep the entry as well as camera tickets handy with you as these would be checked at each individual entry point. A word of caution about the stray dogs that roam near the ticket counter, these are known to bark for no reason at all thankfully the local street vendors help the tourists to defend themselves.
Saraswati Mahal Library
After purchasing your tickets take the road to your left and walk for around thirty meters and you will reach Saraswati Mahal Library. This building is easily identifiable with a very colourful frontage. Originally started by the Nayaks during their rule this library got its most patronage under the Marathas, especially under Serfoji II. Being an avid art and literature lover himself he turned the collection of this library into one of the finest in the country.
The most important collection of the library are the palm leaves manuscripts written in various scripts. This place also has a historic record of the Marathas.
Royal Palace Museum
Take the road left of Saraswati Mahal Library and you will reach Royal Palace Museum. To enter you need to buy a separate entry ticket as well as camera fee. The charges are very minimal (Rs. 2). This museum has a collection of coins, weapons, kitchen utensils, musical instruments etc. It’s a very small museum more of two corridors stacked with different items for display.
Serfoji Memorial Hall
Right, next to Royal Palace Museum you will see another ticket counter where you would need to buy entry tickets and camera fee tickets. A long passage takes you actually inside the palace and then after climbing a very narrow stair you will reach Serfoji Memorial Hall. This place is a large hall with artefacts, photographs etc. displayed like a small museum.
Up ahead from Serfoji Memorial Hall you will see an open courtyard, there are no ticket counters here but there is a ticket checking booth. You would need to show the camera fee ticket and the entry ticket which you had purchased from the main counter to enter. The tickets would be stamped and you can then proceed towards a large hall where the Maratha king used to meet his ministers and common citizens of his kingdom thus the name “Durbar”.
This large hall has the ceiling painted beautifully similar to which we had seen in Nandi Mandapam at Brihadeeswarar Temple a type of art form very common to the Maratha rule. At the centre is the portrait of the maharaja.
Art Gallery (Nayak Palace courtyard / Arsenal Tower)
Once you are done with the above three locations you would need to come back towards Saraswati Mahal Library, from here move ahead and take a left turn towards the Art Gallery. Out here again you would need to show the ticket checker the entry ticket and the camera fee ticket which would be stamped.
This place was basically the Nayak Palace which as the name suggests was originally built by the Nakays who ruled before the Marathas. The rooms have now been converted into a museum where you would be able to see a good collection of statues, old coins, weapons etc. There is a big courtyard at the centre from where you can get a panoramic view of the entire building.
On the south side of the courtyard, you will see a tower which is known as the Arsenal Tower. This as the name suggests is an eight storied structure which was used as a storage place for weapons and ammunitions by the Marathas built in the year 1885. There is a stairway which can take you up to the tower from Nayak Palace courtyard.
Right next to the Art Gallery we have the Bell Tower, this seven storied structure was built by the Nayaks and is said to be used for offering prayers. Some historians also confirm that this tower also housed a clock once.
Right opposite to The Art Gallery we have Sangeet Mahal which as the name suggest is an indoor auditorium. The time when I had visited some cultural event was going on thus could not photograph the interiors. This was the royal hall was built in the year 1600 by Sevappa Nayak. The importance of this hall is well documented by various legendary artists of that era where they have mentioned this particular place. The design of this hall was scientific enough to help in acoustics by reducing reflected sound giving the audience the pure sound of the musicians and the vocal artists.
Sarjah Madi (Sadar Madi)
This place is situated near the main ticket counter so you have to come all the way back and take the road right from the ticket counter. Sarjah Madi has very recently been renovated and one can see the beautiful five circular small balconies of different sizes.
If you really want to enjoy the full beauty of Thanjavur Palace then it’s recommended that you spend at least a full day since there are many individual sections in the palace which would take time to cover. Hope you have enjoyed going through my Thanjavur blogs, my next blog would feature other important places that you can visit around Thanjavur.
Other Thanjavur Blogs
Location on Map
Click here to open the location of Thanjavur Palace on Google maps.