From the travel experiences that I had in the past, I have always found that tall mountains and gigantic architectures have mesmerized me often. They always show me how small I am in front of them and how even smaller my problems are. One such place I always wanted to visit was Thanjavur. While I have heard a lot about the massive Brihadishwar temple there, the dream was to measure it from my eyes for real. I had planned a short trip for the day I'll be turning 27 and Thanjavur was the perfect match this time both to seek blessings and to have the fun of travel. There wasn't much to explore for the entire day at Thanjavur, which made me add Srirangam to the itinerary. Plan was ready almost a month earlier and my usual anxiety kicked-in waiting for the day to arrive.
The journey started by an hour behind the schedule from Bangalore. Such delays are unusual with SRS travels, but I had a relaxed itinerary which could accommodate the delay in reaching. The new bus stand is about 5km away from Thanjavur temple where the bus dropped me off at 6:45 AM the next day. My hotel was closer to Brihadishwar temple and I had decided to cover the rest of the places around by walk.
I stopped for breakfast en-route temple to wake up my senses with a shot of caffeine. Trying masala dosa is a must when in the south. That too, in TamilNadu it is served with three variations of Chatney. This is one such safe dish in the south which they can never go wrong with.
It was 8:15 when I reached the temple. No wonder the name Brihat is associated with it. The massive stone carved temple stands on a strong 16ft tall foundation. Each side of the outer sanctum is more than 100mt in length. Built by Raja Raja Chola about 1000 years ago, the entire temple complex is a treasure of art. The walls of the outer sanctum are decorated with paintings that depict the 108 forms of Bharatanatyam. Standing at the center, the Brihadeeshwar temple has a dome weighing 80 tons placed on the top of its Shikara. History says that a temporary elevated ramp of about 5 KM in length was constructed to pull this stone with the help of 100 elephants and place it on the top. As proof to this, the area surrounding the temple does not have any other structure which matches the height of the tower of the temple. Inside the inner sanctum stands a 3.6m tall Shivalinga matching the size and style of the temple.
Along with Ishwara, the temple complex houses the shrines of Nataraja, Karthikeya, Parvathi, and Nandi as well. After seeking blessings and appreciating every part of this architectural wonder, I headed towards the next attraction of the city i.e. the Maratha Palace.
Thanjavur has gained popularity since the time of Chola kings and was ruled by Nayaka and Maratha kings as well before finally being taken over by the British. Different parts of this Palace complex was built by these various rulers. The utmost important part of the palace is the Saraswathi Mahal Library. All the rulers of Thanjavur appreciated different forms of art and literature and have contributed to the contents of this library. It consists of thousands of volumes of palm leaf scripture and books of various languages including Marathi, Tamil, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Urdu. There are manuscripts on art, anatomy, economics, literature, and mythology preserved in their original state. This place is never to be missed when visiting Thanjavur. The Library also has an audiovisual display of the history of Thanjavur which explains the efforts of each of dynasty in making it a hub of culture and skills.
Adjacent to the Library is the Darbar hall and Rama Mantapa. The walls and pillars of the Darbar hall are decorated with vibrant colored paintings and was built in the time of Maratha rulers. Rama mantapa has the display of various form of pillars and statues found in the temple complex. However, it was sad to see that the sculptures and the paintings on the wall were severely damaged by the tourists and needed immediate attention.
An art gallery situated next to the library has a collection of bronze sculptures and artifacts of the Nayaka and Maratha dynasty. Many of the bronze sculptures are more than 500 years old and still have the vibrancy in them. Even today, the sculptures and musical instruments made traditionally in Thanjavur are known worldwide. The influence of rulers from various ethnicity has provided a cultural significance to the city. Various art forms such as stone and wood sculpture, painting, Bharatanatyam is practiced and taught here from generations.
Though there are few more places to visit such as Rajaraja Manimantapam and Shivgangai Park, these places aren't maintained well or one can see people resting on the floor randomly whom we wouldn't want to disturb.
Thanjavur is well known for its Bobble Head Dolls aka Thalaiyatti Bommai and I didn't miss a chance to take one back as a souvenir. After a tummylicious lunch at a nearby hotel, I caught my bus to Srirangam.
The town of Srirangam is surrounded by Cauveri river and situated at a distance of about 60KM from Thanjavur. I had to catch a bus from Thanjavur new bus stand to Tiruchirappalli followed by a city bus ride to Srirangam. Journey towards Trichy was scenic with paddy fields on most of the parts.
The heart of the Srirangam, the Ranganatha Swamy temple is also close to 1000 years old. With 21 towars(Gopuram) and about 80 shrines within, it is one of the largest Hindu temples. The temple has also been nominated for the UNESCO world heritage site.
While I was confused in finding my way around this huge place, a priest there asked me to see the viewpoint before visiting the temple. The sight from the view point i.e. roof of one of the halls was indeed making me spellbound. I could see a clear view of the towers of all directions and different shrines in the temple complex. I could get a clear view of sculptures on these towers which I was struggling to capture otherwise.
I had reached almost at the evening closing time of the temple and noticing that the crowd was lesser than expected, I ran quickly to the free darshan Queue. After about half an hour of wait, I was allowed to enter inside the temple to seek blessings from the deity. The temple also consists of a shrine of Ramanujacharya where it is believed that his mortal remains are still preserved and open to see for all devotees.
I had completed everything that I had expected to do from itinerary and yet I had made a small but significant mistake. It was just 6:30PM and my bus towards Bangalore was scheduled to arrive at 11. Considering the time I could wait in the temple there was still about half of the time left where I had to find a temporary place to rest. Renting a room for about two hours didn't seem like a good option so I decided to walk around despite the tiredness. A tea shop vendor was kind enough to have a chai-pe- charcha about the current affairs. I had never had such amazing and delicious tea before. After some panic moments of not finding the boarding point to getting picked up from a stop 5km away from where I was earlier, I was finally heading back towards Bangalore with the day well spent.
1. Walking on the streets of Thanjavur below the scorching sun in the month of February is not a good option. At least carry an umbrella.
2. A lot of monuments have been converted into love letters by hopeless romantics. If you see any such acts, educate them and enjoy the best of the views that have remained in this beautiful city.
3. Though the food joints here serves a variety of cuisines, opt for south Indian food if you are comfortable.