Post-Chola period, in medieval times, Tanjore or Thanjavur came under the Nayakas. Who was followed by the Maratha Nayakas Bhonsle family? The last one is the clan of Shivaji through his half-brother Ekoji. They ruled the region till the British took over in mid-19th CE. More than 300 years of presence has to leave their imprint on the place, and it exists in the form of a complex called Maratha Palace Tanjore. The Maratha Palace is popularly called Thanjavur Palace.
Maratha Palace Tanjore or Thanjavur Palace
Museum of Art – Thanjavur Palace
A part of the palace houses the Museum of Art. This is a very strange building with a tall bell tower with open windows standing at the entrance. Different walls of the central courtyard bear entirely different facades. Gives an impression of forced patch-up work overtime or depicts various times. As you enter a huge Brahma statue in dark grey stone greets you. The courtyards have stone sculptures excavated from the region. The upkeep and documentation can definitely be better. The paint was falling on sculptures as the palace was undergoing maintenance. I wonder if the sculptures are worth displaying in a museum. Are they not worth protecting and maintaining as well?
There is a small Buddhist gallery in the corridor. One hall with colorfully decorated walls and ceilings with a statue of Raja Serfoji houses the Chola Bronzes. Definitely, not the best pieces. But the pleasure of watching creations in situ is felt only when you stand there.
Inverted Lotus shape ceiling
You can go to the top of this building to see the upper part of the palace. There is an interesting inverted lotus-shaped ceiling. And there are niches and windows on the outside view. I went to the top to get a distant view of the Big Temple. But was disappointed to know that there is no such view. Then there is a 92 feet long bone of a whale on display here. Though again lying in complete neglect. There are remnants of some paintings on the wall with dominant red and black. The style is definitely what we know as Tanjore’s trademark style. But whether there were any precious stones on them or not cannot be said by looking at them during a visit.
Another part of the palace has a colorful durbar hall with Srinathji paintings in Nathdwara style on the walls in traditional Tanjore style. There is a small wooden stage with the place marked for the throne on it through an elaborate chhatri. This part is barricaded now. In front of the hall is a garden that is again lying in neglect. The two sides have pillared corridors and the fourth side has the entrance.
Serfoji Memorial Hall
One of the upper rooms, called Serfoji memorial hall has his personal belongings displayed. Most of which are of the times that you may associate with your grandparent’s generation.
Saraswati Mahal Library
Saraswati Mahal Library is the biggest delight in this palace complex. Though as a tourist you only get to see the museum. At the entrance, there is a full wall of Tanjore paintings that can hold your eyes for quite some time. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures here. Inside the museum, you can see the botanical and medical records, the Shastras, or encyclopedias dedicated to animals like horses and elephants. Beautiful paintings of fishes and butterflies, musical records, and prints of Daniel’s photographs. Various manuscripts, and books from the Serfoji’s printing press. A Tamil – English dictionary, miniature Chitra Ramayana, 19 Parva Mahabharata, etc.
There is documentation of things like the Punishment methods of China, the 64 bathing Ghats of Varanasi, almanacs, and human physiognomy charts. There are amusing things like microscopic writing with each letter formed by scores of words Shiva, coiled manuscripts, and cloth designs. It is not a huge museum. But a very interesting and well-maintained displayed and documented one. The bookshop in the library had books only in Tamil and Marathi languages.
There are 4 different tickets that you have to buy to see the different parts of the same Maratha Palace Tanjore complex. They are for a visit to the Museum, Serfoji Hall, Durbar Hall, and Saraswati museum. I hope authorities make it a single ticket to avoid hassles in figuring out what ticket applies where.
On a lighter note, now I understand why a Maratha Rajnikanth rules the Tamil Heartland.
Recommend you to read the following Places to visit in Tamil Nadu.