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Cultural legacy of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

By : Cultural legacy of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

February 11, 2022

The cultural history of Thanjavur makes it a goldmine for art lovers. Given that it was ruled by different dynasties during different periods, its cultural milieu has become an amalgamation of each of these reigns. Right from the Cholas (8th to 13th century) to the Marathas (the last dynasty to rule Thanjavur in the 19th century before the arrival of the British), Thanjavur to this day reflects the richness of its past. It also helped shape the modern-day Tamil culture significantly.

Presently, Thanjavur boasts three geographical indicators granted by the Government of India (a geographical indicator is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation native to that place of origin)—Thanjavur Veena (a musical instrument), Thanjavur dolls and Thanjavur paintings.

Music and dance 

Raghunatha veena

Thanjavur led the field of music and dance of South India for more than 800 years. Many musical ideas and theories used today, such as the 72 Melakarta system, emerged from this place.

Talking particularly about the music scene, Thanjavur and its region were instrumental in the promulgation of Carnatic music (a type of music native to the Southern Indian region). Some of the finest composers/saints of classical Carnatic music, Syama Sastri, Muthuswami Dikshithar, and Tyagharaja Bhagavathar belonged to this region.

Further, Thanjavur is also known for the musical instruments it produces. Now a geographical indicator, some of the best quality Veenas originate from Thanjavur.  The Thanjavur Veena or Raghunatha Nayaka Mela Veena is named after Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1634), a master of the Veena who perfected the version with 24 fixed frets and four playing strings. This helped shape the present-day version of the Veena.  

Carnatic Music Festival

The city continues to commemorate its illustrious musical heritage with regular Carnatic classical music festivals. While the ‘Madras Music Season’ is recognized as the longest and biggest Carnatic music event, the annual ‘Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana’ serves as the cultural epicenter of the Carnatic style of music. It takes place on the banks of the river Cauvery in Thanjavur district. It is a six-day event with the main celebrations taking place on the final day. A unique feature of this festival is that more than 500 musicians participate each year to sing renditions of Thiruveetuvar's compositions (most notably Pancharatna Kritis) which are dedicated to Lord Shiva.

As for dance, the city is the birthplace of the renowned “Tanjore Quartet”—brothers Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Shivanandam, and Vadivelu—who have been said to have developed the modern-day Bharatanatyam.

Saraswathi Mahal Library

Saraswathi Mahal Library

The Saraswathi Mahal library was built as a Royal Library for the Nayak Kings of Thanjavur, who ruled during the 14th and 15th centuries. It is located on the inner campus of Thanjavur palace and is one of the oldest libraries in India. It is open to visitors who can view the preserved books that tell the story of Thanjavur and its rich heritage.

Thanjavur Dolls

Indian doll-making has a long history and Thanjavur’s dolls (two kinds – bobblehead or round-bottomed) are a shining example of Indian excellence. Their production and display are closely linked to the Tamil festival of Navaratri, in which families decorate their homes with a variety of dolls and figurines of gods.

These Tanjore Dolls have regained popularity in recent times, all thanks to them being recognized as a geographical indicator.

Thanjavur Art

Thanjavur Paintings are one of the most significant traditional art forms of Southern India and have been designated as a geographical indicator by the Indian government. This style was primarily used to depict gods and goddesses. It incorporates bright color palettes and is especially known for its use of inlay work with glass beads and semi-precious stones.

This art form also had a significant influence on famous artists and South Indian art movements.

Thanjavur ArtThanjavur Dolls
Thanjavur DollsThanjavur Art