I have always been drawn to forts, castles and palaces because they have the power to transport us to various times and eras in History. Whichever the city or country we travel to, I always look for historical places that we can visit. As we are spending the past couple of months at my parent’s house in Thanjavur, which is rich in culture and history, we decided to visit the Thanjavur Maratha Palace which is the second major attraction, the Thanjavur Brihadishwara Temple being the first!
The Thanjavur Aranmanai dates back to the 1530s constructed by the last Nayak ruler Vijayaraghava Nayakka. When he lost the Kingdom, the Maratha kings, also known as the Bhonsales, took over the palace and made a lot of additions to it. As the Maratha kings were cordial with the British, they continued to own the palace all through the British era!
Our first stop was at the Royal Palace Museum, which is to the left of the Saraswati Mahal Library.
The museum consists of just two corridors where kitchen utensils, musical instruments, artifacts, cutleries, coins and weapons are kept on display!
The passage then led us to the Darbar Hall!
Like in all Indian palaces, the Darbar Hall is the most extravagant and artistic! It is where the King made his appearance to his ministers and the public to discuss affairs concerning the kingdom. Hence the name ‘Darbar’ which means court!
The colors of the Darbar hall are very contrasting and unique. The art in the ceiling is very typical of the Maratha paintings of that era with a painted portrait of Maharaja Serfoji in the center of the hall.
The surrounding walls of the Darbar Hall have intricate engravings on it!
The Darbar Hall leads to a beautifully structured passage that surrounds the courtyard.
This passage showcases many sculptures and artifacts that dates back to hundreds of years!
We took a few moments at the courtyard to enjoy a 360° view!
We caught sight of the Arsenal Tower from the courtyard!
After a relaxing stroll in the courtyard, we went to the Art Gallery, which is also the entrance to the Arsenal Tower.
The art gallery houses numerous stone sculptures and engravings that date back to several centuries!
There is also an indoor gallery that has a large Sculpture of Raja Serfoji and other artifacts!
We then ascended into the Arsenal Tower.
Standing as high as 192 feet, the Arsenal Tower, also known as the Koodagopuram, consists of eight floors. This pyramidal structure was used to store armoury, ammunitions and served other military purposes.
It is said that the Arsenal Tower is acoustically designed in such a way that the even the faintest whisper can be heard across three floors, an interesting means to send secret signals to soldiers in the tower!
Since only the second floor is open to the public, we enjoyed strolling in the terrace, where the the soldiers are said to have been trained in martial arts!
The terrace also has a skeleton of a massive 92 feet whale on display. This Baleen whale arrived dead on the shore of Tranquebar in year 1955. There is no mention of how it arrived to Thanjavur!
We also enjoyed visiting the Saraswathi Mahal Library at the Palace. Photography is strictly prohibited inside. Britannica Encycloåedia proclaims this library as one of the Most Remarkable Medieval Libraries of India. Nearly 49,000 palm leaf manuscripts & 73,000 books on arts, medicine, science, music and literature in many Indian & Foreign languages from Raja Serfoji’s period are preserved here. Raja Serfoji, in his youth, is said to have learned European languages such as English, French, Italian & Latin from the German Rev. Schwartz. Although only a few of those are kept on display, it is a treasure trove of knowledge from both the Nayak & Maratha Dynasty.
Our visit came to an end with a very informative short film that was played at the mini theater beside the Saraswathi Mahal Library. The 30 minute documentary of the History & Culture of Thanjavur is played a few times during the day (Check out the timing & do not miss it!). Although my parents have been residing in Thanjavur for over seven years and I pay frequent visits, I knew very little about this culturally rich city. The short film is beautifully shot and packed with interesting information!