Not far from the temple and in the heart of the old tower lies the palace with vast labyrinthian buildings, enormous corridors, bit halls, watch-towers, moat, fort and courtyards. The palace was built by the Nayak rulers around 1550 A.D. and subsequently renovated and enlarged by the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur. Though a portion is in ruins, much of it is still in its original beauty. Some government offices are located inside besides an art gallery, a library, the hall of music, the audience hall and even today in a portion lives the present legal heirs of the Thanjavur Marathas.The entrance of the palace has a large quadrangular courtyard. There are big gateways to the northern and eastern walls. The courtyard leads to a big multi-pillared hall. There is also a Vimanam like building. The Vimanam is 190 feet high and is an eight storied building called the Goodagapuram. This Goodagapuram was the watch tower for the palace and also the armory of the Thanjavur Kings till the first decade of the 19th century.
Thanjavur Palace Information
Thanjavur Palace is located in the heart of the old city and surrounded by a huge fort wall, the Aranmanai or Thanjavur Palace was built by the Telugu Nayaks and the Marathas who succeeded them. From 1674 to 1855, it served as the official residence of the ruling Bhonsle family of Thanjavur. It was under Raja Serfoji II (1798-1832) that Thanjavur reached the glorious heights once attained under Rajaraja Chola. Besides promoting arts like painting, music and theatre, the philanthropist king also set up South India's first Devanagari printing press within the palace!
The 4ha/10-acre complex is a maze of interesting sights that keeps one engaged for hours. A narrow approach through an arch leads to the main square, with a bright-colored façade of Sarasvathi Mahal Library in front. To its east, approachable by a path, lie the Maratha Darbar Hall and Royal Museum. In an adjoining enclosure west of the library is the famed Art Gallery with the conical spie of the 58m/190ft arsenal Tower reaching towards the sky. to the right of the enclosure is the Naya Darbar Hall where the famed Chola bronzes are housed. West of it is the music hall Sangeetha Mahal, with the Government Handicraft Emporium located on its first floor. Facing the empty ground is the seven-storeyed Bell Tower, reminiscent of the architectural style of the Gingee Nayaks. The tower earlier had more levels, which were destroyed by lightning. The Sarjah Mahadi on the edge of the palace complex is another beautiful building with ornate windows. At the eastern gate of the fort at Beerangi Medu, don’t miss the massive Rajagopala Beerangi (cannon). The old palace store is used as a Palace Gallery where arte facts and handicrafts are on sale.
The birth of Thanjavur's Art Gallery was by accident. When an archaeologist from Calcutta spotted a neglected idol by the riverside and wished to take it back to Calcutta Museum, locals demanded that it should stay within the district. The idol was brought and placed in the empty corridor of the palace building. The Collector decreed that all such derelict sculptures should be stored here and thus, the Art Gallery came into existence in 1951.
The high domed hall at the entrance called Pooja Mahal showcases stone sculptures, notably a Muruga idol from Sirkazhi and 12C sculptures from Darasuram Gajasamhara Siva and Bhikshatanar. On the westrn side of the quadrangle is Rama Chowdham, the private audience hall of the Nayaks. Built in 1600, its massive pillars ar capped with stucco figures and a white statue of Maharaja Serfoji with folded arms greets every visitor. The upper walls are so richly decorated with black and white floral designs, imperial crests, lions and angels, one might miss the real show below glass cases full of exquisite Chola bronzes. Rishabhavahana Devar or Lord Shiva as a peasant with Parvati, Subramanya holding bow and arrow, several Natarajas and Kalyanasundarar, or Lord Shiva's marriage, are outstanding pieces. North of the courtyard, the hall at the base of Indira Mandir or the conical Arsenal Tower houses additional sculptures, bronzes and a millennium edition gilded statue of Rajaraja Chola. A stairway leads to the upper floors of the Arsenal Tower, which offers a birds eye view of the palace complex and the city. Also on display is a 28m/92ft long whale bone that washed ashore in Tranquebar on 26 Feb 1955.
Maratha Darbar Hall and Royal Museum
Maratha Darbar Hall, Bell Tower and Sarjah Mahadi is situated on the eastern side of Sarasvathi Mahal Library is a small compound reachable through a narrow passageway. On the far side of the grassy courtyard with a nandi and well in the centre is Maharaja Serfoji's Memrial Hall Museum or Royal Museum, a white edifice with sculptures lining an arched corridor. A cursory glance to the left reveals a sloping tiled roof that seems like an annexe. But a step inside dispels all nations of simplicity. The Maratha Darbar Hall, remodeled by Shahaji in 1684, is a grand edifice made up of two mndapams the front sloping roof supported by wooden pillars and a raised mandapam to the rear. Massive granite pillars plastered with brick and lime and dramatically painted in vertical stripes of blue, yellow and red support the vaulted roof. Stucco figures occupy niches on top of the pillars while the ceiling and walls are rich with murals. The portrait paintings on the east wall and hunting scene depicted on the north wall are masterpieces. On rectangular granite pedestal in the centre stands the darbar seat of the Maratha kings of Thanjavur. Inlaid with mirrors and supported by wooden pillars, it served as the royal seat of the king, who gave audience to his assembled subjects.
Sarasvathi Mahal Library Museum
One of the few medieval libraries to have survived the vagaries of the time, Sarasvathi Mahal is the oldest in Asia. Conceived as the Royal Palace Library by the Thanjavur Nayaks (1535-1675) and developed by their Marathas successors, it blossomed into a treasure house of knowledge under serfoji II. Its priceless collection includes nearly 50,000 palm leaf and paper manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu, 5000 folios of illustrated paper paintings and 1300 bundles of Maratha Raj records. All 65,000 books in English, French, German and Danish have been signed by the king. To highlight the library's significance, a small fraction is on display at the Sarasvathi Mahal Library Museum. Under the benign gaze of a massive oil.