A day’s journey to Tanjore travelling further south along the coast before turning west into the Tamil heartlands, characterized by lovely and colorful temple towns with deep religious ambiance along the route. The roads through Tamil Nadu are busy and crowded, with everyday and unusual sights that make for interesting stops.
The first of the very significant temple towns is Chidambaram, where Shiva is said to have performed the cosmic dance at the sport where the hallowed Nataraja temple now stands. Built by the Cholas in the 9th century CE, with four gateways and a colonnaded tank – the eastern gateway depicting the 108 hand and feet movements in the classic Bharatnatyam dance – it houses the original Shiva Nataraja image that depicts Shiva as the Lord of Dance.
Driving into the interior, the next stop is at Gangaikondacholapuram, another of the erstwhile Chola dynasty capitals from the 11th century CE, commemorating a military quest that reached the Ganges and brought back pots of sacred water. The Brihadesvara temple here, a replica of its legendary forebear in Tanjore, is quite magnificent, enhanced by some superb sculpture and friezes.
The town of Kumbakonam, born at the spot where Shiva’s arrow shattered the pot of sacred nectar, grew around the Mahamaham Tank into which the nectar flowed. Around it is four temples and several pavilions, along with devotees who bathe in its sacred waters. Kumbakonam’s holy heritage is heightened by its status as a cultural redoubt of the Tamils, as well as a center for commerce and crafts.
Tanjore is a short distance ahead.
At the very greatest of the Chola dynasty capitals, over 1,200 years old, visit the Raja Raja Museum & Art Gallery noted for its collection of Chola bronzes cast through the lost wax process, and the Saraswati Mahal Library, one of the most important reference libraries. Tanjore’s teeming bazaars are known for their excellent crafts such as wood carving, metalware, and jewelry. Of particular interest are Tanjore paintings, murals rendered on glass and sometimes embellished with semi-precious stones.
Built in the early 11th century CE, the Brihadevara temple was the symbol of the Chola’s unrivalled power and might during that time and the zenith of their artistic excellence. A building of grand dimensions and a marvel of engineering, the temple is one of the grandest sights anywhere in India and is a testimony to the Cholas designs of empire, statecraft and the religious fervour of the land.
Main image picture credits: Tanjavur Palace Devasthanam
We recommend staying at Svatma, while you plan to visit Tanjore for an aesthetic Tamil experience.