Thanjavur, formerly Tanjore, is a town and the headquarters of the Thanjavur District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Scholars believe the name Thanjavur to have been derived from "Tanjan", a legendary asura in Hindu mythology. While the early history of Thanjavur remains unclear, the town first rose to prominence during the reign of the Medieval Cholas when it served as the capital of the Chola empire. After the fall of the Cholas, the town was ruled by various dynasties like Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and the British. It has been a part of independent India since 1947.
Thanjavur is an important center of South Indian art and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments are located in and around Thanjavur. The foremost among the Great Living Chola temples, the Brihadeeswara Temple, is located in the center of the town. Thanjavur is also the home of the Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region. The town is an important agricultural center located at the heart of the region, known as the "Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu". Thanjavur is administered by a special grade municipality covering an area of and had a population of a 215,314 in 2001.
Thanjavur is well-connected by roads and railways with other parts of India and with cities and towns in Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli International Airport located at a distance of . The nearest seaport is Nagapattinam which is from Thanjavur. Thanjavur has four deemed universities, 15 arts, science & management colleges, nine engineering colleges, one medical college and 20 registered schools.
The name Thanjavur is believed to have been derived from "Tanjan", an asura (giant) in Hindu mythology, who is believed to have been killed at this spot by the Hindu god Vishnu in the form of Neelamegha Perumal.
There are no references to Thanjavur in any of the Sangam period records though some scholars believe that the town has been existing since then. Kovil Venni, situated at a distance of to the east of Thanjavur, was the site of the Battle of Venni between Karikala and a confederacy of the Cheras and the Pandyas. The Cholas seemed to have faced an invasion of the Kalabhras in the 3rd century AD after which the kingdom faded into obscurity. The region around the present day Thanjavur was conquered by the Mutharayars in the 6th century AD and ruled up to 849 AD.
The Chola Empire 850–1279 AD
The Cholas came once more into prominence through the rise of the Medieval Chola monarch Vijayalaya (841–878 AD) in about 850 AD. Vijayalaya conquered Thanjavur from the Mutharayar king Elango Mutharayar and built a temple to the Hindu goddess Nisumbhasudani at this place. His son Aditya I (871–901 AD) consolidated their hold over the town. The Rashtrakuta king Krishna II (878–914 AD), a contemporary of the Chola king Parantaka I (907–950 AD), claims to have conquered Thanjavur but there exists no evidence to support his claim. Gradually, Thanjavur became the most important town in the Chola Empire and remained its capital till the construction of Gangaikonda Cholapuram in about 1025 AD.
During the first decade of the eleventh century AD, the Chola king Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 AD) constructed the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur. The temple is considered to be one of the best specimens of South Indian temple architecture.
When the Chola Empire began to decline in the 13th century AD, the Pandyas from the south invaded and captured Thanjavur twice, first during 1218–19 AD and then during 1230 AD. During the second invasion, the Chola king Rajaraja III (1216–56 AD) was driven out of his kingdom and sought the help of the Hoysala king Vira Narasimha II (120–35 AD) to get it back. Thanjavur was eventually annexed along with the rest of the Chola kingdom by the Pandya king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I (1268–1308 AD) in 1279 AD and the Chola kings were forced to accept the suzerainty of the Pandyas. The Pandyas ruled Thanjavur from 1279 AD to 1311 AD when their kingdom was raided and annexed by Malik Kafur (1296–1306 AD) and the forces of the Delhi Sultanate.
Medieval Period 1311–1679 AD
The Sultanate extend its authority directly over the conquered regions from 1311 to 1335 AD and then through the semi-independent Ma'bar Sultanate from 1335 to 1378 AD. Starting from the 1350s, the Ma'bar Sultanate was steadily absorbed into the rising Vijayanagar Empire. Thanjavur is believed to have been conquered by Kampanna Udayar during his invasion of Srirangam between 1365 and 1371 AD. Deva Raya's 1443 inscription, Thirumala's 1455 inscription and Achuta Deva's land grants dated 1532 and 1539 attest Vijayanagar's overlordship over Thanjavur.
Sevappa Nayak (1532–80 AD), the Vijayanagar viceroy of Arcot, established himself as an independent monarch in 1532 AD (1549, according to some sources) and founded the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom. Achuthappa Nayak (1560–1614 AD), Raghunatha Nayak (1600–34 AD) and Vijaya Raghava Nayak (1634–73 AD) are some of the important rulers of the Nayak dynasty. The dynasty came to an end when Thanjavur fell to the Madurai Nayak king Chokkanatha Nayak (1662–82 AD) in 1673 AD. Vijaya Raghunatha Nayak was killed and Chokkanatha's brother Alagiri Nayak (1673–75 AD) was installed as the ruler of the empire. Vijaya Raghunatha's son approached the Nawab of Bijapur for help. Thanjavur was successfully conquered in 1674 AD by Ekoji I (1675–84 AD), the Maratha feudatory of the Nawab of Bijapur and half-brother of Shivaji. Ekoji founded the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom which ruled Thanjavur till 1855 AD.
The Marathas and the British
The Marathas exercised their sovereignty over Thanjavur throughout the last quarter of the 17th and the whole of the 18th century. The Maratha rulers patronized art and literature and played an active part in support of the British against the French in the Carnatic Wars. In 1787 AD, Amar Singh, the regent of Thanjavur deposed the minor Raja, his nephew Serfoji II (1787–93 AD) and captured the throne. Serfoji II was restored in 1799 with the assistance of the British who induced him to relinquish the administration of the kingdom and left him in charge of Thanjavur fort and surrounding areas alone. The kingdom was eventually absorbed into British India in 1855 AD by the Doctrine of Lapse when Shivaji II (1832–55 AD), the last Thanjavur Maratha ruler, died without a legitimate male heir.
Five years after its annexation, the British replaced Negapatam (present day Nagapatinam) with Tanjore (Thanjavur) as the seat of the district administration. Under the British, Tanjore emerged as an important regional centre. The 1871 India census recorded a population of 52,171, making Tanjore the third largest town in the Madras Presidency. After India's independence, Thanjavur continued to as the district headquarters.