Thanjavur, rightly acclaimed as the Granary of the South India, lies in the deltaic region of the famous river Cauvery and is a cultural treasure house of Tamil Nadu. This was the Royal city of the Cholas, Khiliji, the Sultan of Delhi, Nayaks and the Marattas. The notable feature is that in spite of several alien invasions, onslaughts and internal conflicts, the ancient culture and civilisation have not suffered much devastation. During the reign of Cholas, Thanjavur flourished humming with trade and cultural activities.
Devotion to God was prime in the minds of the then people of Thanjavur, and all their activities were entwined with faith in God. There are many places of worship in and around Thanjavur, both Sivait and Vaishnavait sthalas. Nayanmargal were the Acharyas who follow Sivaism and sung in praise of the presiding deity of the kshethra and such kshethras are known as 'padel petra thalam'. Azhvargal were the Acharyas who follow vaishnava cult and sung paasuram (poems) in praise of the presiding deity of the sthala and such sthalas are known as Sri Divya Desam. People who follow Shri Vaishnava cult will remember the Sri Divya Desam Shri Maamani koil of Thanjavur where Shri Neelamega Perumal is the presiding deity and in whose praise Shri Thirumangai Azhvar had sung beautiful paasuras.
It is interesting to note that the place had been named as Thanjavur by Shri Neelamega Perumal as a grant of a last wish of His devotee turned demon due to a curse. Tanjan got boons from Lord Siva and became arrogant and started devastating the neighborhood. It is said that Sri Anaandavalli Thayar (Lakshmi) and Sri Neelamega Perumal (Vishnu) killed the demon Tanjan, as wished by Lord Siva (Lord Tanjapuriswarar). As requested by the demon this place had been named after him as Thanjavur.
Of the many rulers of Thanjavur, the Cholas had built the grand temple for Shri Bragatheeswara now popularly known as Big Temple. Temple is inside the Fort known as Sivaganga Fort ascribed to the Sevvappa Nayak, which might have also housed the then rulers' living palace. Later rulers belonging to Nayaks and Marattas built the big fort, which encircles the city, with a separate palace for the rulers. [The present palace is perhaps the palace where the then rulers lived] The construction of the palace was first initiated by the Naik rulers of Tanjanvur with each subsequent ruler adding some more splendors to the palace. Though it is basically a fort, it could well be called as a fortified Palace. Presently it is known as Palace complex only.
Today if you visit the palace complex, which forms the nucleus of the old city, you can find a temple vimana like building around two hundred feet high known as Goodagopuram. It is said to have been used as a watchtower and a storehouse by the rulers. There is another tower built during Nayaks known as Madamaligai, from where the kings use to see the Rajagopuram of Sri Ranganatha Swami of Srirangam, which is nearly 40 KM away. The present structure is a truncated one. It is said that it was even taller earlier and that lightning had destructed many storey. There are two magnificent Durbar halls built during the reigns of Nayaks and Maratta rulers.
There is a wonder treasure known as Saraswati Mahal having the collection of very old manuscripts in palm leaf collected by Nayaks and Maratta rulers and Sri Raja Sarafoji of Maratta dynasty had organised the library during his regime. Sangeetha Mahal, where many musical concerts are held, is also the part of the complex.
Vijayanagar Kings captured reign of Thanjavur in 14th Century AD. Sevvappa Nayak (AD 1549-1572), a Viceroy of the Vijayanager Empire assumed independent charge and founded the dynasty of the Thanjavur Nayaks. The old fort is known as Sivaganga Fort - named after him - and presently a beautiful garden known as Sivaganga garden is popular. Thanjavur remained the capital of the Nayaks for the next one hundred and twenty five years till the reign of Vijayaraghava - the last prince in the line. It is well known the Nayaks who hailed from Vijayanagar, are great devotees of Lord Anjaneya Swami, and drew their strength from Him and kept their valour and zeal in high spirit.
While you are in the quadrangular courtyard in front of the Saraswati Mahal you will see an ardha shila of Lord Jaya Veera Anjaneya, holding a lotus flower in His hand. This is placed on the wall adjacent to the Saraswati Mahal. It is customary for the kings to have dharshan of the Lord before leaving the palace and to ensure victory in their missions; Lord Anjaneya was depicted in the form of The Jaya Veera with lotus in his hand symbolising victory.
There is another small beautiful temple for Lord Anjaneya in the complex that attracts large number of devotees. As you move northwards from the quadrangular courtyard through the thick walls of the fort you will end up near the fire station situated outside the fort compound. On either side of the wall you will see bunks meant for stationing of soldiers and the armory.
Sri Raghunatha Nayakan (1600-1645) the then ruler was an ardent devotee of Sri Rama and had supported the propagation of Srimad Ramayana and earned the title "Ramayana Anavrtha Ramakathamirtha Sevakan". He had built a temple for Lord Rama in the bunk facing east and in the opposite bunk- facing this bunk - he had installed the statue of Lord Anjaneya. Lord Anjaneya is seen with folded hands praying to Lord Rama.
But in the course of time the main deities of the Rama temple came to be stolen away and only the platform where the parivara idols of Lord Rama stood was there. But today, the Rama temple is no more there and it has been closed with brickwork. Now there is a small window kept on the brickwork and Lord Anjaneya is looking at where Lord Rama and his parivara idols were once.
The temple is west facing so also Lord Anjaneya Swami. The main sanctum is raised and the Lord Anjaneya Swami is installed there. As you enter you will see Maha Ganapati and Navaneetha Krishnan former in the standing posture and the other in sitting posture. This is the uniqueness of the temples built by the rulers of the Vijayanagar - wherever Lord Anjaneya is installed there is either Sri Venu Gopal or some form of Lord Krishna will also be installed in the temple premises. Similarly, wherever Sri Krishna is installed, as the main deity there will be Sri Anjaneya as well somewhere in the temple. There also vigrahas of Ambal and Jaya Veera Anjaneya holding a lotus in his hand.
The Lord Anjaneya vigraha is about four feet in height and the Lord is standing majestically with folded hands (anjali hastha varadhan). His eyes are glowing with bright golden hue and He is bestowing on the devotees all that they wished (kamaduk). In early nineties the trustees performed the kumbabishekam of the temple.
Next time when you are around Thanjavur make it a point to visit this small beautiful temple and bring back the blessing of the Lord Kamaduk.
[ed. november 2005]
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