Thursday, February 07, 2013

Tamil Nadu Tales VIII: Maratha Imprint in Tanjore

Bell Tower at the Entrance of Palace
Post Chola period, in the medieval times, Tanjore came under the Nayakas, who were followed by the Maratha Nayakas’ Bhonsle family, the last one being the clan of Shivaji through his half-brother Ekoji. They ruled the region till British took over in mid 19th CE. More than 300 years of presence has to leave its imprint on the place, and it exists in the form of Maratha Palace complex in Tanjore.

Raja Serofji's Statue in the Darbar Hall
A part of the palace houses the Museum of Art. This is a very strange building with a tall bell tower with open windows standing at the entrance. Different walls of central courtyard bear entirely different facades giving an impression of a forced patch up work over time or to depict various times. As you enter a huge Brahma statue in dark grey stone greets you. The courtyards has the stone sculptures excavated from the region, the upkeep and documentation can definitely be better. The paint was falling on sculptures as the palace was undergoing maintenance, and I wonder if the sculptures are worth displaying in a museum, are they not worth protecting and maintaining as well. There is a small Buddhist gallery in the corridor. One hall with colorfully decorated walls and ceilings with a statue of Raja Serofji, houses the Chola Bronzes, definitely not the best pieces but the pleasure of watching creations in situ is felt only when you stand there.

You can go on top of this building to see the upper part of the palace, there is an interesting inverted lotus shaped ceiling, and there are niches and windows for the outside view. I went to the top to get a distant view of the Big Temple, but was disappointed to know that there is no such view. There is a 92 feet long bone of a whale on display here, though again lying in the complete neglect. There are remnants of some paintings on the wall with dominant red and black, the style is definitely what we know as Tanjore’s trademark style but weather there were any precious stones on them or not can not be said. Another part of the palace has colorful durbar hall with Srinathji painting in Nathdwara style on the walls along with traditional Tanjore style. There is a small wooden stage with place marked for the throne on it through an elaborate chhatri. This part is barricaded now. In front of the hall is a garden that is again lying in neglect and the two sides have pillared corridors and fourth side has the entrance. In one of the upper rooms the called Serofji memorial hall, with his personal belongings, most of which are from the times that you may associate with your grandparents generation.

Colorful Durbar Hall 
Saraswati Mahal Library is the biggest delight in this palace complex, though as a tourist you only get to see the museum. At the entrance there is a full wall Tanjore painting that can hold your eyes for quite some time, unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures here. Inside the museum, you can see the botanical and medical records, the Shastras or encyclopedias dedicated to animals like horses and elephants, beautiful paintings of fishes and butterflies, musical records, prints of Daniel photographs, various manuscripts, books from the Serfoji’s Printing press including a Tamil – English dictionary, miniature Chitra Ramayana, 19 Parva Mahabharata etc. There is documentation of things like Punishment methods of China, 64 bathing Ghats of Banaras, almanacs, and human physiognomy charts. There are amusing things like microscopic writing with each letter formed by scores of word Shiva, coiled manuscripts and cloth designs. It is not a huge museum, but a very interesting and a very well maintained, displayed and documented one. The bookshop of the library had books only in Tamil and Marathi.

Courtyard Walls of Museum of Art
There are 4 different tickets that you have to buy to see the different part of the same complex – Museum, Serofji Hall, Durbar hall and Saraswati museum. I hope authorities make it a single ticket to avoid hassles in figuring out what ticket applies where.

On a lighter note, now I understand why a Maratha Rajnikanth rules the Tamil Heartland.

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