Some say Madurai's Meenakshi temple is the beating heart of Tamil culture. In scale it might be Meenakshi, but in legacy, it surely is the Brihadeeshwara of Tanjore; the Capital of the once mighty Chola Empire.

The Brihadeeshwara is a living Chola temple, where devotees flock in the thousands each day to pray to Lord Shiva. Here Tamil ladies light lamps using ghee.

Richly endowed by the sovereign, the sanctuary, which also bears his name - it is sometimes called Rajarajesvaram - had a permanent staff of several hundred priests, 400 devadasi (sacred dancers), and 57 musicians, according to inscriptions and chronicles.

Brihadeeshwara, like most Temples in Tamil Nadu is dedicated to Lord Shiva. These votive Shivlingas are worshipped in shrines on the outer periphery of the Temple walls.

Shiva in Nataraja form, sculpted on the Brihadishwara Temple. Seen behind is a shrine to Subramanya.

View of the entrance gateway from the Nandi Mandap in the center of the temple complex.

A priest with sacred fire.

Workers clean the temple complex as devotees emerge from the sanctum sanctorum of the Brihadishwara Temple.

One of Tanjore's iconic crafts, the bobble head dancing doll known as Tanjore Doll.

Marble statue of Maharaja Serfoji II, Tanjore's most famous Maratha ruler. Serfoji, a descendant of Shivaji's half-brother Venkoji, was a great savant and humanist, a man who was far ahead of his times. During his time, Thanjavur was one of the most developed princely states in the Indian subcontinent. Serfoji ushered in an era of peace, prosperity and scientific development and pioneered new administrative and educational reforms.

Tourists gaze out from different levels of the pyramidal tower of the Maratha Palace, the royal house of Tanjore.

Intricately painted stucco decorations in the durbar hall of the Maratha Palace.

Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram

Nandi, Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram

Ganesha, Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram

Yalli, Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram

Frescoe, Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram

Airavateswara Temple, Dharasuram


Tanjore is one of the ancient cities in India and the beating heart of Tamil culture along with Madurai further south. Tanjore rose to prominence during the rule of the Cholas when it served as the capital of the sea faring Chola empire. The Chola patronage of Tamil literature and their zeal in building temples have resulted in some great works of Tamil literature 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 city. Thanjavur is also the home of the Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region.