Thanjavur attained prominence under the Chola rulers who were paramount in South India during 9th to 12th
centuries. They were not only excellent rulers but also mighty builders, who erected a large number of exquisite
temples in their empire, some of which constitute the finest specimens of architecture. Hence the district stands
distinguished in the state even in its large number of temples, whose legends extend deep into early historic times.
Many of these temples reflect the power, genius and architectural grandeurs of their authors displaying the unique
and magnificent proficiency in sculpture, painting and wood carving. Art gallery the great Saraswathi Mahal library,
the 'Sangeetha Mahal' (hall of music), the thriving of classical music and dance known as 'Bharathanatyam' and the
celebration of grand annual music festival at Thiruvaiyaru, in honour of the great Saint Thiagaraja, all bear testimony
to the cultural heritage.
The period of Chola Kings was not only considered as epoch-making but also an era of the cultural renaissance.
Thanjavur under the Chola rulers was the cradle of Tamil Culture. Literature and civilisation and the rare Tamil
manuscripts in the Thanjavur library corroborate this fact. Another notable feature is that in spite of several alien
invasions, onslaughts and internal conflicts, the ancient culture and civilisation have not suffered much devastation.
The inhabitants have successfully concentrated their histrionic talents in the field of art, literature, drama, music and
dancing and are known for their rich cultural and religious fervour. They live in close harmony as a well knit
community and the three main religious groups viz., Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, celebrate their fairs and
festivals with a sense of mutual respect. On festive occasion, the Hindu devotees out-number all other participants in
the shrines belonging to other religions. Similarly, in the case of some Hindu festivals, the temples are thronged by a
substantial number of persons belonging to other religious group as well, who have a staunch faith and come in full
reverence to pay homage to the presiding deities
According to the known history dating back to Sangam age, the Cholas ruled over Thanjavur for about one
thousand years. It was here that plans were formulated to extent the Chola supremacy by spreading their glory from
Kanniyakumari in the south to Himalayas in the north. They also under their patronage cultivated fine arts, erected
temples, constructed anaicuts, built ports and cities.
Among the Chola Kings who found place Sangam literature, Karikala and Koccengan were the most prominent.
The name ' Karikala' which in Tamil refers to a man with charred leg, was derived by this King from a fire accident.
He was assailed imprisoned and deprived of his birth right by his enemies. He, however, managed to regain the
throne and in the great battle at Venni he defeated Pandya and Chera rulers and secured for himself the hegemony
over them. He crushed both the internal and external opposition and became complete master of his country. He
renovated the capital of Uraiyur, built up the renowned port of Puhar (Kaveripoompattinam) and patronised liberal
arts and letters.
Karikala was succeeded by two rival kings- Nalangilli and Nedungilli who ruled from Puhar and Uraiyur
respectively. The next Chola King Killivalavan from Uraiyur was a brave and able warrior, besides a patron of letters.
Of the Chola of later Sangam age, Koccengan was more brilliant and illustrious in both war and peace. He showed
equal zeal for both Saivism and Vaishnavism, built numerous saivite temples including the famous Jambukeswara
Temple at Tirunaraiyur. After a brief set back in the Chola regime between the third century to ninth century A.D.,
the Cholas became the mighty race of rulers. Once again Vijayalaya (850-870) the founder of the new Chola dynasty,
drove away the Muttaraiyar Chieftains from Thanjavur and assisted the Pallava King to stem the tide of the Pandiyan
overlordship. His son Aditya I (870-907) soon over-threw the Pallava King Aparajita and expelled him from his
territory. After conquering the Kongu country and Pandyas, he further extended his kingdom. He was an ardent
saivite like his father and built temples along the banks of cauvery from Sahyadri to the sea.