Thanjavur, formerly Tanjore, is a city situated in the Cauvery delta, at a distance of 314 km south-west of Chennai. Thanjavur is an important center of South Indian religion, art, and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, are located in and around Thanjavur. The green paddy fields and the Kaveri river provide for picturesque spots in the district which is also known as the "Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu".
According to local legend, the word Thanjavur is derived from "Tanjan", an asura (giant) in Hindu mythology who was killed in what is now Thanjavur by the Hindu god Neelamegha Perumal, a form of Vishnu. The word Thanjavur is indeed a Tamil name. 'Than'-cold, 'chei'-farmland, 'ur'- city, a city surrounded by cold farmlands.
Thanjavur was at the height of its glory during the Chola period between the 10th and the 14th century and became a great centre of learning and culture. The most visited monument in Thanjavur is the Brihadeeswarar Temple, one of the best specimens of South Indian temple architecture. Built in the 11th century by the Chola king Raja Raja Chola I, the temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The walls of the sanctum are covered with wall paintings from the Chola and Nayak periods.
The Thanjavur Maratha palace was the official residence of the Bhonsle family who ruled over the Thanjavur region from 1674 to 1855. The Saraswathi Mahal Library, established around 1700 and located in the premises of the palace, contains over 30,000 Indian and European manuscripts written on palm leaf and paper. The Rajaraja Chola art gallery is located inside the palace - it has a large collection of stone and bronze images from the ninth to 12th centuries. Most of the idols present in the gallery were collected from various temples in the Thanjavur district. The Sivaganga Park is situated to the east of the Brihadeeswarar Temple and encompasses the Sivaganga Tank believed to have been built by the king Raja Raja Chola.
Airavateswara temple near Kumbakonam is also a UNESCO declared World Heritage site and another major tourist attraction in the district. Thanjavur is also home to Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region and for Thanjavur dancing dolls.
In and around Thanjavur there are other ancient temples like Vellai Pillaiyar Temple, Thiruvanajozhi, Lord Murugan Temple, Swami Malai, Chandra Bagawan Temple, Thingalur Moon temple, Sukkiran Temple, Kanchanur, Kethu Temple, Keelaperumpallam, Sani Bhagawan Temple, Thirunallar, Mercury Temple, Thiruvenkadu, Raaghu Temple, Thirunageshwaram, Guru Baghawan Temple at Alangudi, Thirumananjeri.