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In Thanjavur, majesty caged

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MAJESTIC: At the Maratha durbar hall in Thanjavur.
MAJESTIC: At the Maratha durbar hall in Thanjavur.

G. Srinivasan

Grills and gate mar the view at the picturesque Maratha durbar hall Art enthusiasts say a virtually invisible wire mesh would have done the job.

Thanjavur: The State Archaeology Department's action of erecting iron grills and a gate at the entrance to the Maratha durbar hall in the 400-year-old palace complex here has led to widespread public complaints.

It is pointed out that the grills have spoiled the beauty of the majestic hall.

Where there was an open view of the hall, the grills now impede the view.

The Archaeology Department's position is that the grills and gates were erected in order to save the beautiful paintings inside the hall from the pigeons that frequent the hall. But, art enthusiasts say a virtually invisible wire mesh would have done that job. They resent the "caging" of the entire hall.

No action

The Thanjavur branch of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) wrote to the Archaeology Department higher-ups, but there has been no action. INTACH has appealed to the Government to remove the grills and opt for alternative means to keep any pigeons at bay without marring the beauty of the Durbar Hall.

The manner in which the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which maintains the Big Temple, has been maintaining a big canon at the entrance to Thanjavur town, has been cited as an example of unobtrusive conservation. The ASI has not had to erect any additional structures in order to conserve the canon.

The State Archaeology Department would appear to have a different approach. It keeps erecting new structures without applying much thought to aesthetic factors, in the process impinging on the authentic and original ambience of places under its charge, people complain. Besides the Maratha durbar hall, the Department maintains the Sarja Madi, the Arsenal Tower and the Bell Tower in the Thanjavur palace complex and fort at Manora near Pattukottai.

Picture of elegance

This durbar hall was also the durbar hall of the Nayaks who ruled Thanjavur before the Maratha kings. It was called Lakshmi Vilasam and remained the durbar hall for kings from Chevappa Nayak period (1535 A.D.). The hall has beautiful Nayak paintings upon which Maratha paintings overlap. The pillars of the durbar hall were renovated during the Maratha period and they have beautiful stucco work atop them. Paintings of Dasavatharam, Siva in Rishapa vahanam and Brahma on swan are found on the stucco work.

A portrait of Maratha king Shivaji is in one corner.

An underground passage leading to various parts of the palace starts at another corner.

The hall is designed in such a manner that the royal ladies could sit upstairs and watch the proceedings in the hall while those in the hall cannot see them.

The hall has country-tile roof in front and wooden pillars made of Rangoon teak. On the grounds in front of the hall stand a canon and a stone Nandhi from the Chola period brought from Pazhayar. Descriptions of the hall are found in Sailendra Vilasam, a Sanskrit work by Sridara Ayyaval, court poet of Sahaji Maratha King.

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