Thanjavur Nayaks

Thanjavur Nayaks

Thanjavur Nayaks were the rulers of Thanjavur principality of Tamil Nadu between the 16th to the 19th century C.E. Nayaks were subordinates of the imperial Vijayanagara emperors, and were appointed as provincial governors by the Vijayanagar Emperor who divided the Tamil country into three Nayakships viz., Madurai, Tanjore and Gingi [Harmony of Religions: Vedānta Siddhānta Samarasam of Tāyumānavar, Thomas Manninezhath] . Their native language was Telugu.When these warriors from Balija/Kapu (caste)/Telaga caste became the kings of Madurai and Thanjavur dynasties Vaishnavism gained importance.The king's son even wrote poems in praise of the father treating him as God Vishnu in Dwipada format(Eg: Raghunadhabhyudayamu,Vijaya Raghavarayabhyudayamu).Thanjavur Nayaks were notable for their patronage of literature and the arts. [ [ Thanjavur Nayak kings] ] [ [ Tanjore History] ]

Origins of Nayak rule

With the demise of the Chola dynasty in 1279, Thanjavur was ruled by various small chieftains, until the Vijayanagara Empire conquered all of south India by the late 14th century. The Vijayanagar rulers installed viceroys to rule over various parts of the empire. In 1535 CE, Achyuta Deva Raya, the brother and successor of Krishna Deva Raya) of Vijayanagar granted Cevvappa Nayak, the governor of Thanjavur, permission to establish a feudatory kingdom.

Nayak kings

Cevvappa Nayak

Cevvappa Nayak (1535-1590) , was the first Thanjavur Nayak king. He was the son of Timmappa Nayak, a Vijayanagara viceroy in the Arcot region. His wife Murtimamba was a sister of the Vijayanagara Queen Thirumalamba, Some sources suggest that he acquired the Thanjavur Kingdom as a part of the marriage alliance, while other sources point out that Ceyyappa was also a ceremonial betel bearer to Achyuta Deva Raya.

Achuthappa Nayak

Achuthappa Nayak (1564-1612), named in memory of Achyuta Deva Raya, led peaceful reign of 48 years. Up till Achuthappa Nayak 1590 co- ruled with his father under the Yuvaraja title while immediately after that he was joined by his heir-son Raghunatha Nayak. He was said to be deeply religious and was well considered a master in the art of warfare. His minister was Govinda Dikshita, a great scholar and a shrewd administrator. His long reign was of comparative peace apart from the internal struggles enabling him to contribute much to spiritual and public utility development.

Conflicts and Wars

Wars with Madurai

During Achuthappa's reign, the Vijayanagara Empire was defeated by the Deccan Sultanates armies at the battle of Talikota. Later when the Vijaynagara rulers re-established their capital in Chandragiri and Vellore under Sriranga Rayas, Achuthappa Nayak continued his loyalty while Gingee and Madurai Nayaks intended to break free by refusing to pay tribute. This would also lead to bitter animosity between the Madurai Nayaks and the Tanjore Nayaks ultimately leading to the Battle at Vallamprakara where the Tanjore army with the Rayas fought against Veerappa Nayak of Madurai by defeating the later. Same time when the Rayas of Chandragiri were waging wars with the Deccan Sultanates in southern Andhra Pradesh Achuthappa Nayak provided support.

Wars with Portugal

Portugal controlled the Nagapattinam territory as well as the Colombo province in Ceylon and the entire West Coast of India. The King of Jaffna Kingdom went into a war against Portugal against the methods adopted by the missionary conversions in Jaffna. Later King of Jaffna sought help from the Tanjore Nayaks in repelling Portuguese advances through many battles.

Public Contributions

Achuthappa Nayak was deeply religious from his young days and the fertile nature of his country helped him make large contributions in gifts and infrastructure to major Temples and also important irrigation systems. The main benefactor was the Srirangam Temple. His assistant and advisor was his minister Govinda Dikshita.

rirangam Temple

The Srirangam Temple towers (Gopurams) of the North and West and the eighth Prakara (temple Wall Street) and several Halls (Mandapam) inside the Temple complex were built by him. The Golden Vimana of the inner most shrines (Temple Flag) and the image of God studded with Crown jewels was presented by Achuthappa Nayak.

Other Temples

His other major contributions include the Pushyamantapas (Halls) with steps leading to river Cauvery in Mayavaram, Tiruvidaimarudur, Tiruvadi and Kumbakonam and Golden Kalasas of Tiruvannamalai Temple Gopurams (Towers) some of the Gopurams in Rameswaram. Several temples in Arcot and Tanjore regions namely Temples in Tiruvidaimarudur and Chidambaram received Villages as grants.


His one remarkable contribution is the construction of a dam across Cauvery near Tiruvadi leading to efficient irrigation in its vicinity.


Numerous Agraharas (Housing for Brahmins) in Tanjore country were built in his period.

Final years

During his last days the Rayas now ruling from Chandragiri and Vellore had rival claimants within the family to the title and were heading for a war with the other Nayak kings taking sides for their vested interests.

Raghunatha Nayak

Ragunatha Nayak (1612-1634) is regarded as the greatest in the Thanjavur Nayak dynasty. He is famous for his patronage of literature other scholarly research. One of his wives, Ramabhadrama was highly educated and a gifted poet. During his time he granted military assistance to the Chandragiri ruler Venkatagiri Raa to recover most of his lost areas from the Golconda forces. In 1620 Raghunatha Nayak permitted a Danish settlement at Tarangambadi. This encouraged the English to seek trade with the Thanjavur Nayaks.

Raghunatha was a gifted scholar in both Sanskrit and Telugu language, as well as a talented musician. His court was distinguished for its assembly of poets and scholars. Ragunatha is credited with writing several books on music and Telugu literature.cite web
title= Cultural heritage of Andhra region |publisher=The Hindu |accessdate=2008-06-14
] Maduravani and Ramabhadramba were two famous poetesses in his court, while Sudhindra and Raghavendra were two famous Madhva gurus patronised by him. Govinda Dikshita's son Yajnanarayana has written an account on Raghunatha's rule in his work "Sahitya Ratnakara".

It was during Raghunatha's reign that a palace library was established. Sarasvati Bhandar is where the manuscripts of Raghunatha’s prolific court scholars were collected and preserved. This library was developed and enriched later by Rajah Serfoji II into the currently famous Saraswati Mahal Library.cite web
title= The colourful world of the Nayaks |publisher=The Hindu |accessdate=2008-06-14

Vijaya Raghava Nayak

Vijaya Raghava Nayak (1645-1673), was the last of the Nayak Kings of Thanjavur. His long reign witnessed a large amount of literary output both in music and Telugu literature. Vijayaraghava’s court had a number of poets and literary scholars. Vijayaraghava Nayak wrote more than thirty books in Telugu. His long reign sadly came to an abrupt end by the Chokkanatha Nayak of Madurai.

End of Nayak rule

The end of the Thanjavur Nayak dynasty was brought on by Chokkanatha Nayak, the Nayak of Madurai. The dispute was due to the refusal of Vijaya Ragava to give his daughter in marriage to Chokkanatha Nayak. Chokkantha determined to fetch the maiden by force back into their capital, successfully stormed the Thanjavur palace in 1673 after flattening much of the fort walls by cannons. But Chokkanatha was thwarted in his attempts by Vijaya Ragava, when he, in a gruesome act of defiance, blew up his daughter and all the other ladies of the palace. He then charged at the attacking army with his son and his body-guard. He was captured after a brief fight, and was beheaded by the Madurai General Samukham Venkata Krishnappa Nayadu.

Maratha conquest

Chokkanatha placed his brother Alagiri on the throne of Thanjavur, but within a year the latter threw off his allegiance, and Chokkanatha was forced to recognise the independence of Thanjavur. A son of Vijaya Raghava induced the Bijapur Sultan to help him get back the Thanjavur throne. In 1675, the Sultan of Bijapur sent a force commanded by the Maratha general Venkoji (alias Ekoji) to drive away the Madurai usurper. Venkaji defeated Alagiri with ease, and occupied Thanjavur. He did not, however, place his protege on the throne as instructed by the Bijapur Sultan, but seized the kingdom and made himself king. Thus ended the reign of Nayaks and the start of Maratha power in Thanjavur.


* [,M1 " Caste and Race in India" (by G.S.Ghurye)]


* Nagaswamy, R Tamil Coins- a study, (1970), State Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamilnadu
*Vriddhagirisan V, "Nayaks of Tanjore", ISBN : 8120609964, Reprint Annamalainagar 1942 edn., 1995
* Velcheru Narayana Rao|Rao, David Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. "Symbols of substance : court and state in Nayaka period Tamilnadu" (Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998) ; xix, 349 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 22 cm. ; Oxford India paperbacks ; Includes bibliographical references and index ; ISBN 0-19-564399-2.
* Sathianathaier, R. "History of the Nayaks of Madura" [microform] by R. Sathyanatha Aiyar ; edited for the University, with introduction and notes by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar ( [Madras] : Oxford University Press, 1924) ; see also ( [London] : H. Milford, Oxford university press, 1924) ; xvi, 403 p. ; 21 cm. ; SAMP early 20th-century Indian books project item 10819.
*The Political Career of E.V. Ramasami Naicker: A Study in the Politics page 79 by I. Vicuvanatan, E. S. Visswanathan
*The Mysore Tribes and Castes by L Anantha Krishna Iyer and H.V Nanjundayya
*Encyclomedia Indica by Jagadish Saran Sharma
*Gazetteer of the Nellore District: Madras District Gazettees - Page 105, Government Of Madras Staff - History - 2004 - 384 pages
*"Questioning Ramayana:A South Asian Tradition"by Paula Richman
*Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock


* cite web
title= Minister, mentor and philanthropist |publisher=The Hindu |accessdate=2008-06-14

* cite web
title=The Hindu : Images of stunning beauty |publisher=The Hindu

* cite web
title=The Hindu : Crafted coins |publisher=The Hindu |accessdate=2008-06-14

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