Thanjavur – Reimagining Tamil Traditions At Svatma,

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Loss of diversity, especially in the urban milieu, is inevitable in a globalised world. Pizza will often replace paniyaram. Or cappuccino, filter kaapi. But what does one do when one’s native cultural symbols begin to feel inadequate? Unsophisticated?

The Subrahmaniam’s – Chennai based dancer/architect Krithika, and her developer husband, Sumant’s – response to their young son’s disenchantment with things Indian, was to find a way to reintroduce him to his rich legacy. So they came up with the concept of a ‘heritage in residence’ in the very heart of Dravidian culture: Thanjavur (Tanjore).

And they christened it Svatma: ‘One’s Own Soul’ (Sva + Atma). An inspired name for the promise of a personal, sensory and emotional exploration of Tamil traditions, and the region’s extraordinary architectural heritage.

The exquisite refuge is a showcase for Krithika’s design skills. A painstakingly restored century old mansion, former family home of the Carnatic musician Rama Kausalya, forms the core of Svatma, and houses its seven stunning premium suites and rooms.

The feel of being in a home rather than a hotel is enhanced by the absence of a formal reception. The beautiful entrance foyer, open on all sides and flanked by water bodies, bridges the old and the new. The extension that respects the character of the original without sacrificing modern comforts, hosts thirty one atmospheric rooms as well as Divyam (the divine), the 250 seater hall that opens onto patios and garden spaces.

Wide airy verandahs and secluded seating areas complement the relaxation theme, along with a well equipped gym and yoga centre, a luxury spa, and the beautiful pool and jacuzzi off the main dining space.

The spirit of Thanjavur pervades the property. The Chola bronzes and musical instruments in the heritage wing, the murals and architectural drawings and stencilled verses of devotional poetry across walls, the freshly applied kolam designs on the floor, the heady scent of jasmine and incense, the daily chanting of vedas at dusk, all express what it means to be Tamil.

Cuisine is strictly organic vegetarian, served in the casual Palaharam (Tamil for ‘snack’) and the more formal (and air conditioned) Aaharam (food or meal). The focus is on regional thalis incorporating the fusion of Tamil and Maratha flavours, but they offer a fair mix of cuisines, including Indo-continental! And while the view of the Big Temple from the roof top, underwhelms, Nila (Moon), the lovely and well equipped open air bar, is a welcome surprise.

Thanjavur is the perfect base to explore Tamilnadu’s temple circuit. The town’s own, 1006 year old, Brihadeeswarar (Peria Kovil or Big Temple) along with the Airavateshawara near Kumbakonam (1hr by road)) and Ganagaikonda Chlolapuram (2 hrs), constitutes the UNESCO ensemble of ‘Great Living Chola Temples’. Srirangam is another massive complex, closer to Trichy. Scores more beautiful temples reflecting Tamil supremacy over South Asia in the early 8th – 11th centuries, dot the surrounding landscape and are easily doable as day trips. 

Svatma reiterates, however, that Thanjavur isn’t just about history or celebrated religious architecture. Their eight signature experiences do include guided temple walks, but they also highlight a range of activities that generate a meaningful engagement with the place, its performing arts and its intangible traditions.

Getting there: Tanjavur is well connected by road and train. The closest airport is Tiruchirappalli, commonly referred to as Trichy. (58 km. Approx. 60 min. by road)


Disclaimer: My stay was sponsored by Svatma

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

27 thoughts on “Thanjavur – Reimagining Tamil Traditions At Svatma,

    1. It was Sue. Those temples are magnificent, and having a base such as this to experience them from is sheer bliss.

      1. D’you know, I still have yearnings to get to India….but I have to be sensible… would be too hot and humid. But your posts unsettle me!

    1. Ha, shall try and find one Jo 🙂 I worry that my posts are image heavy already. That pool was an absolute delight. Aren’t you due to depart today?

  1. What a pity their son thinks this way. On my recent visit, I wasn’t tempted once to venture into any restaurant other than the traditional veg place. For me, there isn’t any better food in the world!

    1. Could it be because this is new and exotic to you Mallee? Indian isn’t always my favourite choice when I eat out either, and I can skip rice, the staple I was brought up on, for months in a row. Although some things, like a good dosa for example is comfort food when I feel low 😉

  2. It’s quite interesting how Indian culture dominated not only south Asia but even south-east Asia in ancient times. Relics of that culture remain in far flung places like Bali, but I’ve read even parts of the Philippines may have been in contact also. That’s quite a reach! The movement of peoples and rise and fall of cultures in ancient times fascinates me.

    1. Fascinating indeed Ian. Especially the Chola’s naval prowess as far back as the 9th century! Sadly their history isn’t as widely known as it should be. Also we do tend to forget that India wasn’t India then.

      1. No, India is a product of colonialism but somehow the peoples, and there are many nations within the nation, make it all work. Yes the Chola period was a time of extended influence. The north is only part of a whole as Moguls and their kin swept out of Central Asia west to Europe down into Iran, North India, Burma and extended into what we now refer to as Indo China. But if I’m not mistaken in my reading Cambodia would be a mix of South Indian and Chinese tribal and indeed it was the seafaring Chola who extended the Dravidian influence. Do I have the correct information there? It also seems to me from reading that the Dravidian culture was well established throughout Pakistan and across the north and there are remnants of that in the isolated areas still. I was also surprised to know there are villages in Western India who its claimed are of African origin. I was talking with some anthropologists in India who were studying adivasi tribes in South India. They were telling me there is a linguistic connection with some of the Australian aboriginal people.

  3. I would LOVE to stay there, what a masterpiece they’ve created. Every one of the 8 experiences sound wonderful and I’d like to explore that area. Thanks for adding to my dreams dear Madhu – once again!

  4. Wow! ‘Wanna go there’ kind of place. And it was a nice idea to realize how good and rich our heritage is!

  5. Ah, Tanjavur. It was easily my favourite place in Tamil Nadu apart from Chennai! When Bama and I went we stayed in a comfortable (but dated) hotel near the old bus station. It was very different from Svatma, though we were immensely relieved after staying in a tiny, mosquito-infested place in Madurai! I love the stencilled verses and temple architecture on the walls – the rooms here evoke the intimacy and colour of a bygone era.

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