The name Thanjavur is derived from "Tanjan", a legendary asura in Hindu mythology. Thanjavur is one of the oldest cities in India and has a long and varied history dating back to Sangam period. The city rose into prominence during the rule of the Later Cholas when it served as the capital of the Chola empire. After the fall of the Cholas, the city was ruled by the Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, the Madurai Nayaks, the Thanjavur Nayaks, the Thanjavur Marathas and the British. It has been a part of independent India since 1947.
Thanjavur is an important center of South Indian art and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, an UNESCO World Heritage Monument are located in an around Thanjavur. The foremost among the Great Living Chola temples, the Brihadeeswara Temple, is located in the center of the town. Thanjavur is also the home of the Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region. The town is an important agricultural center located at the heart of the region, known as the "rice bowl of Tamil Nadu". South Zone Culture Centre in Thanjavur is one of many regional cultural centres established by Indian Government to preserve and promote traditional cultural heritage of India.
Thanjavur is well-connected by roads and railways with other parts of India and with cities and towns in Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli located at a distance of 56 kilometres and the nearest seaport is Nagapattinam which is 84 kilometres from Thanjavur.
The Thanjavur area has a rich historical heritage and is a prism of ancient as well as the modern south Indian civilizations. The city was once the stronghold of the historic Cholas and at one time was also the capital of the Cholas, Mutharayars and Marathas when they were at the peak of their power. Since then, Thanjavur has been one of the chief political, cultural and religious centres of South India.
Thanjavur contains over 90 temples, as it was favored by the Chola rulers between the 1st - 12th centuries, the Nayakas in the 16th century, and the Marathas in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Thanjavur is located approximately in the centre of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The town is located in the centre of the Cauvery delta, about 320 kilomtres from the state capital Chennai and 56 kilometres from Tiruchirapalli. Some of the nearby towns are Kumbakonam (40 km), Pattukkottai (45 km), Mannargudi (37 km), Pudukkottai (55 km), Tiruvarur (58 km),peravurani (80) and Nagappattinam (84 km) The municipality has an area of about 36 km2. The township and its exterior suburbs extend for an area of about 100 km2.
The town has an elevation of 57 metres above mean sea level. It is drained by the rivers Vadavar and Vennar in the north.