After the Chola dynasty in 1279, the Pandyas conquered the Chola country. Madurai was the Pandya capital and Thanjavur remained in the background, as a province of Vijaynagar empire.In 1535, the Vijaynagar king installed a nayak king hence the era of Tanjore Nayaks which lasted till mid-17th century, until attacked by the Madurai Nayaks
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. Thanjavur remained under the supremacy of the Vijayanagar Kings for a long period. In 1532 CE, Achyuta Deva Raya, the brother and successor of Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar granted Sevappa Nayak, the governor of Thanjavur, permission to establish a feudatory kingdom following his Southern Campaigns.
The Nayak dynasty was established during this period and Sevappa, the founder of Nayak Kingdom of Thanjavur made his appearance on the scene (1532-1560). Sevappa Nayak (1532–1580), was the first Thanjavur Nayak king. He was the son of Timmappa Nayak, a Vijayanagara viceroy in the Arcot region from his wife Bayyambika. The work Raghunathabhyudayam written by Vijayaraghava Nayaka gives some genealogical details of Timmappa. Timmappa orTimmabhupati was the ruler of North Arcot with his capital at Nedungunram. The epigraphs of all of the Tanjore Nayaks show that they belonged to Nedungunram.
One of Krishnadevaraya’s epigraphs mentions that Timmappa also had the high privilege of serving him as a door keeper (vasal) and was the emperor’s dalavay (commander) who took part in the Raichur campaign. According to historian V. Vriddhagirisan, Timmappa Nayak was the brother of Nagama Nayak. Nagama Nayak was the father of Visvanatha Nayak (founder of the Madurai Nayak dynastic line). Hence Viswanatha Nayak and Sevappa Nayak were cousins.The work Raghunathabhyudayam mentions that Timmappa and Bayambika had 4 sons: Pedda Seva, Chinna Seva, Pedda Malla and Chinna Malla. However, not much is known of the other 3 sons. Of the 4 sons, Chinna Seva alias Sevappa Nayak seems to have distinguished himself.
Before assuming power of the Tanjore kingdom, Sevvappa had distinguished himself under Krishnadavaraya as an administrator and a builder. Sevappa’s wife Murtimamba was the sister-in-law of Achyuta Deva Raya and the sister of the Vijayanagara Queen, Thirumalamba. Some sources suggest that Sevappa acquired the Thanjavur Kingdom as stridhana (dowry) from Achyutadeva Raya. Sevappa was also a ceremonial betel bearer toAchyuta Deva Raya, the brother of Krishnadevaraya.
In 1560, Sevappa Nayak made over kingdom to his son Achuthappa Nayak (1560–1614), was named in memory of Achyuta Deva Raya. He led a peaceful reign of 54 years. Up until 1580 Achuthappa Nayak 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 rules unlike that of his father was not one of unbroken peace.
Shortly after getting old he abdicated the crown in favour of his son Raghunatha Nayak (1600–1634) 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, Ramabhadramba was highly educated and a gifted poetess. During his time he granted military assistance to the Chandragiri ruler Venkata II to recover most of his lost areas from the Golcondaforces. 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. 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. Raghunatha was a gifted scholar and an expert in the art of swordplay, a fine marksman and a skilled master in horse riding. In the field of music, Raghunatha created new ragas, talas, and melas like Jayanta sena (Ragam), Ramananda (Talam), Sargita vidya and Raghunatha (Mela).
His Sanskrit treatise on music, Sangita Sudha opened the secrets of music to all. Raghunatha also composed kavyas and dance-dramas like Prabandkas, Parijatapaharana, Valmika Charitra Kavya, Achyutendrabhyudayam, Gajendramoksham, Nala Caritiam and Rukmini Krishna Vivaha Yakshagana. 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. A Mighty Cannon of forge-welded Iron. This cannon was built during the reign of Raghunatha Nayak and it was located at the defense barricade at the Eastern entrance to the city.
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 Nayak 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 Nayak was thwarted in his attempts by Vijaya Ragava Nayak, 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 Nayak.