The cultural history of India is rich and then there are some parts of the country, which can truly boast of being the cultural capitals – in some parts of the country, under the patronage of the Mughal and other Muslim rulers, some forms of music, dance, art and other forms grew to great heights, there were other parts of the country, where the same happened under Hindu rulers.
In continuation with our blog series on the arts of India, today, we head into the heart of the once quaint town of Thanjavur; while it might not seem like much, but this now bustling city is truly the cradle of culture – from music to traditional crafts to the most famous Thanjavur painting!
The History Of Thanjavur That Lives On In The Tanjore Paintings
Why the fame surrounding Thanjavur paintings?
Given that this style of paintings originated in Thanjavur, they were called by the same name, but the anglicised version of the same became Tanjore painting. Either way, this is one of the most popular, most famous and most revered styles of painting in all of India, and the original versions come exclusively from the town of Thanjavur and a few villages surrounding the same. This classical south Indian style of painting finds its roots way back to 1600 AD – this was a time when the Vijayanagara Rayas were the rulers and they encouraged the development of all forms of art and craft. Over time, this is one of the rare art forms that has maintained the same stature as it did in the centuries gone by and the recognition has been such that it has been recognised as a geographical indication as well!

When you buy wall paintings online, especially Thanjavur art, what you will receive is a celebration of vivid colours, sitting within simple compositions, mostly inspired from Hindu mythology. You will also see extensive overlay of gold foil and inlay of beads and sometimes, precious or semi-precious gems. What is truly interesting about this form of art is that you will get to see influences from the Deccan, Vijayanagara and Maratha empires as well as styles that arrived from Europe.

The paintings are known as panel paintings, which means that they are done on wooden planks and that is why they are often referred to as palagai padam (palagai meaning plank and padam meaning picture). And while these days, you will be able to find these paintings quite easily, the rare antique Tanjore paintings that were made centuries back on these wooden planks are hard to find!

What is the history behind the style? What influences have been seen over the years?
Right from the 11th century paintings that still sit inside the premises of the architectural marvel known as the Brihadeeshwara Temple to the ones that were created in the 16th century during the Nayak period, the history of the Tanjore art painting style is immense and incredible. In the initial days, the Vijaynagara kingdom was a barricade to the quickly spreading Islamic influence and they were able to spread their kingdom all over the southern peninsula. The rulers were lovers of the arts and hence, all forms received much patronage. When the Vijayanagar empire fell, in the 1560s, the artists who had once thrived there, started to migrate. Many settled down in Thanjavur and received patronage from the Nayakas, who were the governors of the region and also patrons of the arts. Once again, the artists were able to flourish and improve on their talents and produce masterpieces, some of those antique Tanjore paintings still exist. Eventually, the Marathas marched southwards, but they too were not ones to supress the arts, and during their times, there were brand new innovations in the art form.

What is fascinating to note is that this style of painting was actually influenced by several factors – it is a culmination of empires that ruled over the Tamil people, the Telugus and the Marathas and then there were also influences of the Europeans and folk arts that existed simultaneously. If one were to see, there would be resemblances from Kalamkari and Tirupati styles of paintings too. While the subjects were almost always related to Hinduism and the protagonists of the paintings were Hindu gods and goddesses, the styles of using brush strokes, the materials used and the shift from natural colours to artificially produced paints is what varied due to the influences.

How are these paintings made and why are they so expensive?
If you were to enquire about a Thanjavur painting cost, chances are that you might be taken slightly aback, because these are not the easiest on the pockets. There are several reasons why this is so and the fact that real gold and often real gems are used to make the paintings is just one of them. The paintings could be made on fabrics that were mounted onto wooden planks, but at times, walls, glass, and even ivory would be used as the base. The colours would normally be sourced from natural materials such as flowers, leaves, turmeric etc. and handmade brushes would be used.

Most traditionally, the paintings are made on a piece of canvas that is normally pasted on top of a piece of wood (teak or jackfruit are most preferred). The entire canvas is coated with a paste of chalk or limestone that is mixed with a binding agent and allowed to dry completely. The outlines are made and then the rest of the details are carefully included. Natural colours like vegetable and mineral dyes were used in the beginning, however, these days, chemical paints are being used, as they are more easily accessible. Colours were meant to symbolise aspects of Hinduism – blue was always for Lord Vishnu and green for his consort, Goddess Sivakami. The faces would be round with almond shaped eyes and very carefully shaped bodies. Ram Darbar Tanjore painting and Ramar Pattabhishekam Tanjore painting are perhaps the most famous versions of these paintings.

Now here is why these paintings are so expensive – when done in the traditional method, these paintings are time and labour intensive, which means that each painting will take an artist up to several weeks to complete. 22 karat gold is used to make the paintings and the embossing and if you are looking for truly high-end paintings, you could also find artists who use semi-precious gems in their paintings.

Finally, some of the most frequently asked questions related to Tanjore art:

  1. Is Tanjore and Thanjavur same?
    Yes, Tanjore is the anglicised version of Thanjavur.
  2. What is main theme Thanjavur art?
    The main themes in this form of art are inspiration from Hinduism – this is why you will be able to find plenty of Thanjavur style Lord Krishna paintings and Ganesha wall paintings.
  3. What are some of the most popular images in Thanjavur paintings?
    While Lord Rama’s ascension to the throne of Ayodhya and his royal court are extremely popular, some of the other popular images that are commonly used are Ashtalakshmi Tanjore painting, Gajalakshmi Tanjore painting, Lakshmi Narasimha Tanjore painting, Shiva Parvathi Tanjore painting and Yashoda Krishna Tanjore painting
  4. What is special about Tanjore painting?
    The fact that it is as all done by hand and uses gold foil, as well as semi-precious stones at times, is what makes this style of painting so special.
  5. How long does it take to complete a Tanjore painting?
    The size and the complexity of the paintings will determine how much time completion takes – it can take anywhere from a week to several months to complete these paintings.
  6. Who are the famous Tanjore painters?
    Some of the famous Thanjavur painters are Kanimozhi Santhanam, C. Kondiah Raju and Swaminathan Vishwakarma.
At eCraftIndia, you can shop for wall decor, paintings, home décor and some of the finest gifting options for almost every occasion that life might bring our way. And in case you are looking to buy Tanjore paintings online, come have a chat with us!