This month we travel to the land of beautiful and intricate architecture, Tanjore. With an average of 3 temples every square kilometer, stunning paintings are a cultural legacy here. Read the full article in this month’s Valley India Times.
Arts of India – Tanjore Paintings
As the early bird relishes its catch in the paddy fields, not too far away a school bus honks almost joyously as it transports eager, yet sleepy, minds to school. Honking two wheelers and cars announce the rushed lives of their owners on their way to work. The shop keepers put out loud advertising boards hoping to earn business as their first few customers walk in. Life continues as normal in this town of Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu. What would seem just mundane at first glance sets the backdrop for a culturally rich venue of South Indian art and architecture. With an average of three temples every square kilometer, Tanjore (as coined by the British) carries with it a culturally rich legacy.
Thanjavur tells the story of a striving and self sufficient kingdom, one that kings fought over and one where they all wanted to leave a mark. The Cholas, Marathas and Nayakas left more than a mark here. They built beautiful temples and palaces, all of which are symbols of exemplary artistry. It is no wonder that over the years Thanjavur has become a hub of Carnatic music, Bharatnatyam dance and Tanjore paintings. While each reigning empire brought about a cultural movement here, it was the Nayakas who were mainly responsible for promoting art in the 1600s. Artists were commissioned to create paintings that told stories of Gods, Goddesses and holy saints as protagonists. Temples were built with walls adorned with such murals. While the colors might have faded over centuries, these paintings continue to live on and in a sense have made their creators immortal. What might have started as a form of documentation slowly got transformed into a vibrant and colorful form of art.
The process of creating a Tanjore painting is very involved and detailed, one that calls for meticulous craftsmanship at each stage. Each painting begins with fine and delicate cotton fabric glued on a wooden plank. A thick coating of chalk powder and gum provides a strong base which is smoothened with abrasives. Composition is extremely important in these paintings due to their intricate details and it’s at this stage that the artist decides this with a sketch. The paintings get a new dimension with some fine relief work which is how the finished paintings get their embossed look. Natural dyes color these works of art in vibrant and royal hues. What makes Tanjore art so unique and different from all other Indian art is the use of rich embellishments. Semi-precious stones, pearls and 24 carat gold not only adorn these paintings, but also speak of the ancient kingdom’s prosperity.
As the town of Thanjavur continues to grow around echoes of holy chants and temple bells, artists still create Tanjore paintings – paintings that carry with them not just a sacred feeling, but a historic and ethnic identity. While these classical paintings may have found a spot in people’s traditional homes, they have yet to break into the new and contemporary decor. Maybe when you are re-decorating next, you could add a touch of old world charm to your home, perfectly provided by these exquisite and regal Tanjore paintings.