Tanjore Painting: The Indian Treasure of Spiritual Creativity
Reflecting the religious traditions and spiritual creativity of Indian art forms, Tanjore painting is a unique visual amalgamation of art and craft and is considered as one of the most popular forms of classical South Indian painting. Ranked among the greatest traditional art forms of India, these religious paintings construct a kaleidoscopic image of our glorious past and rich cultural and royal heritage.
Originating in Thanjavur or Tanjore, a city of Tamil Nadu, this art form developed at the height of cultural evolvement achieved during the rule of mighty Chola Empire. The inspiration of Tanjore paintings came about in the Tanjore area under the suzerainty of the Vijayanagara Rayas in the 16th century. Afterward, the art form evolved and flourished under the patronage of successive rulers.
The modern forms of the Tanjore paintings are said to have originated in the Maratha court of Thanjavur. The unbeatable Maratha rulers and Thanjavur Nayaka Governors patronized Indian Tanjore Paintings from 16th to 18th century AD. The artists from the Raju community of Thanjavur and Tiruchi, who were also called as Jinigara or Chitragara, and the Nayudu community of Madurai executed paintings in the Tanjore style. In the 1800s, the Tanjore paintings were created to suit Western (specifically British) sensibilities and a mixture of religious and secular motifs was introduced in the paintings.
The inspiration for Tanjore paintings was derived from various art forms such as classical dance, music, and literature. Most of these paintings are based on themes of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. The most popular subjects include Krishna on a swing with a butter bowl, Lord Ganesha sitting on a throne, baby Ganesha hugging a Shiva Linga, Pendant Krishna, Yashoda and Krishna, and Krishna with his consorts. In the later years, the paintings also included some depictions of Jain, Muslim, Sikh as well as secular subjects like fairs and festivals along with flora and fauna.
The subjects of Tanjore paintings are portrayed with cherubic faces and almond-shaped eyes. The main characteristics of these paintings are their brilliant color schemes, decorative jewelry with stones and cut glasses and gold leaf work. The liberal use of gold leaf and precious and semi-precious stones presents a splendid visual treat. Adorned with rubies, diamonds and other precious gemstones, and trimmed with gold foil, the old Tanjore paintings were the true treasures.
Popular as ‘Palagai Padam’ (Palagai- “wooden plank”; padam- “picture) in local parlance, Tanjore paintings are the panel paintings done on wooden planks. The process of creating a Tanjore painting involves many stages. The original Tanjore paintings were made using lime and tamarind seed powder on cloth stretched over a wooden canvas. Today, a mild abrasive is also used to get a smoother base. The impression of the subject is then taken using a carbon sheet. The jewelry and apparel worn by the subject are then decorated with semi-precious stones. Afterward, pure gold foils are pasted on the top of this as relief work. Finally, the dyes are used to add vibrant colors to the figures in the paintings. A beautiful frame is then selected to enhance the beauty of the work.
In the past, the artists used natural colors like vegetables and mineral dyes, whereas the present-day artists use chemical paints. For outlines dark brown or red was usually used. Red was favored for the background though blue and green were also used. Lord Vishnu was colored in blue and Lord Nataraja in chalk white and his consort Goddess Shivakami in green. The sky, of course, was blue but black was also employed on occasions.
Tanjore paintings in their original form are a lost art that state and private agencies are constantly attempting to revive and restore. However, Tanjore paintings have influenced many forms of modern art such as C. Kondiah Raju’s calendar prints and Raja Ravi Varma’s Western naturalism.
Like any other art form, Tanjore painting has also undergone some changes. New techniques, media, and images are used by contemporary artists. Today, Tanjore paintings have been adapted onto some of the richest, most artsy looking sarees in the South. Making use of high-quality silk, these paintings have been printed onto the fabric rather than painted on canvas. Besides being decorative adornments, these paintings are being gifted as souvenirs in weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. The paintings are largely used as an ornamental item to change the ambiance and the environment of the house or the office. Deeply rooted in the art and culture of India, these paintings provide a piece to those who own them and to those who make them.