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The history and procedure of making Tanjore Painting


History of Thanjavur painting

Thanjavur or Tanjore as it is dotingly called has a surfeit of reasons to boast of its cultural heritage. Located at a distance of about 300 Km from the capital city of Tamil Nadu, Chennai (erstwhile Madras) the city of Tanjore was the cultural capital of the Gupta Empire and reached the zenith of its cultural development during the early 18th century.  It is home to some of the world famous sanctums and temples that have been acknowledged as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The vivid sculptures and murals on the walls of the temples of Tanjore uphold the rich and ancient history of the Chola dynasty which reigned the districts of Thanjavur, Madurai, and Trichy during the 16th century. Of all the gems Thanjavur boasts of, painting is the foremost which is globally acclaimed for its indigenousness and unique way of creating a 3D effect on every single artwork. The paintings of Tanjore were propagated by the Chola kings who ruled south India during the 16th century and were patronized by the Maratha princes, Nayakas of the Vijayanagar emrpie, Rajus of Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli and the Naidus of Madurai. Cholas were great lovers of art and sculpture and that is why as you touch down at Tamil Nadu you cannot take your eyes off the colossal temples that exemplify the Dravidian architectural style.

Features of Thanjavur Painting

Tanjore painting is popularly known as ‘Palagai Padam’ which means picture on a wooden plant as most of these pictures are etched on solid wood boards. This ancient indigenous form of art is considered to be divine in its approach as most of the figurines are imitations of god and goddesses meticulously adorned with ornaments and filled with vibrant colours. Earlier precious gems like diamonds and rubies were used to embellish the portraits. Now-a-days, semi-precious Jaipur stones are used for the same purpose.  The portraits are pasted on a 22-karat gold foil and the left over space is smeared with vibrant colours. One of the distinguishable features of Tanjore painting is the plumpness in the faces of the idols which exudes the characteristic pristine look in all the Tanjore paintings you will come across.

Although the paintings of Tanjore are deeply entrenched in the cultural past of the place it has originated from, the painters use their skill and imagination to create masterpieces of that art form. Tanjore painting is mostly based on Hindu mythology. One can find numerous paintings of Lord Krishna as a baby in his varied prankish poses. The pictures also depict significant mythological events like the marriage of Meenakshi, infatuated gestures of Radha and Krishna, cthe oronation of Shri Rama and so on. The painters of this ethnic art form take great care in making the relief work of each portrait which gives them the unique 3D effect. Such paintings are used as gift items on various occasions as Diwali, Pongal, weddings and so on. They are also used as home décor for residential houses and corporate offices. The generous use of vibrant colours, brilliant gems and splashes of gold leaves a glowing impact in the darkness of a room.

Making of a masterpiece

The making of a magnum opus involves a number of steps and the most challenging of all is creating the canvas. At first, the layout is drawn on the canvas base which is usually a muslin cloth. After that, chalk or zinc oxide dust is mixed with Arabic gum and a water soluble adhesive to make a muck paste. The fixative is applied on a thin muslin cloth and pasted on the wooden plank. Thereafter, the layout which was made at the first step of the artwork making is gradually and meticulously decked with various add-ons.

The usual things used for the beautification of a Tanjore painting are cut glass, semi-precious gems, rich colours and laces. To augment the gorgeous effect of the painting, 22 karat gold foils are pasted in different parts of a figure while the rest of the areas are filled with day-glow colours that match up with the brilliance of the painting.  Due to use of premier quality gold foil, an authentic Tanjore painting can last for generations without getting tarnished and a medium sized painting would be on a little pricier side compared to that of the others.


Creating a work of genius is never an easy task and Tanjore painters have testified this fact down the generations. Such paintings require a good deal of your passion, perseverance and perfection. Only when these three ‘P’s combine together can produce such times creations. It may take a span of 3 to 6 months by an artist to make an authentic Tanjore painting.

To sum up, Tanjore painting is the ultimate way of expressing devotion, truth and skill by an artist through his creation. This ancient form of miniature artwork thrives till date through intense craftsmanship and dedication of the artists of Tamil Nadu and is held at high esteem for its indigenous character.



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