Years ago I took a trip to Thanjavur or Tanjore as an ardent cultural and history enthusiast A kid in school taken through the tales of the Brihadeeswarar Temple (aka Thanjai Periya Kovil), I have always been awestruck by the architectural marvels and the craftsmanship of the Cholas from the time I could remember. These tales further led to the discovery of the bewitching Tanjore paintings from the land of artisanal mastery.
The Tanjore Paintings come with an allegory of their own. The art has its origins in the murals of the Vijayanagara period and perfected its vivid form, signature motifs and vibrant colours during the period. The Maratha rule brought a distinct style change to the paintings with the amazing details characterized by the exquisite workmanship of precious stones and gold leaves. The art further flourished under the Cholas, especially under the rule of King Raja Raja Chola.
These paintings evoke a sense of class and timelessness within the wooden frames that allure us with their illustrations and puranic scenes. Made with humility, ritual purity, and devotion, they are one of the oldest and most revered works of Southern India. These ornate creations are magnificent panel paintings that are traditionally done on wooden boards that depict deities and characters from Hindu mythology.
Locally known as ‘Palagai Padam’, which translates to ‘pictures on wood’, it is intricately made on planks of jackfruit or teak wood. A cotton cloth is then pasted using lime and tamarind paste, further to which additional elements are sketched in generic themes. Limestone, gondu mix and clay work proceed to give the painting a three-dimensional effect that ends with adding gold leaf and embedding precious stones. This elaborate and traditional process of creating Tanjore paintings is a closely held family secret passed on from one generation to the next.
As an art form it provides its viewers with a meditative space has been considered illustrious for centuries. The details are breathtaking and bring forth years of heritage and admiration. The embossing and high-relief effect give the painting additional dimensions that are complex and arresting.
The paintings have stood the test of time and have gone through several innovations. The art form has survived & thrived through centuries because of the adaptability of the painting style to change the format. The broad appeal still lasts in homes that hold a piece of this historical art piece, bringing constant happiness within their walls.
Art in itself is seen as something that could move hearts and souls, when it comes to these Tanjore paintings the veracity holds true even more. For me, a person who fell in love with the majestic Chola temples, an art form that is nearly lost, has shown the magic that still prevails among us and I hope the tales of Tanjore do the same for you.