Tanjore Paintings

The shimmering water of River Cauvery with a vast expanse of greenery on either side casts a spell on any ongoing traveller in Tanjore. Urchins in nearby hamlets enjoying themselves in the river, the deep sway of the overgrown coconut trees in the gentle breeze which sweeps the river banks, the bright looking ladies carrying a pot of river water, the brahmins having the holy dip - the "Cauvery Snanam" and performing the Gayatri and the Surya Namaskaram in the river bank is all a very familiar sight in a place where the River occupies the centre stage of civilisation. Thanjavur as it was called in the olden days, had been a city of great cultural importance and has witnessed the genesis and development of several forms of arts and crafts. Besides being a place for excellence in arts and crafts, Tanjore also has been a place of commercial and political importance, historically.

Paintings from Tanjore

It was during the Chola period Thanjavur rose in its status as a significant contributor to the socio-economic and cultural development of the country. The mastery over craft and the excellence in engineering knowledge acquired by the Tanjore craft persons are amply demonstrated by those imposing and towering temple structures. The majestic temple gopurams is not only an engineering marvel but also reflects the dexterity of the sculpt work. The intricate work on stone still remains an enigma. These gopurams have withstood the ravages of time and stands testimony to mastery of Tanjore craft and architecture prevalent in those days. The Bragadeswarar temple and the Raja Rajeswari temple are standing examples of this. Craft and art associated with architecture or other faculties of expression were essentially based on the culture prevailing then. Manifestations in the form of temples and art relating to God based themes were a result of the 'bhakthi' culture (which was best represented by the Hindus with their devotion to God) prevalent in those days.

The visual art pertaining to the traditional Tanjore School, now more popularly known as Tanjore Art had its genesis in the early 18th century or probably even before. Influence of art forms of Karnataka and Andhra are fairly evident in this style of art. The art is a unique mixture of the staunch belief in god and goddesses, which reflected the bhakti culture and the ability to create and build attractive works of art in the visual media. While the growth and development of the Tanjore art can be traced over a fairly long period between 1700 to 1900, the major thrust and impetus to the art was given during the period when the city was ruled by the Marathas. The art became popular during the Maratha period and received extensive royal patronage, especially during the time when Sarabhoji II reigned (1797-1833). Like any other arts and crafts in India during the ancient days, the patrons received the accolade for promoting art and craft forms while the actual artists and craft persons remained anonymous.

Tanjore Arts & Crafts

Tanjore art is a natural extension of the skill and dexterity of the Tanjore craftsmen. The art is more skill oriented and it demands a lot of attention on fineness and perfection. It does not call for major ability for innovation and creativity. Tanjore Art is basically iconic. Figures of Hindu gods and goddesses are the normal themes. Siva, Parvati, Rama, Krishna, Lakshmi, Saraswathi and other gods and goddesses in different forms are depicted in this art form. If the depiction represents an event in the Hindu mythology, the main figure is supported with smaller figures as demanded by the theme. Rama Pattabishekam or Coronation of Lord Rama is a typical rendering in the Tanjore style where several figures are painted to bring out the reality of the thematic situation. The style and modality have undergone some minor variations due to contemporary demands. The traditional art was done on a single wooden board covered with a layer of cloth pasted on it. The cloth is coated with a compound of an adhesive and a smoothening agent.
Today this compound is normally a mixture of 'Fevicol' and French chalk powder or Plaster of Paris mixed with appropriate quantity of water. In earlier times lime white was used. After the application of the compound, the surface of the board along with the cloth is polished with a smooth stone or a glass stone to make the surface of the board smooth and even. This would facilitate the artist to work freely on the board and also ease the movement of the painting brush. Now the canvass is ready for taking the sketch.

A sketch is made with the finer details of the icons and the surroundings including the areas where the gems are to be placed and the relief work is to be made. In the case of a professional artist who creates several art works, in view of the repetitive nature of the painting, the artist maintains a master. The master is transferred to the board through a carbon. Care should be taken at this stage to provide a margin recess on all the four sides of the board to accommodate the frame, once the painting is completed. Once the detailed sketching has been completed, the gems are placed. In the earlier days, especially the paintings that were patronised by the royalty, these gems were precious stones. Currently semi-precious stones are used. The adhesive medium in the conventional art is a paste made of tamarind seed. With the development of newer form of art materials, the adhesive media, which is more popular, is Fevicol

INFORMATION

A sketch is made with the finer details of the icons and the surroundings including the areas where the gems are to be placed and the relief work is to be made. In the case of a professional artist who creates several art works, in view of the repetitive nature of the painting, the artist maintains a master. The master is transferred to the board through a carbon. Care should be taken at this stage to provide a margin recess on all the four sides of the board to accommodate the frame, once the painting is completed. Once the detailed sketching has been completed, the gems are placed. In the earlier days, especially the paintings that were patronised by the royalty, these gems were precious stones. Currently semi-precious stones are used. The adhesive medium in the conventional art is a paste made of tamarind seed. With the development of newer form of art materials, the adhesive media, which is more popular, is Fevicol.

The relief work is covered by sticking gold leaves or foils on them. The gold foils are thin so as to bring out the profile of the relief work after they are stuck. Pasting the gold foils over the relief work is again a delicate work - they need to be cut to size so as to ensure that they cover only the area where the relief work is done. Also care should be taken to apply the right amount of pressure with a piece of cloth or sponge on the foil while pasting. Any excessive pressure can tear or spoil the foil and on the contrary the foil would not be pasted properly if they are very gently pressed. The painting is normally done using white colour for the key figure and slightly shading it with blue or the normal body colour. The depiction is normally static and the painting does not reflect any action or movement. The usage of the background colours is mostly striking - it is a dark hue of red, blue or green.

paintings7 The paintings are chararcterised by pillars and curtains in the side, and some smaller compartmentalization at the bottom or top to accommodate small figures. The rendering of the faces and other parts of the body are mostly chubby, reminding us of Lord Milton's description of L'Allegro as "so buxom, blithe and debonair". This generally reflected the prosperity of the land during this period. Extensive use of gems, gold foils and other embellishment adds richness to the art. The pictures are normally framed and wall hung.

Like any other ancient art forms, Tanjore painting has also undergone some changes. Changes are inevitable. The transition stems out of two factors - one due to normal erosion of the original style of painting due to evolution of time and the other due to introduction of newer practices in the execution. The normal erosion of the original style happens as the art is passed from one generation to the other and results in transmission loss. In view of this, the style of execution undergoes a change. This is fairly evident in most of the ancient arts. The second factor, is the introduction of newer style of execution. This arises out of availability of new art material as well as innovative way of introducing new tools for execution. Technological developments of new painting media like poster, acrylic, and oil colours have significantly replaced usage of colours made in the classical style out of vegetable dyes.

In addition to the above two factors, there is also another reason for change in the art form, which stems from commercial considerations. In order to reduce the economic value addition made to the art, the quality of the art is made to suffer for commercial reasons. The traders in the art field, who are concerned more about the profitability, make an earnest attempt to reduce the cost(not the price) of the art. This means cheaper input materials are used for creating the art and at the same time persons who are not well trained in the execution of the art form are deployed for creating the art. Using artists who are not trained properly brings down the "execution cost" and thus the quality of the art ultimately suffers significantly.

Therefore it becomes imperative to arrest the changes in the original style of the ancient art forms due to undesirable reasons, if we need to carry forward the rich cultural heritage in its true traditional and authentic form. This becomes possible through appreciation and patronising the original style of these ancient art forms. The onus lies with the broader section of the current day community to develop the ability to appreciate the true art forms and also to distinguish the difference between the good and the bad. We have a difficult task ahead. We need to preserve these types of ancient art forms in its original splendour allowing very little room for distortion and carry it forward. Tanjore Painting is one amongst such precious art form.

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