Thanjavur Paintings

Thanjavur, or Tanjore as it was earlier known after the legendary demon in Hindu mythology called Tanjan, is an ancient city in the heart of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The history of Thanjavur dates back to the 16nth century when it was the capital of the Chola Empire. Today, the city is an important cultural center known for its music, arts, paintings and dance forms.

The city is located in the Cauvery delta and is known as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Tamil Nadu; it mainly deals in agriculture and agricultural products. It’s well connected by roads and railways with an international airport located in nearby Tiruchirapalli, about 60km away. With its teeming ancient history, architectural beauty as well as famous monuments and art forms, it’s a popular tourist destination and many hotels are available for holidaying here, including the Sangam hotel.

Thanjavur is particularly famous for its paintings which are made in a unique way using multiple mediums and vibrant colors as well as gold foils, gems, glass beads, mirrors, etc. The themes of the paintings are usually Hindu gods and goddesses as well as scenes from Hindu mythology. They can be seen depicted on temple walls, pillars and as ceiling murals; their colors are almost as vibrant today as they must have been hundreds of years ago.

The Thanjavur painting method itself involves numerous steps with a canvas cloth being first pasted with Arabic gum onto a plank of hardwood such as teak or jackfruit wood. It’s then smeared evenly with a mix of chalk powder or zinc oxide. The painting is then created on this surface and decorated with gold foil, beads, lace or semi-precious stones to give a three-dimensional effect. Natural colors and minerals were used to brighten the artworks with jewel-like colors.

Due to their uniqueness, Thanjavur paintings are still very much in demand; artists these days have adapted this art form to modern times and are using cheap alternatives to recreate the beauty of these special paintings. Training programs, workshops as well as exhibitions are regularly conducted by government and private institutions to preserve this ancient art form. Due to the cost of authentic materials however, current examples of Thanjavur paintings use cheaper woods like plywood and synthetic colors and adhesives. Sadly, even the subjects of these paintings are changing these days as modern themes are being increasingly depicted.

There is a reason to cheer however as artists are unwilling to give up on this unique method of creating artwork and connoisseurs of these arts are ready to purchase such works in spite of the above-mentioned changes. So, happily, history still lives on!