Tanjore Painting

Tanjore painting is encouraged by the Maratha Raja of Thanjavur, Serfoji.  The name is given to a distinctive form of southern picture making that came to prominence in the eighteenth century.  The term painting is misleading and inadequate to describe the work of the Tanjore school.  It is distractive because aside from a painted image details such as clothing, ornaments and any architectural elements are raised in low plaster relief from the surface, which is then decorated by the sumptuous addition of glass pieces, pearls, semiprecious or precious stones and elaborate gold leaf work.  Other variations include pictures on mica, ivory and glass.  Figures are delineated with simple outlines; unmixed primary colors are used in the classical dramas of Kerala, where each colour indicated qualities of character.  Other schools of painting normally show Krishna with blue black skin in the Tanjore style, he is white.

Traditionally most Tanjore painting depicted vaishnavite deities with the most popular single image probably being that of Balakrishna, the chubby baby Krishna.  In the tenth century Sanskrit Bhagavata purana, Balakrishna was potrayed as a rascal who delighted in stealing and consuming milk, butterballs and curd.  Despite his naughtiness, all women who came into contact with him were seized with an overflowing of maternal affection. Thanks to such stories, Krishna as a child became the chosen deity par excellence of mothers and grandmothers, Tanjore paintings typically show him eating, accompanied by adoring women.

Although Tanjore painting went into decline after the nineteenth century in recent years, there has been new demand for works, though intended for domestic, rather than temple shrines, high quality work is produced in Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and Tiruchirapalli.

Patrons at the Thanjavur Maratha court were responsible for fostering a school of painting that survives to this day.  The typical Tanjore(Thanjavur) painting is executed in thick watercolor pigment on cloth or board, and encrusted with mirrored pieces, sometimes even semi precious gems.  The resulting glittering, brightly toned compositions are set in European-inspired gilded frames.

Cotton cloth is stuck onto a plank of jackfruit wood with the gum of the drumstick tree.  An outline is drawn with pencil.  Then a paste of puli (Tamarind) seeds and chunnam (limestone) is used to make an embossed design, on which gemstones (or semi-precious stones) are pressed.  The painting is sun-dried for two days and gold leaf is pressed on it to accentuate the embossed design and finished with a detailed paint job.  Traditionally, only natural colors were used sembarti (hibiscus) for blue, gun dumani (crimson seed with black dot) for red, manjal (turmeric) for yellow, manjal(mixed with chunnam (lime) for saffron, marudani (henna leaves) for orange and eggshell and milk for white.  Since natural colors are more expensive, artists have switched to watercolors.

Mostly intended for shrines in palaces and private houses, Tanjore paintings portray popular Hindu deities, especially the much -adored infant Krishna held by his foster-mother; or the enthronement of Rama together with Sita in the company of Hanuman and the monkey warriors.  Such paintings are occasionally on a larger scale in architectural settings, such as the mirrored, plaster Rama scenes on the walls behind the thrones in the palace at Thanjavur.

Tanjore Paintings

Tanjore Painting