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Thanjavur can be considered the heart of the Tamil country, with a civilization that reached great prominence during the Chola dynasty.  It played a vital role in attracting talent and in keeping alive, creative traditions through many centuries.  Tanjore or Thanjavur is one of the two major artistic regions and political powers in the southern Indian subcontinent that later spread in western culture during the British Raj. In the 16th century, it had become a great centre of dance, music, architecture, and the arts—sculpture, woodcraft, metal casting, mural painting. 

Thanjavur is famous for its highly advanced handicraft industries. Describing the city, British officer Hemmingway, writing in 1906, states- “Tanjore was known as the home of the fine arts under the native rulers who by their patronage attracted to their capital, the producers of most articles of luxury". This reputation still survives, though to a much modified degree. The Tanjore brass work is deservedly famous and its ornamental pith work. There are still several families who live by painting pictures. Silk weaving is said to employ 800 households. The town contains many other more usual and smaller industries and it is the centre of a great deal of trade.”

It is not surprising that the art of Thanjavur is very closely related to crafts. The sacred icon paintings are related, on the one hand, to carved and painted wood and the other to jewelry with its stone setting and gliding. Tanjore paintings are notable for their lavish portrayals of deities, which feature bright colors and flashy ornaments, particularly gold foil. Even though the art form has evolved, it remains popular among art lovers and inspires many painters with its uniquely Indian flair.

Handmade Rama Darbar Tanjore Painting, Traditional Colours with 24K Gold


According to T.S. Eliot, one of the conditions necessary for culture is an organic structure, which will foster the hereditary transmission of culture within a culture: and this requires the persistence of social class. The use of the name of the state is considered arbitrary since the style or its sister variation comes from Mysore and Andhra earlier than Tanjore painting. In discussing the Thanjavur styles, we may also lucratively compare them with the art of peripheral areas to speculate on the origins of its elements and especially on its relationship to other regional arts. Mysore paintings are an important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in the 13th century evolved in the Vijayanagar Empire.

The new milieu was inevitably destined to produce an artistic expression that was both heterogeneous and eclectic. The term Thanjavur painting refers, therefore, to a certain style of painting that reached a characteristic form in the Thanjavur area during the Maratha Period. 

Sanskrit and Telugu literature had flourished during the Shahjis dynasty, the second Maratha king. The king gifted a village to 46 pundits of his court and named it Shahjirajapuram. This space was for scholarship in languages, literature, philosophy, medicine, and art throughout the Maratha period.

Tanjore Miniature Paintings

Tanjore miniature painting, the most visible aspect of this renaissance, was in vogue by around the middle of the 18th century, trans-shifting a theme and the material medium representing it from the temple wall to a small canvas - usually a piece of cloth. However, it was not until the first half of the 19th century that it reached an unprecedented level of maturity and magnificence. 

In the early work of Tanjore paintings, you would find a Hindu idol or saintly figure at the center of the composition. After the Maratha dynasty came into ruling they brought mystical saints with their emphasis not only on devotion but on action and democracy. This created a religious and political division in the region. After synchronization, Maratha palaces and buildings were adorned with large paintings of Hindu deities and Maratha rulers, courtiers, and nobility. Almost all the deities were depicted with rounded faces, almond-shaped eyes, and streamlined bodies. Flat colors were used to paint the figures, which were often compactly placed within arches, drapes, and ornate borders. The dense composition was a distinct feature of Tanjore paintings, and faces were usually shaded to add a feeling of depth. This painting, which produced holy images for temples and household shrines for people from all walks of life in India who fought hard to maintain their religious identity against encroachment, was essentially votive.

The painters of Thanjavur were of Telugu-speaking origins. They were and still are from Kshatriyas and the community uses the suffix, Raja or Raju. The same community practiced the arts in other parts of Karnataka and Mysore. Hemingway reports, “Some good painting is done at Tanjore by men of Raju caste. They paint on wooden tablets or cloth made beautifully smooth with a paste of powder and gum, and their drawing is correct and tints employed astonishingly delicate and even. But the designs are confined to the Hindu gods or heroes and the finished pictures are adorned with sparkling stones or pieces of metal.

Urdhva Tandav Tanjore Painting

Developments in the Recent Years

Tanjore Paintings are one of India's and Hinduism's last remaining traditional works of art. Tanjore Paintings' key survival theory is its resilience to changes in format; the most recent development shown in Tanjore Paintings is its glass painting format. The panache also borrowed from a wide range of cultures than much of classical South Indian art had. This brought an addition of inspiration into these creations and helped revivify painting in South India. Tanjore painting gave birth to many representations such as Kalamkari, Tirupati painting, and glass painting.

     Gajalakshmi, Kalamkari Painting

Tanjore paintings continue to be popular today. They have been heavily commercialized in recent years, and can even be found being sold in street markets. The ancient art continues still because of its jewel-like rich look. Although the art form has endured the test of time and remains popular, many art lovers are concerned about the general fall in quality. Its brilliance does not quite match for the past two to three decades.

Exotic India offers you the best quality Tanjore Paintings curated by us from the best artists of the region. Our vast collection of paintings will surely add a golden touch to your surroundings and fill the space with divinity.

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