Dancing Shiva is a recurrent theme in traditional Indian art. The Nataraja iconography is hands-down the most popular roopa of Shiva. The one that you see on this page is the urdhvatandava Shiva, captured in the Tanjore idiom. In the shilpashastras, urdhvatandava is the name given to the Thillai iconography of Shiva in Cidambaram, Tamil Nadu.
Every item of adornment on the neck and wrists and ankles of this ashtabhujadhari Shiva is executed in gold-layered gessowork. These metallic embellishments, the purity as well as the finesse of the handiwork, are a hallmark of the authentic Tanjore painting.
In addition to Shiva, this Tanjore painting comprises mutated members of Shivagana, standing on their own pedestals on either side of Apasmara, and Brahma va Vishnu floating about either side of His drum. The monotone, inky blue background brings out the solid gold of the Kirtimukham templeroof, the ornate pillars, and the ashvayali.
Tanjore painting is a traditional form of art in the South Indian
style and was started by the inhabitants of a small town known as
Thanjavur of Tamil Nadu. This gives it another name called
“Thanjavur painting”. This painting draws its figures, designs,
and inspiration from the time when Vedic culture was prevalent in
India. Certain remarkable features of a Tanjore painting
distinguish it from other paintings. Some of these are pure gold
or gold foil coating on gesso work, the use of rich and vivid
colors, and the inlay of cut-glass or semi-precious and precious
stones. The subjects of most of the Tanjore paintings are Hindu
Gods, Goddesses, and saints. The main devotional figure is
portrayed in the central portion of the painting and is usually
surrounded by various secondary figures.
The classic Tanjore paintings are done on wooden planks and hence
are also referred to as Palagai Padam in South India (Palagai =
Wooden plank, Padam = Picture). Creating a masterpiece is never an
easy task but the skilled artists of Thanjavur have been following
the tradition of making timeless Tanjore paintings for decades.
The making process begins with preparing the wooden board or
canvas. The size of the board depends upon the choice of the
patron. The next step is to paste cardboard over the wooden board
and then a cotton fabric is stretched and pasted upon it using
Now that the cloth is attached to the wooden panel, a rough sketch
of the motifs and figure is drawn onto the fabric. After this, a
paste of chalk powder and water-soluble adhesive is evenly applied
over the base and smoothed.
Thereafter, the outlines which were made or traced using a stencil
are now ready to be beautified and decked with various add-ons.
The usual materials for decoration are cut-glass, pearls,
semi-precious and precious gems, gold leaf, and laces. 22 or 18
Karat Gold leaves and gems of varied hues are especially inlaid in
areas like pillars, arches, walls, thrones, and dresses.
In the final step, the rest of the painting is filled with rich
and striking colors such as shades of red, blue, and green.
Formerly, the artists used natural colors like vegetable and
mineral dyes instead of chemical paints. The entire painting is
then cleaned and refined to give a flawless finished look.
Since the making of a single piece of Tanjore painting requires a
complex and elaborate process, the artists usually take at least
one or two months to complete it. The use of pure gold foil and
gems for beautification is a characteristic of an authentic
Tanjore painting. Due to this, Tanjore paintings last for
generations without getting tarnished and are much more expensive
than general paintings. Though the art form has undergone various
changes and technique modifications over the years, it continues
to attract the hearts of art lovers.
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