Gajalakshmi- Sri Lakshmi with Gaja or elephants is undoubtedly the most
pristine and popular image of the Hindu mother-goddess who controls the sphere
of abundance, victory, and opulence. Placed within a fine round wooden frame,
this Tanjore Gajalakshmi painting, embellished with pure 24 karat gold is a
majestic representation of the great mother-goddess.
This form of
Maa Lakshmi, exquisitely drawn by the skilled Tanjore artist using traditional
colors, is believed to be the bestower of heavenly wealth upon the king of gods
Indra, after her emergence from the depths of the Kshirsagara (primordial
ocean). Two pairs of elephants on each side- glorious animals connected to
Indra, the first among all the rulers and bringer of rains hail the mother goddess,
with whose adulations, gods, kings, and humans derive unending riches. Gaja-Lakshmi
thus is the tutelary goddess for anyone who wishes to acquire worldly luxuries
and is evoked in her dhyan-mantra as “Durgati-nashini”- the destroyer of misery.
Gaja-Lakshmi is presented in this mesmerizing Tanjore painting as a sovereign
ruler herself, placed inside a royal palace, on a throne, accompanied by two
ladies clad in ethnic clothing fanning the goddess. The roof of her throne is
decorated by peacocks, Kirtimukha (face of glory), and ashva-yali (mythical
composite animal with a body of ashva or horse and lion) on the pillars- all
motifs associated with royalty in Indian tradition.
The maker of
this Gaja-Lakshmi Tanjore artwork displays knowledge of early Vedic tradition,
especially of the “Sri Suktam”- a Vedic hymn dedicated to Sri (Lakshmi), where
the lotus is an element that is repeatedly connected with goddess Lakshmi. This
association of the mother-goddess with the blossom is expanded in this Tanjore
painting, where the lotus and lotus petal can be seen in the curtain above the
goddess, decoration of her throne, in her hands, and on her throne as a rug,
visible from under the pleats of her glistening golden sari.
celestial aura on her exquisite face which is beautifully supplemented by her
intricately designed ornaments, a richness of gold foil in decoration, and the
royal blue background of the Tanjore painting, Devi Gaja-Lakshmi brings to mind
the image of the primordial goddess, who is the object of worship for not only
the mortals but also for the great Hindu trinity- Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva.
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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