Barring themes like Shiva performing Tandava, Rama’s enthronement, Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana, gods in groups, performance of worship rituals and the like apart Tanjore paintings are neither illustrative nor narrative; they are rather iconic. Unlike a miniature, a painting on a tiny piece of paper rendered in colours, the Tanjore style’s distinction, visual effect, all its resplendence or rather its divine aura is born largely of its material mediums, gold and silver foils, leaves of other metals, and precious and semi-precious stones, beads, mirrors …, that it uses in realising a theme on a piece of board. As conditions its mediums, in its representative form a Tanjore painting better reveals itself when it consists of a single image, or just a few, in bold and large sizes.
Characteristic to a Tanjore painting the artist has used Lord Ganesha’s single image large in size and bold and elaborate in details. The tiny mouse, his mount, greedily looking at ‘modakas’ offered to Lord Ganesha in large golden baskets, is the only other image, besides the Master’s, that the artist has included in the painting. Representing this image of Lord Ganesha the artist, respecting his status as the supreme divinity, as well as the norms of iconography for divine imagery, has used only golden foil symbolic of gold – the supreme of metals, besides precious stones : rubies, emeralds, sapphires, peals and diamonds. White not the colour of gods, silver foil is rarely used in divine images except sometimes for defining ritual paraphernalia, seat or architecture. Along Lakshmi Lord Ganesha is also considered as the patron of riches, hence, in the painting silver has been completely excluded and the use of gold is in abundance.
This benign image of the elephant god, a blend of at least two of his forms, Ekadanta – single-tusked, and Vakratunda – curved trunked, enshrines a gold-panelled ‘vedika’ – sanctum, inlaid all over with precious stones – rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, pearls … He is seated against a huge bolster made of velvet and worked with gold on an elevated throne consisting of gold and velvet cushion and embellished with precious gems of various kinds. Over the side pillars the ‘vedika’ rises to mid-height and from here onwards there rises over it an arched opening of the ‘vedika’; the pattern of the arches is shallow. These arch-recesses have been adorned with frills composed of flowers and leaves. The vedika’s superstructure consists of three domes, one in the centre being flattish horizontally stretching and topped by a number of finials, and those on sides, modelled like onion-bulbs. All three domes rise over well-defined necks and are fluted. The finials over them are typically Indo-Islamic, the base being pot-like, and apex, star-like. The central dome has under it a Kirttimukha motif, the symbol of auspiciousness. The vedika’s superstructure is typically characteristic of Dravidian temple architecture.
With both of his feet turned to left the four-armed Lord Ganesha is seated in abhaya-mudra – gesture of granting freedom from fear that his mere presence ensures; hence, he carries either no weapons or a very few. Here in this manifestation he is carrying just an elephant goad. He is holding his normal right hand in ‘abhaya’, the gesture of granting freedom from fear; in the normal left he carries a ‘laddu’, and another, in his trunk, symbolic of the accomplishment of all desired and the vigour of life. In the upper left the patron of entire knowledge and giver of right wisdom Lord Ganesha carries a pen. A magnificent piece of jewellery his crown made of gold and inlaid with most precious stones is in the South Indian tradition but not as towering as a Vaishnava crown. Besides a green sash richly worked with gold stripes Lord Ganesha is wearing an ‘antariya’ – lower garment consisting of yellow silk and gold zari. He is putting on various ornaments on his neck, breast, waist, feet, forehead, shoulders, arms, hands, a ‘vaijayanti’ of fresh flowers and a ‘naga-bandha’ – yajnopavit consisting of a snake.