Tanjore in Tamilnadu will remind you of its Paintings, but let’s know its history first

Tanjore in Tamilnadu will remind you of its Paintings, but let’s know its history first

Being an art lover and someone who muses and rabbles about it endlessly, I can’t keep my sight off of a unique form of paintings that flourished on the banks of river Cauvery (or Kaveri) at Tanjore (or Tanjavur) in Tamilnadu, down South India several centuries ago. Tanjore, about 350kms from the capital city of Chennai, is considered by the Tamil community, more popularly Tamizhians or Tamilians, as the cradle of Tamil civilization, tradition and culture. It is ancient and rich, living and vibrant, rooted and ever-flowing. Tanjore paintings came about as a result of the patronage of the local Tamil rulers of the region that were considered great builders and architects.

Tanjavur is the capital of the vast and mighty Chola kingdom that lasted for centuries and was the hotbed of cultural and economical activities. Great conquerors they were, the Cholas expanded their empire and annexed parts of Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Southeast Asian regions like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern Thailand. The Vijayanagara kings who conquered the Cholas were great admirers of Tamil art practises and tradition, and art kept flowing endlessly. The empire reached its peak during the rule of Krishna Deva Raya. The Vijayanagar Rayas administered their vast kingdom with the help of Nayaka Governors, who like the Cholas, took great interest in miscellaneous arts and oversaw their development. Raghunatha Nayaka, one of the most well-known Nayak rulers, started a school of Thanjavur artists, one of its kinds in South India.

But it was not until the advent of the Maratha rulers, especially under the rule of Serfoji II (1798-1832) that Tanjore paintings surfaced as a regional art practise that ruled between the 16th and 18th century. The art was mainly practised by two communities: the Naidus in Madurai and the Rajus in Thanjavur and Trichy. These two communities, mostly Telugu speaking, produced a lot of artists who originally came from Rayalseema to Tamilnadu when the Nayaks ruled a major area of Madurai and Tanjore. It didn’t take long for the Tanjore art and painting to assume form and style how we know it today by their efforts. It was also during this time that the Tanjore art improvised greatly.

When the dynasty rule coming to an end with the British rule in India, the Rajus community divided itself into three groups - one group heading to the neighbouring state of Mysuru (Karnataka), the second towards Vuyaioor and the third one stayed at home. Every group gave rise to a unique style of Tanjore paintings, and that was the best part. Studded gems and gold leaf became mainstream in style at Tanjore. At Vuyaioor, the custom was the decorative garland, and at Mysuru, the school of painting emphasised more on intricate painting than use of gems.

The Maratha rule in Thanjavur came to a close with the death of its last king Shivaji II. Later the mercantile Chettiar community became great patrons of the Tanjore arts. As they were Hindu Shaivites, they promoted such themes in most painting works.

About twenty years ago the Tamilnadu state government, in an effort to revive the dying art form, initiated training and started schools in the state with the help of expert craftsmen and artisans. The Tanjore paintings, today, are widely seen in home decors, interiors, corporate offices, etc. Artists, these days, have started to experiment with newer subject themes such as birds, animals, religious and mythological characters, etc. It must be noted that several Tanjore paintings seen today are not even few hundred years old, sparring a few preserved by some Government museums and private art galleries. If you are looking to buy traditional Tanjore paintings, check what www.sandivartgallery.com has to offer in terms of style and themes online.