TamilNadu Crafts



The Tamil classic, the Silappadikaaram, mentions an ancient Tamil instrument, the wooden Yaazh in the shape of boats, fishes, and crocodiles. Similar to the harp or lute, this now obsolete instrument has been replaced by the more versatile veena. Made of Jackwood, the various parts of the instrument-the kudam (pot), top plank, neck and yaali-are first assembled and a mixture of honey wax and black powder is applied to the top plank. Then it is further processed for completion. Renowned as a centre for the manufacture of veenas, Thanjavur has families employed in this trade for generations.

Then there are the thamburas with their wooden bases, the flute or kuzhal-a wind instrument associated with Lord Krishna. Popularly known as vangiyam, they are made of bamboo, sandalwood, bronze, sengaali and karungaali woods.


Brass and copper metalware also have a rich and ancient tradition in Tamil Nadu. The objects serve both religious and secular needs, though utility is a primary consideration. The deepam or lamp, considered to be a symbol of Agni, which is auspicious, is the best known of the State's metalware.

The rich variety of lamps includes standing lamps, aarathi (votive lamps), deepalakshmis, hand lamps and chain lamps. Patterned trays and shallow dishes in circular, hexagonal, octagonal and oval shapes are widely used in Tamil Nadu and are made out of bronze or sheet brass. The popular Thanjavur plates feature designs of deities, birds, flowers, and geometric patterns beaten out from the back of copper and silver sheets and subsequently encrusted on a brass tray, kudam or panchpaathra. Metal toys incorporating models of horses, cows or elephants are made chiefly of brass and a whole range of attractively polished and finished utensils of utilitarian value.

The most famous of Tamil Nadu's art forms is probably its bronzes-aesthetic perfection acquired over the centuries, placing them among the greatest achievements of Indian art. The art of bronze casting is still strictly governed by the canons of iconography. The measurement for a bronze figure is the thaala, the distance from the forehead to the chin. Prepared according to the cire perdue or lost wax method, the final touches to the figure are given by hand-the finishing, burnishing and perfecting of the minutest details.

The most remarkable bronzes of Tamil Nadu, sculpted primarily from copper, belong to the Chola period, though later the panchaloha or five metals (copper, tin, lead, silver, and gold) became more popular.

The most outstanding figures depicted in bronzes are those of Shiva as the Lord of Dance and along with Parvati and the Naayanmaars (Shaivite saints). Of the dozen erstwhile bronze casting centers of Tamil Nadu, today Kumbakonam alone survives as a major producer of bronzes and the art is concentrated in the village of Swamimalai. Thanjavur and Salem are the centers of a separate substratum of folk bronzes with their very real depiction of rural life and beliefs. The bronze uthsavamurthis, taken out in procession around the town, fostered several other crafts such as the making of wooden chariots, appliqué decoration cloth, garland making and the manufacture of intricate jewelry.


The world famous Tanjore paintings, painted on wood, glass, mica, ivory and on walls, are characterized by the use of primary colors, with stylized modeling effects by shading the inside of the contours. Jewels, drapery and architectural elements like finely executed pillars, rich canopies, garlands of ropes and chandeliers are slightly raised by the use of special plaster, covered with pure gold leaf and embedded with semi-precious stone of different hues. Painting on ivory, mica, and the more difficult genre of glass paintings, were all introduced in the 18th century. Whereas the religious paintings are highly decorative and flat, the paintings of the women are highly stylized with an element of reality infused in the portraits.


The ancient craft of pottery also finds abundant expression in the manufacture of the famous Ayyannar horses. The horses are said to protect each village from evil. The large terracotta horses are made in Salem and Pudukottai. The horses were originally made and fired individually. But with increasing popularity of terracotta art items, the moulds began to be put into use.

Handicrafts Trade
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