Arts and Crafts of Tamil Nadu


It is no secret that for ages, the South has been a treasure trove of architecture, literature and culture. Its  aesthetic abundance is impossible to tally on one’s finger. The recognition of Tamil language of Tamil Nadu itself as one of the great classical languages of the world has elevated the state to an unmatched pedestal. Being the custodian of the enchanting sound of Veena, and serving as a sanctuary to the time-honoured dance form of Bharatnatyam, this state embodies a melody that cannot be dismissed. Let’s look at some of the arts and crafts of the vibrant land of Tamil Nadu.

Thanjavur Dolls

Thanjavur dolls are a storehouse of wonders in many ways.The vibrantly decked, lovely Thanjavur dolls trace their origin back to the 16th century, flourishing during the reign of the Thanjavur Nayaks, a clan of Telugu rulers within the Vijayanagar empire. Traditionally, these dolls were made in pairs of Raja-Rani; over time, of course, a variety of motifs and designs were introduced, including the depiction of female classical dancers. To reduce heaviness and fragility, artisans also started working with plaster of paris, tapioca flour, and wooden pulp instead of terracotta clay. Another notable feature is that these dolls are also used as decorative dolls during the Hindu festival of “Navratri Kolu”.

Thalayatti dolls

Thalayatti dolls, also known as “Chettar Bommai '' or bobble-head dolls are another interesting dolls of Tamil Nadu. Thalayatti dolls are paper mache dolls from the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. These elaborate dolls are considered to be representing a specific Tamil community. To make these dolls, tapioca flour, paper mache and plaster of paris, are mixed and kneaded to the consistency of a roti-dough. Unlike the Thanjavur doll, the bottom part of the bobble-head doll is curved and while the moveable head is detachable, the body is fixed. Alas, the flourishing tradition of such rich dolls is facing tough times due to the rising popularity of imported, inexpensive plastic dolls, leading artisans to pursue alternative professions.

Thanjavur Painting

Vivid colours, elaborate attire, almond-shaped eyes and glistening gold wrapped in timeless compositions, are predominant  characteristics of Thanjavur art. As is obvious, the painting gets its name from Thanjavur, the present Tanjore region of Tamil Nadu. The tradition of Thanjavur can be dated to the grand era of the Chola dynasty and Nayak period and continued to flourish under the Marathas as well. At its core, Thanjavur paintings are devotional in nature. Consequently, Hindu deities, such as Goddess Parvati, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Annapurna, Bal Krishna, Shiva and Parvati, episodes from Ramayana, Sthala-puranas and major epic texts become the central basis around which the paintings are attentively made. Among its many painstaking processes, the most important one is the embossing, over which a coating of gold foil is applied, adding to the depth and richness of the work.

Kanchipuram Silk craft

Sturdy in nature and stunning in its intricacies, Kanchipuram or Kanjivaram silks stands as a hallmark of  South Indian weddings and ceremonies. The world-famous Kanchivaram silk is a product of the sericulture of the mulberry worm. Additionally, the handwoven silk saree holds a charm that adds an unmatchable regality to it. Legend has it that the Kanchi silk weavers are the descendants of Sage Markandeya, the master weaver of the Gods. The mention of Kanchi as a place famed for its textile is present in the early Sanskrit and Tamil literature, such as the Sanskrit poem, Jānakīharaṇa by Kumāradāsa. The kovari technique of weaving a Kanchipuram saree is characterised by a “unity” and “ opposition” of elements. The kovari method entails attaching the opposing borders with the main body of saree, this amalgamation of opposing elements is said to evoke raasi, a Tamil word for auspiciousness.

Chettinad Sarees

Patronised by one of the wealthiest communities of Chettinad, the Nagarathar, these sarees, which go by their namesake, are also among the state’s oldest weaves. Chettinad sarees with their luxurious textile and splendid motifs, possess an allure of its historical heritage. Did you know that their colour palette was restricted to brick red, black and green? Blue and green were unavailable as they required indigo, which didn’t grow in and around Chettinad. Ornate motifs like, “mango Buttis” and “Thandavallam” patterns add a visual splendour to this ornate textile of Chettinad.

Jamakalam Weaving

The weaving craft of Jamakkalam, a sturdy cotton carpet received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2005-2006. This is one of the oldest weaving techniques in India, where all family members weave together. The Bhavani town, or the “Carpet City'' of Tamil Nadu, is famous for its enormous textile industry. When considering the variety within this textile, we can identify essentially two types of Jamakkalam production. The first is made using coarse cotton threads, resulting in less nuanced details, while the second type has all the fine details and is often used in the making sarees and bags.  The humble artisans of this region have been weaving Jamakkalams for more than 200 years now, but unfortunately, this craft is slowly fading away.


Temple Jewellery

The enchanting traditional jewellery of Tamil Nadu holds deep-rooted cultural importance in many many ways. Temple jewellery making is also one of the oldest methods of jewellery making in the country. As is suggestive, these jewelleries are embossed with the portrayals of deities  the traditionally worshipped Gods in the temples of South India. Temple jewellery is believed to have originated around the reign of the Chola and  Pandya empires. In earlier times, they were crafted from precious metal donations made to the temples, and they were exclusively reserved for adorning deities and royalties.


Kolam making

The origin of Kolam artistry can be traced back to around 500 BCE in the Tamil region. The Kolam art has been particularly popular among the women of rural households in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Every morning, the thresholds are cleaned with a mixture of mud and water. Using the thumb, middle finger and index finger, rice powder is carefully distributed onto the newly cleaned floor in  precise patterns. A careful arrangement of straight lines, curved patterns, and grids of dots is indispensable in the making of Kolam art. While Kolam is painstaking to draw, this ritualistic design has long been an emblem of creativity, camaraderie, and culture. Although fewer Tamils are making Kolam today, it still holds an intrinsic value and knowledge that needa to be passed on.


Veena Making

Veena, the instrument of Goddess Saraswati herself, has a melody that remains distinct and heartfelt. Veena is one of those fascinating, classical devices that still enjoys a stature unmatched in India and across the world. This single-stringed instrument is carved out of one single block of wood from the jackfruit trees. From meticulously cutting and carving the wood to polishing it into smoothness, skilled artisans have to pay close attention to creating this body of instrument that is perfect in every way for any maestro or musician playing it. Nonetheless, the experts behind this craftsmanship are struggling to keep this ancient art alive.


Bronze Idols

The ancient method using the lost wax technique finds its mention in the Shilpshastra, which is one of the oldest texts that encompass a wide range of topics related to architecture, sculpture and art. The artisans of Swamimalai village involved in the specialised artistic tradition of manufacturing bronze idols have been adhering to the same techniques and precision that are several centuries old. They have earned the Geographical indication (GI) tag by the government of India in the year 2008-09. To put it briefly, initially, a statue design is made from hard wax. Then clay is set around the wax which is then melted away to imprint a perfectly detailed cast. Finally, molten bronze is poured into the clay mould. After cooling, the bronze solidifies, and the bronze statue emerges.,-Tamil-Nadu-1.aspx


Athangudi tiles

The origin of Athangudi tiles owes much to Chettiar, the business community of Tamil Nadu. The Chettinad homes, built by the economically well-off Chettiar community, are famous for their striking architectural style. Wooden pillars, imported marble and sophisticated tiles were frequently used to build these mansions. However, once these enterprising communities realised the level of high maintenance that these imported tiles demanded, they set up cottage industries to produce similar tiles locally. This led to the emergence of the famous athangudi tiles. These tiles are crafted in the namesake village, Athangudi. One of the most striking features of these locally crafted pieces is that they are not only stunning with their designs and colours, but they are also exclusive, meaning no two tiles are the same. Designed metal stencils, cement, and standard colours like red, mustard, green, grey, and skilled artisans are some of the prerequisites for creating them.


Karuppur Kalamkari

The word Kalamkari evolved when the Golconda Sultans called the craftsmen ‘kalamkars’. This is because the art involves the use of kalam (pen or paintbrush) to trace the patterns on the cloth-based medium. Motifs range from paisley, floral, and creeper designs to portrayals of holy figures like Buddha, Radha-Krishna. Hand-painted or block-printed, the traditional art of Kalamkari looks alluring in every way. Dating back almost 5000 years, it is one of the most esteemed ancient art of India. Karuppur Kalamkari is usually painted on cotton fabrics with the use of organic or vegetable dyes. As far as motifs are concerned, there is a striking similarity to the style of Kalamkari practised in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Karuppur Kalamkari is not as intricate as the Andhra style but it broadly resembles it. However, the materials used in this style are different from their Andhra counterparts, primarily due to the lack of local materials, for which the Karuppur Kalamkari artists use other alternatives.


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1 comment

  • soundos: June 10, 2024
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    great post

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