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Tanjore Paintworks - Some Amazing Works from The Past

Tanjore Paintworks

Tanjore painting or Thanjavur painting is an ancient Indian painting style named after the city of Thanjavur, the town from which it originated. As the painting is crafted on a wooden plank, it is locally known as 'Palagai Padam,' where the word 'Palagai' means wooden plank and 'Padam' means painting. Vibrant natural colors, glass beads, semi-precious gems and stones, and glittering gold leaves make Tanjore paintings popular worldwide. Antique Tanjore's paintings have their roots linked to the reign of the Rayas of Vijayanagara during 1600 AD.

During their reign, Rayas encouraged various art forms, including music, literature, dance, and painting. However, the modern Tanjore painting style, as we know it today, is significantly influenced by the Maratha Empire. Earlier, Tanjore paintings were decorated with natural diamonds and precious stones but gradually, artificial, and semi-precious stones and gems gained more popularity.

After the fall of the Maratha rule in the region, the Britishers came to Thanjavur and extensively patronized Thanjavur painting and its artists. Britishers installed their garrison in the city and created their army base in Thanjavur in 1773. Since then, the Tanjore painting artisan has crafted several paintings for British personnel throughout the 19th century.

Several antique Tanjore paintings crafted during this period are available in various places. These paintings and artwork are still a significant attraction in multiple museums and temples.

Some Amazing Tanjore Artworks

Some antique Tanjore paintings can still be found in several temples and museums across the world, such as the walls of Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, Virupaksha Temple in Hampi, Varadaraja Temple and Kamakshi Temple in Kanchipuram, Leepakshi Temple in Andhra Pradesh, Government Museum, Chennai, Thanjavur Art Gallery, and Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur, the British Victoria & Albert museums in England, National Museum of New Delhi, and the National Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Here are some sites in India and across the world that are decorated by Tanjore paintings:

Brihadeeshwara Temple

This historical temple is located in the district of Thanjavur, the city where the painting style originated. The temple houses paintings of the Chola dynasty from the 11th century, along with paintings from the Nayaka period of the 16th century. The Chola dynasty paintings were superimposed on Nayaka paintings in many places. During the rule of the Maratha empire in the region, Thanjavur painting artists were immensely influenced by the Maratha artisans who used precious gems, stones, and gold foils in their paintings. Thanjavur artisans used the newly acquired painting technique to craft several paintings on the temple's walls. These paintings are still decorating the temples' walls and are of great interest to tourists and historians. Recently, a new set of Chola paintings was discovered inside the temple. These paintings were found on the walls of secret corridors within the temple. The passage connects the temple with RajaRaja Chola.

Maharaja Serfoji's Saraswathi Mahal Library

Thanjavur is home to another historical place, Saraswathi Mahal Library, built by Serfoji II. It is one of the oldest libraries in Asia. The library holds several pieces of Tanjore art crafted during the Chola dynasty and Maratha empire in Thanjavur. Prabodha Chandrodayam, a Sanskrit work in the library, still has a few pages containing Tanjore painting images. Apart from this, The Marathi translation of Bhagavatham and Mahabharata also holds works of Madhava Swami, a renowned Tanjore painter. The library also contains Tanjore-style glass paintings, wooden paintings, canvas paintings, paper paintings, and portraits of Chola and Maratha kings.

Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam

Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam is a collection of 64 devotional epic stories depicting the miracles of Lord Shiva. After the downfall of the Maratha empire, the Chettiar community continued patronizing the Thanjavur painting style. Being loyal to the Shaivites, Chettiars encouraged Tanjore painting with the Shaivite theme. A monastery in Koviloor has huge antique Tanjore paintings portraying the lives of 63 Shaivite saints or Nayanmars and Lord Shiva's 64 miracles.

Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple is the only surviving Vijayanagara monument in Hampi, and Tanjore paintings can still be found on the walls of these temples. The temple is dedicated to Virupaksha, Lord Shiva's form. It was built in 1509 CE by Sri Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara emperor. The ceilings and walls of the Maharangamantapa contain mural paintings crafted during the Vijayanagara empire.

Varadharaja Perumal Temple

Varadharaja Perumal Temple is a temple located in the Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. The temple is amongst the 108 temples of Lord Vishnu that were visited by Alvars, the 12 saint poets. The paintings in the temple were crafted during the 16th century under the rule of the Vijayanagara rulers. The temple is a repository of the ancient painting style, but the paintings deteriorate due to negligence. The temple also has an antique Tanjore painting of all the 108 'Divya Desams' (Temples of Lord Vishnu) on its wall.

Lepakshi Temple

Lepakshi Temple is located in Sri Sathya Sai, Andhra Pradesh. The temple was constructed in 1583 by Viranna and Virupanna, the brothers serving the Vijayanagara emperor, King Achutaraya. The temple is built in the Vijayanagara style of architecture. It is famous for its repository of fine paintings of the Vijayanagara empire. The paintings on the walls and ceilings of the temple are regarded as the best-preserved pictorial craft of the Vijayanagara period in South India.

Government Museum, Chennai

The Government Museum of Chennai, India's second oldest museum, started in 1851. The National Art Gallery within the museum's premises housed many rare Asian and European paintings of some prominent authors. The museum holds several Tanjore paintings from the Tanjore School of Arts and Crafts. These antique Tanjore paintings include portraits of Maratha kings, Hindu gods and goddesses in various postures, and several painted scenes of Indian households, lifestyles, and festivals. Most of these paintings were created during the Maratha empire and are decorating the walls of the National Art Gallery of Chennai.

Thanjavur Art Gallery

Thanjavur Art gallery is located in Thanjavur's royal palace of the Nayaka rulers. The gallery is among the significant attractions in Tamil Nadu. It houses various historical objects, sculptures, paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses, and artworks crafted during the Pallava, Nayaka, Chola, and Maratha empires. It also holds some great Tanjore paintings created in the past by skilled Tanjore artisans during these periods. Some antique Tanjore paintings preserved in this historical art gallery are sourced from the Tanjore School of Art and Craft. Tanjore paintings in the Thanjavur art gallery also have a fine collection of Tanjore paintings depicting various Maratha kings who ruled this region and their allies.  

National Museum of New Delhi

The National Museum in the capital city of India also houses an astonishing collection of Tanjore paintings. The Tanjore and Mysore Painting Gallery of the museum hosts paintings from the two famous schools of art in South India – Mysore and Tanjore. The Tanjore paintings of Vaishnavism portray the Hindu god Lord Vishnu in his different incarnations, including Vishnu, Krishna, and Rama. The gallery hosts around 88 Tanjore paintings, including Sita-Rama and Shiva-Parvati wedding scene paintings, Nataraja Shiva, Navaneeta Krishna, Rama Pattabhisheikha, Darbar of Maratha ruler Serfoji II, and King Shivaji II paintings.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London also holds an extensive collection of Thanjavur paintings made by Indian artists for the British company. It is the largest museum in the world that houses decorative arts, applied arts, designs, and other collections. After the fall of the Maratha Empire, Britishers ruled over the Thanjavur town and created their army base in the city. They also patronized the Thanjavur painting style and encouraged modern Tanjore painting artisans to craft paintings for the British East India Company. The Jawahar Lal Nehru gallery of Indian Art within the museum houses Indian art from 500 B.C. to the 19th century. The museum houses a wide range of Tanjore paintings, including Hindu gods and goddesses' paintings, Maratha ruler paintings, warriors, and other scenes depicting the lives of ordinary people in India. These paintings describe dresses, occupations, customs, festivals, and tools during the 17th century.

National Museum of Copenhagen

Apart from the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, The National Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark, also holds a vast collection of Tanjore paintings crafted in the 17th century. Denmark's King Christian IV received permission to build fort Dansborg at Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu. This relationship between Denmark and Thanjavur resulted in a collection of vast Thanjavur art in the Danish National Museum. The museum houses two antique Tanjore paintings of Serfoji II, the Maratha ruler.

Tanjore painting has a special place in Indian art history, and the painting style has been around for more than five centuries. Although the artform underwent several changes, the basic technique remained the same. The painting style has stood through times, and we can still find paintings decorating the walls and ceilings of temples and museums across the country and the world.

Apart from the above lists of places hosting antique Tanjore paintings, several other historical sites like South Indian temples and forts still have faint traces of Tanjore paintings. One such example is the Thiruvaiyaru Chatram constructed by Serfoji II after he returned from Kashi. The walls of this building hold traces of Maratha-style Tanjore paintings crafted using glass beads and semi-precious gems and stones.


Several other buildings in and around Thanjavur have Tanjore paintings on their walls and ceilings. However, most of these are deteriorating and disappearing due to negligence and vandalism. Many private collectors and museums also possess antique collections of Tanjore paintings.

If you want to purchase a masterpiece Tanjore painting, go to Mangala Tanjore Paintings. Visit the website today to learn more!

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