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Vanakkam / Nal Varavu - www.tamilar.org - The Portal for more than Seventy Million Tamil People
Tamil Arts, Dance, Musical Intruments, Jewellery, Handicrafts, Paintings

Introduction

The origin of most of the arts and crafts tradition of the state of Tamil Nadu can be related to the influence of temple economy that prevailed for a long time in this part of the country. The rich temples of the region not only gave patronage to the craftsmen but constant construction work in these temples helped the craftsmen regularly upgrade their knowledge and experience. Today, the craft traditions of the state have developed into full-fledged industries in themselves. Musical Instruments

With the important role played by music and dance in the cultural life of Tamil Nadu, it was inevitable that the making of musical instruments would become a major craft. Most of the centres for this craft are situated around Thanjavur, which has also produced some of the country঩nest musicians.

The Tamils classify their instruments not only according to their types, but also according to the different occasions on which they are used. The naadaswaram is an essential part of the marriage ceremony and the kumbu is associated with religious festivities. Percussion instruments are sometimes used to make announcements just as the tom-toms of Africa are used to pass on messages from one village to another.

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 Similar to the harp or lute, this now obsolete instrument has been replaced by the more versatile veena.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.

Jewellery

As in other parts of India, Tamil Nadu has its own traditional jewellery-especially the stone-encrusted jewellery, which reached its pinnacle here. The people of this state still have a strong belief in the efficacy of the navaratnas (nine gems) in warding off evil and enhancing the beneficial effects of planets. It is not surprising then that they find common use in womenથwellery here.

The ornaments, which are most common to this part of south India are the oddiyaanam (gold waist belt), vanki (armlet) and jimiki (eardrop), which are traditionally crafted and finished with great dexterity. The jimiki is a bell-shaped ear jewel set in coloured stones with pearls hanging at the lower end, and hangs from the lotus shaped kammal of diamonds or rubies worn on the lower lobe of the ear.

Another beautiful jewel is the maattal of gold or pearls attached to the lower end of the kammal and hooked on to the hair to take the weight of the ornaments. Neck jewellery is a world apart and the variety is endless. The traditional adigai is a necklace of large cabochon rubies set in ascending order ending in a lotus shaped pendant. The necklace of mangoes, the maangaamaalai, stunning in appearance, consists of stone-studded gold mangoes strung together with a huge pendant of encrusted peacocks. The basic jewel for a married woman is the thaali or mangalasuthra-the marriage talisman. First tied on string and then replaced by a gold chain, the important part of the thaali is the pendant, whose design is determined by the community to which the woman belongs. Besides gold chains of various designs, the gold-coin necklace, the kaasumaalai, is typical of this region. The feet are adorned by golusu (silver anklets). The puduchcheri golusu, a variety of golusu, is of a chain design and comes from Pondicherry. Similarly, the heavy anklets with bells that tinkle (Gajja golusu) are also very popular.

Metalware

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୥talware. 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 Naduࡲt 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 centres 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 centres 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, appliqu頤ecoration cloth, garland making and the manufacture of intricate jewellery.

Paintings

The world famous Tanjore paintings, painted on wood, glass, mica, ivory and on walls, are characterised by the use of primary colours, with stylised modelling 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 stylised with an element of reality infused in the portraits.

Pottery

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.

Woodcraft

The demand for Tamil Naduࡲtistically created basketry and fibre products is on the increase both in India and abroad. While palm has become a major source of raw material for basketry and related products, bamboo, cane, grasses, reeds and fibres are also used in making baskets, ropes, mats and many other items. The main centres of these crafts are to be found in Dharampuri, Salem, Coimbatore, South Arcot and Tiruchirapalli districts.

Stone Carving

Stone carving had achieved a high degree of excellence in this southern state very early in history. Today, granite carving is confined to the areas around Mamallapuram and Chingleput. The sculptors here belong to the Vishwakarma or Kammaalar community. A subsidiary form of carving is soapstone or maakal carving, found in the region between Pondicherry and Cuddalore and around Salem.

With the important role played by music and dance in the cultural life of Tamil Nadu, it was inevitable that the making of musical instruments would become a major craft. Most of the centres for this craft are situated around Thanjavur, which has also produced some of the country's finest musicians.

The Veena

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, this outdated 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 Veena's, Thanjavur has families employed in this trade for generations.

Classification Of Musical Instruments

The Tamils classify their instruments not only according to their types, but also according to the different occasions on which they are used. The Naadaswaram is an essential part of the marriage ceremony and the Kumbu is associated with religious festivities. Percussion instruments are sometimes used to make announcements just as the tom-toms of Africa are used to pass on messages from one village to another.

Then there are the "Tamburas" 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.



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