The makers of the Thanjavur Artwork Plate, with its roots in a craft that dates again to the Marathas of the 1800s, are banding collectively for its cultural and business rejuvenation
At his residence in Nanayakarar Chetty Road, Thanjavur, which doubles up as his workshop, M Paramasivam, 72, covers a brass kodam (water pot) with ornate etchings of floral motifs, utilizing a tiny chisel.
Paramasivam, who began working on the age of 16, is one in every of a dwindling variety of old-school artisans who specialize in what was often known as ‘Thanjavur kalai’ (an umbrella time period for an artwork that comes with embossing, etching, engraving and filigree on metallic surfaces).
Thanjavur kalai requires the abilities of a metalworker, jeweller and a designer of not simply patterns, but in addition instruments. That’s the reason it’s fairly frequent to see 4 or extra individuals work on every step of an artefact.
“I’m the final in 5 generations of my household in Thanjavur kalai; I hope the glory days of our craft will come again in my lifetime,” says Paramasivam.
Patronised by Maratha ruler Serfoji II (1777-1832),Thanjavur kalai craftsmen had been stored busy with orders for royal items, largely ornamental salvers, jewel containers and vessels like water pots and ewers. In its up to date model, the craft has been commercially reinterpreted as ‘Thanjavur kalai thattu’ or Thanjavur Artwork Plate, a ceremonial platter made with silver, copper and brass layers in three phases: the bottom plate with alternate copper and silver panels, an even bigger embossed silver motif on the central part, and the setting of globular jigna or sequins within the secondary reduction.
Thanjavur Artwork Plate was given a Geographical Indications (GI) tag in 2007, as a proof of its lengthy heritage.
As soon as prized as the top of artistry in Tamil Nadu, it was usually offered to visiting dignitaries by the State Authorities. In 1980, for example, an elaborately embellished Thanjavur Artwork Plate was gifted by the then-Governor Sadiq Ali to Britain’s Prince Charles throughout his go to to India.
With costs fastened in keeping with dimension, Thanjavur Artwork Plates can fetch anyplace upwards of ₹4,000.
Artisan M. Paramasivam has been engaged on Thanjavur Artwork vessels for the reason that age of 16. Picture: Particular Association/THE HINDU
“Each Thanjavur kalai piece is exclusive, as a result of the artisan will customise the design to go well with the floor. It’s a pity that it has turn out to be confined to a single product,” says N Paramasivam, president of the district-level Thanjavur Artwork Plate Artisans’ Welfare Affiliation.
The recently-formed trade physique has 200 members.
“We fashioned the welfare affiliation primarily to guard the authenticity of our merchandise,” says PGA Babu, the secretary. “Whereas a real 10-inch Thanjavur Artwork Plate within the Authorities-run Poompuhar showroom prices ₹4,500, you could find one thing comparable with faux steel adhesive strips for as much less as ₹700 just some retailers down the street. Prospects ought to respect the workmanship, and patronise solely real retailers for getting our plates,” he says.
Watching the artisans work requires a number of journeys to the home-based pattrais (workshops) within the Therku Veedhi space in Thanjavur, the place plates journey from hand at hand in several phases of completion.
Conventional artisans have a tendency to purchase previous brassware from retailers as a result of their thicker gauge permits them to work on intricate designs from scratch.
A scorching paste of pungaliya tree resin and brick powder or crimson sand is poured into orifices of vessels which solidifies because it cools, permitting the artisan to work on the outer floor with out denting the bottom. As soon as the design is completed, the stable paste is rigorously faraway from the interiors.
An analogous waxy background fixes plates firmly to the work floor till the embellishment is over.
An artisan engaged on the central picture of a Thanjavur Artwork Plate. Picture: Particular Association/THE HINDU
Whereas spiritual motifs resembling Ashtalakshmi (eight avatars of Goddess Lakshmi) and Dasavatharam (10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu), are generally used on Thanjavur Artwork Plates, designs might be different to incorporate company logos and Nature themes.
Aided by lathes, iron instruments and ground-level forges, the artisans additionally create lead dies for the motifs from scratch, transferring paper patterns to copper and silver foil by punching tiny dots by means of the diagram.
“Artisans of my father’s era labored lengthy hours to maintain up with orders. There was a wholesome competitors amongst friends to see who would provide you with the prettiest product,” says Babu.
The cottage trade has been witnessing a sluggish decline regardless of its protected standing. As soon as using over 200 artisans and their households in Thanjavur, immediately there are solely round 60 individuals nonetheless lively on this artwork kind.
Primed for the market
- The din of ringing steel proclaims the presence of the momentary workshop within the basement of the Poompuhar showroom on Gandhiji Street in Thanjavur. Ten Thanjavur kalai craftsmen are laborious at work right here on completely different phases of platters for a company operate.
- “The silver that we use in these plates is 99.9% pure, as a result of foil work can’t be carried out alloyed steel,” says workshop supervisor S Palanivel. “We make plates from 5 inches to 24 inches in dimension right here. Plates as much as 16 inches promote properly; greater sizes can be found on order. Each step is equally sophisticated. For instance, a much less skilled particular person can injury the foil work or the copper embossing in the event that they don’t know the right way to fill it with scorching wax,” says Palanivel as he exhibits us across the tiny workspace.
- Because the final step, acrylic domes are affixed on the plates to stop the metals from getting tarnished.
Many artisans really feel that the focus on plates has left little scope for them to work on different objects like vessels and devotional photographs that was valued each as artefacts and for spiritual worship.
“I used to take part in workshops held by handicraft emporia throughout India, and likewise ship merchandise to the larger cities. However for the previous 15 years, the marketplace for different objects bearing Thanjavur kalai elaborations has died out,” says artisan Paramasivam. “If artwork lovers and artisans each return to the heritage roots of the craft, it would undoubtedly flourish once more.”
Poompuhar, the State Authorities-run handicraft emporium, is the only real authorised supply for real Thanjavur Artwork Plates, and so, noticed a gentle demand that stored gross sales as excessive as ₹6-10 lakh monthly. The current lockdown modified that.
“The orders have stopped due to the restrictions on public conferences, particularly Authorities capabilities the place our plates are normally given away as mementoes,” says Okay Arun, the showroom supervisor.
To encourage revival, the authorities are planning to open a devoted unit to provide Thanjavur Artwork Plates. “The machines will probably be accessible in our frequent workshop, which can be utilized by artisans for a nominal cost,” says Arun. “We might be able to draw a youthful crop of artisans to this craft if we use expertise to ease among the laborious bodily labour concerned in plate manufacturing.”
To create a real Thanjavur Artwork Plate, artisans have to develop a excessive stage of creative ability that requires information of arithmetic, geometry and metallurgy, moreover drawing.
Most of the older artisans achieved this regardless of by no means having attended faculty. “The younger individuals in our neighborhood are getting educated today, to search out better-paying jobs. I hope training will encourage them to reinvigorate our career,” says Babu.
Silver foil being ready for embossing on the Poompuhar workshop. Picture: Nahla Nainar/THE HINDU