Thanjavur or Tanjore paintings is a classical art of South India which derives its name from the place of its origin, the town of Thanjavur (anglicized as Tanjore). It is an ancient art form that originated during the reign of the Chola dynasty in the 16th century and then later patronized by the Maratha princes, Nayakas of the Vijayanagar empire, Rajus of Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli and the Naidus of Madurai.

Kerala Folklore Museum, glass painting from en:Palakkad, 19th century

Cholas were great admirers of art and culture and they reigned the districts of Thanjavur, Madurai, and Trichy during the 16th century. The temples of Tanjore uphold a great history of the Chola dynasty in the form of wall murals and paintings.

Tanjore paintings follow the South Indian painting style. These paintings evoke a sense of timelessness and perpetuity with alluring scenes of Hindu Puranas mostly subjected to Hindu God, Goddesses, and Saints. The art usually displays a classic combination of raised and painted surfaces, featuring one main Hindu deity as the center of attention (mostly within an architecturally delineated space such as a prabhavali). Tanjore style is famous for its gold coating on paintings.

It is well-recognized art in India as well as abroad and gained Geographical indication by the Government of India in 2007-08.


Thanjavur (Tamil: [taɲdʑaːʋuːɾ]), formerly Tanjore, is a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was the cultural capital of the Gupta Empire and reached the zenith of its cultural development during the early 18th century. Thanjavur has always been an important center of South Indian religion, culture, art, and architecture. It is an important pilgrim center and a major tourist destination of Tamil Nadu. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, are located in and around the city of Thanjavur. The world-famous, Brihadeeswara Temple, is located in the center of the city.

Tanjore Brahadheshwara Temple

Thanjavur is the home to classic Tanjore painting, a painting style unique to the region. The city is known as the Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. The city first rose to prominence during the reign of Cholas when it served as the capital of the empire. After the fall of Cholas, the city was ruled by various dynasties like Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and British Empire.


This globally acclaimed beautiful art of Tanjore paintings originated during the reign of the Chola dynasty during the 16th century. The rulers always encouraged art and culture in the form of dance, music, literature, and paintings. The paintings then blossomed under the patron of the Vijayanagara Empire and other dynasties that ruled the region including the Maratha princes, Nayakas of the Vijayanagar empire, Rajus of Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli, and the Naidus of Madurai.

Paintings on the inner wall of the Tanjore Big temple.

It is surmised that this art form must have begun as a means of Interior decoration of palace walls and doors. The interior walls of the King’s palace were beautified by elaborate representations of important events and famous battle-field victories in the King’s reign. They then evolve into religious paintings and murals glorifying Hindu deities on the walls of temples and other religious places. Tanjore paintings, being ornamented with pure gold and precious gemstones were placed in dark temple shrines, to make the dim-dark place brighten.

Remnants of these wall paintings can still be seen on the walls of the temple-

  • Virupaksha in Hampi the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire,
  • The temple of Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh
  • The temples of Kamakshi and Varadaraja in Kanchipuram.
  • Interior of the first tier of the gopuram of BrihadeesHwara MandiR, Tanjore.
Nayaka period paintings in the  Rajarajesvaram Temple, Chola Dynasty, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India


Thanjavur or Tanjore paintings follow a divine approach of illustrating Hindu gods and goddesses in vibrant colors adorned with beautiful ornaments. This ancient indigenous painting creates a 3D effect on every single artwork. Tanjore Painting has EMBOSS on it. That is, the painting has areas that are ELEVATED from the surface. It is a kind of relief work that produce 3-D effect on the painting.

Tanjore paintings are famously known asPalagai Padam (palagai = “wooden plank”; padam = “picture”) which means “picture on a wooden plank“. These paintings are originally and traditionally etched on solid wood boards. The painting is kind of a mural on canvas that is beautified by using precious gems (diamonds and rubies) or semi-precious stones. The semiprecious stones are handcrafted and are called “Theypu kal”. The portraits are pasted on a 22-karat pure gold foil and the remaining space is filled with vibrant colors.

The plumpness in the faces of the idols is a distinguished feature in Tanjore paintings. It gives the characteristic immaculate look to all the Tanjore paintings we come across.

Tanjore Painting Vinayaka or Lord Ganesha


Thanjavur Paintings are dedicated to Hindu God, Goddesses, and acknowledged Saints. However, the Paintings sometimes depicts, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, and secular objects. Sometimes, the painting showcases episodes from Hindu relics and incidents and events based on Hindu mythology.

Tanjore Painting

A typical Tanjore painting mainly features a single Deity, with a face full of expressions. A round face, body and big oval-shaped eyes are distinguishing features of Tanjore paintings. Each portrait is crafted carefully giving them a unique 3D effect. Delicate uses of vibrant colors in the background and heavily ornamented and glittering main deity along with splashes of gold leaves catch everyone’s eyes and create the aura of energy.

Other than Hindu deities, Tanjore paintings usually illustrate –

  • Lord Krishna in his mischievous poses as a baby
  • Krishna on a swing with a butter bowl, Yashoda-Krishna
  • Lord Ganesha sitting on a throne, or Ganesha and Shiv-Linga
  • Marriage of Meenakshi
  • Gestures of Radha and Krishna
  • Coronation of Shri Rama
  • Episodes from Hindu Puranas, Sthala-puranas and other religious texts
  • Depictions of Jain, Muslim and Sikh
  • Nataraja flanked by Sivagami
  • Sikh Gurus with Bhai Bala and Bhai Mardana
  • Fairs and festivals along with flora and fauna.
 Kerala Folklore Museum, glass painting of Tanjore school, South India, early 18th century


Modern Tanjore paintings incorporate synthetic and factory-made colors and materials but ancient Tanjore paintings were totally made out of natural and eco-friendly materials. The colors were obtained from coal ash, vegetable dyes and mineral dyes.


  • Dark brown or Red – For outlines.
  • Red, Green and Blue – For the background
  • BLUE – For Lord Vishnu
  • CHALK WHITE – Lord Nataraja
  • GREEN – Lord Nataraja’s consort Goddess Shivagami
  • BLUE OR BLACK – The sky
  • GOLD – Clothing and ornaments of Gods and Goddesses
Tirupati painting of Lord Venkateshwarar in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Materials involved in the process of painting were also natural and the paintings were completely handmade. The method was-

  • First and foremost, a sketch is drawn on a cloth.
  • This cloth is then pasted on a wooden base, made from the jackfruit tree.
  • The canvas is evenly coated with Limestone or French chalk and a binding medium.
  • Once dry, the sketch is outlined with dark brown or red paint
  • The insides and background is then painted using bright glittering colors.
  • Once painted, the painting is embossed with intricate relief features.
  • The 22- karat pure gold foil or dust is added to create the goddy aura in the painting.
  • Gold, gemstones, pearls, glass beads, and precious stones are embossed over the painting.

The use of pure gold makes the painting a splendid eye treat. As these paintings were a subject of interest for great Kings and Emperors, the use of gold and gemstones was highly popular. These paintings were considered treasures. The shine of these paintings lasts for 80-100 years, as pure gold never fades and is fungus- resistant.


With time, Tanjore paintings evolved differently in different regions of South India. The most popular forms of Tanjore paintings are following based on the region in which they developed –

1. The Chettinad Tanjore paintingS

  • Originated in Tanjore
  • Practised since 1600 AD.
  • Features bold colours and thick lines
  • In Tanjore, the gesso work is thicker, giving a 3-D look to the figurine.
  • The gold foil used is thick.
  • Mainly depicts the life events of Lord Krishna.
A Tanjore Glass painting of Venugopala Krishna

2. The MYSORE Tanjore paintingS

  • Originated in Mysore
  • Features delicate lines, intricate brush strokes and graceful figures of Gods and Goddesses.
  • Bright colours and lustrous gold leaves were also used to enhance these paintings.
  • Delicate gold foil or dust is used.
  • In Mysore style, the theme or motifs are universal, not bound to any one deity.

Today, the painting style is almost the same, but over time, materials have been upgraded.

The Union Minister for Culture, Smt. Chandresh Kumari Katoch releasing the portfolio of Tanjore and Mysore school, at the Re-Open of the renovated gallery of Tanjore Paintings, in New Delhi on May 03, 2013.


The modern forms of the Tanjore paintings are said to have originated in the Maratha court of Thanjavur. The great Maratha rulers and Thanjavur Nayaka Governors together patronized Tanjore Paintings between 16th to 18th century AD.

The artists from the Raju community of Thanjavur and Tiruchi, who were also called as Jinigara or Chitragara, and the Nayudu community of Madurai executed paintings in the Tanjore style. In the 1800s, paintings were influenced by British sensibilities and thus a mixture of religious and secular motifs was incorporated in the paintings.

Tanjore and Mysore Painting Gallery

New techniques, technologies, equipment, modernization has affected present day Tanjore paintings to a certain extent. Modern Tanjore paintings have slipped from canvas to the most royal looking South Indian sarees. Most expensive fabrics when adorned with unmatched beauty of Tanjore paintings creates a charisma in the personality of the wearer. Not just a decorative art, these paintings are part of souvenirs in weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. The paintings are largely used as an ornamental item or a central piece of attraction in the house or the office.

Tanjore paintings are a synonym for Indian art and culture. Love for Tanjore is deep rooted in the heart of every Indian.



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