This brilliant painting from Tanjore, one of a few great centres of art in South India and an art style unlike any other art-style anywhere in the world, rendered using a lot of gold-like glistening gold foils used alternating actual gold, and coloured beads and zircons alternating rubies, emeralds, coral, pearls, diamonds … , represents goddess Lakshmi, one of the earliest deities of Vedic origin. The patron-deity of riches, prosperity and fertility the Rig-Veda itself has devoted three Suktas to the Lotus Goddess by her name as Shri. She is as much significant a goddess in the Buddhist and Jain Orders and has an early anthropomorphic image form in their sectarian art. Different from her Vedic perception the gender dominated cult of the Puranas not only perceived her as the goddess with an anthropomorphic image but also linked her with Vishnu as his consort accomplishing along him his cosmic act of sustaining the world and the cosmic order and balance.
The earliest of the Puranas in the Devi-Mahatmya part of the Markandeya Purana sage Markandeya perceives her as one of the aspects of the Divine Female – the Great Goddess. Simultaneous to such iconic transformation of the goddess there evolved her metaphysical form that perceived her as one of the manifest forms of the primordial female energy which is fertility and growth oriented and is generative, creative, sustaining and blissful. In her initial form that begins appearing from the third century BCE goddess Lakshmi is an independent goddess without a male counterpart – a companion, spouse or any. She has normal two arms and carries lotuses in them both. Her four-armed form, contention in regard to her gender-based subordination, or male dominance, and various myths such as claimed her origin from churning the ocean are later additions.
This large size image of goddess Lakshmi costumed in a rich green sari worked with gold all over the field and more lavishly over the borders and end-part, and adorned with bold ornaments crafted using large size diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, emeralds … enshrines a golden chowki embedded with precious stones diamonds in especial. Except its finial top the domelike crown that the goddess is wearing has close resemblance to the style of cap that the South Indian saints, Shaivite and Vaishnavite, have been represented as wearing in sculptures and paintings. The goddess has been represented as seated against a richly decorated huge bolster. The chowki, the goddess is seated on, has been raised over four legs modelled like owls. The mount of goddess Lakshmi the artist has used for her seat the owls’ like designed legs. As owl is her mount the owl-legs for her seat acquire greater significance. Her seat is laid under a tower raised over broad gold-plated columns beautifully embellished with rubies, emeralds and pearls and topped by peacock motifs – the stylized dancing peacocks. The superstructure over the tower’s arched opening consists of a flattish central dome and an onion-dome with an elaborate finial styled like a finial over a mosque flank it on either side. In totality the structure is very close to Gopura architecture in a South Indian Hindu temple. A feature characteristic to South Indian architecture, especially the face of a temple, in the centre of the superstructure there is a Kirttimukha motif, the symbol of auspicious and general weal.
For defining Lakshmi, the Lotus Goddess, the artist has enormously used lotuses in portraying her figure. Besides the two lotuses that she is carrying in two of her four hands the Vaijayanti – the long garland of fresh flowers trailing down to seat’s floor, also consists of lotuses, not of Parijata flowers a Vaijayanti is usually made from. The cushion laid over her seat under her has a lotus fringe and the arches of the tower’s opening she is seated under are also adorned with lotuses or lotuses-like designed edging. Even the mode of sitting as cross-legged is known in the iconographic tradition as ‘padmasana’ – lotus position. Her feet dyed in reddish pink has lotus-like glow. Besides her two upper hands that carry lotuses, with her normal right hand she is granting ‘abhaya’ – freedom from fear, and with her normal left, varada – liberation. The goddess has a round face a bit angular towards the chin, large wide open eyes with bold eyebrows, well-fed cheeks, well-defined nose and small cute lips. Against a red backdrop the goddess’s golden complexion and her brilliant jewels radiate with far greater lustre.
Tanjore painting is a traditional form of art in the South Indian
style and was started by the inhabitants of a small town known as
Thanjavur of Tamil Nadu. This gives it another name called
“Thanjavur painting”. This painting draws its figures, designs,
and inspiration from the time when Vedic culture was prevalent in
India. Certain remarkable features of a Tanjore painting
distinguish it from other paintings. Some of these are pure gold
or gold foil coating on gesso work, the use of rich and vivid
colors, and the inlay of cut-glass or semi-precious and precious
stones. The subjects of most of the Tanjore paintings are Hindu
Gods, Goddesses, and saints. The main devotional figure is
portrayed in the central portion of the painting and is usually
surrounded by various secondary figures.
The classic Tanjore paintings are done on wooden planks and hence
are also referred to as Palagai Padam in South India (Palagai =
Wooden plank, Padam = Picture). Creating a masterpiece is never an
easy task but the skilled artists of Thanjavur have been following
the tradition of making timeless Tanjore paintings for decades.
The making process begins with preparing the wooden board or
canvas. The size of the board depends upon the choice of the
patron. The next step is to paste cardboard over the wooden board
and then a cotton fabric is stretched and pasted upon it using
Now that the cloth is attached to the wooden panel, a rough sketch
of the motifs and figure is drawn onto the fabric. After this, a
paste of chalk powder and water-soluble adhesive is evenly applied
over the base and smoothed.
Thereafter, the outlines which were made or traced using a stencil
are now ready to be beautified and decked with various add-ons.
The usual materials for decoration are cut-glass, pearls,
semi-precious and precious gems, gold leaf, and laces. 22 or 18
Karat Gold leaves and gems of varied hues are especially inlaid in
areas like pillars, arches, walls, thrones, and dresses.
In the final step, the rest of the painting is filled with rich
and striking colors such as shades of red, blue, and green.
Formerly, the artists used natural colors like vegetable and
mineral dyes instead of chemical paints. The entire painting is
then cleaned and refined to give a flawless finished look.
Since the making of a single piece of Tanjore painting requires a
complex and elaborate process, the artists usually take at least
one or two months to complete it. The use of pure gold foil and
gems for beautification is a characteristic of an authentic
Tanjore painting. Due to this, Tanjore paintings last for
generations without getting tarnished and are much more expensive
than general paintings. Though the art form has undergone various
changes and technique modifications over the years, it continues
to attract the hearts of art lovers.
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