Arts & Crafts of Tamil Nadu (Art Plates of Thanjavur & Metal Icons of Swamimalai)

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Item Code: NAG989
Publisher: Director of Census Operation, Tamil Nadu
Language: English
Edition: 2004
Pages: 114 (Through out Colour Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 11 inch x 10.5 inch
Weight 750 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The Census of India has an enviable track record of documenting diverse aspects of life of the people of India. The canvas extends to an entire gamut of subjects like "Village and Town Studies", "Fairs and Festivals", "Arts and Crafts", "Temples of Tamil Nadu" and the like. Reports on Tribes and Temples have been well received and greatly appreciated by discerning experts in various fields.

The present Publication "Arts and Crafts of Tamil Nadu" contains two studies, i) Manufacture of Art Metal Plates at Thanjavur and ii) Manufacture of Metal Icons at Swamimalai.

This monograph is embellished with maps and excellent colour photographs depicting various aspects relating to the Craft and the Craftsmen.


The Census of India is internationally acclaimed not only for its credible data on population and its characteristics but also for the many unique studies on the various social and cultural themes that touch the life of the people of this country. Monographs on Fairs and Festivals of India, Village and Town Studies, Studies on the various Arts and Crafts of India are a part of the diverse repertoire of literary compositions that have served to throw light on the various aspects of the Indian people. Arts and Crafts are not only the means of life for the artisan, but one of the important dynamics of the social and economic development of a country. Several studies have been conducted and volumes are being brought out on these themes.

For the first time in Census, monographs on the arts and crafts were published during the Census of India 1961. "Handicrafts and Artisans of Madras State: Art Metal Wares of Thanjavur" and "Handicrafts and Artisans of Madras State: Icons in Stone and Metals" published by the then Superintendent of Census Operations, Shri P.I<. Nambiar (1964) and "Cire Perdue Casting in Swamimalai (Madras State)" brought out by the Office of the Registrar General. India (1967) are some of the excellent Publications brought out during this period.

The present Volume, brought out by the Directorate of Census Operations, Tamil Nadu is an attempt to study some of these arts and crafts, as they exist presently. A painstaking effort has been undertaken to highlight the vast changes that have taken place during the intervening four decades since the last study was published in the mid sixties. Like its other recent special studies on Temples of Tamil Nadu, this monograph is also embellished with maps and excellent colour photographs depicting various aspects relating to the Craft and the Craftsmen.

The Directorate has also brought out a CD ROM on the same theme. I am confident that laymen as well as connoisseurs will welcome this monograph as well as its electronic version. I appreciate the teamwork of the Directorate of Census Operations, Tamil Nadu for this effort. I am extremely happy to place before the readers yet another monograph that documents the extremely rich and diverse cultural and art traditions of India.


Culture has been described as the characteristic way of life inspired by fundamental values, in which people live. It is the sum total of the values expressed through art, religion, literature, social institutions and behavior. Seen in this light, the Arts and Crafts of a country are manifestations of a country's cultural moorings. The Census of India has always had the unique distinction of presenting a multi- dimensional snapshot of the country and its people. Any aspect concerning the people of India is of interest to the organisation and counting people is just one such activity. True to this tradition, the Census of India has apart from the various publications on the socio-demographic profile of the people of India, been prolific in documenting diverse aspects relating to the people such as Arts and Crafts, Fairs and Festivals, Castes and Tribes, Temples and the like. The present study is a humble attempt to add to the vast literature that the Census organisation has produced.

The Census of India has a unique place among connoisseurs as well as common people interested in arts and crafts for having placed in the public domain, detailed reports on the various streams of arts and crafts in the States of India. Very often, these Reports are the only documentation that is available on the subject. The present Report "Arts and Crafts of Tamil Nadu: Art Plates of Thanjavur" is more in the way of a revisit of an area traversed earlier. A Report on the subject was published during the Census of India 1961, namely, "Handicrafts and Artisans of Madras State: Art Metal Wares of Thanjavur" published by the then Superintendent of Census Operations, Shri. P.K. Nambiar ( 1964). This Report, like others in the same series were in great demand and reprints were not available. This prompted the Office of The Registrar General, India to order the preparation of electronic copies of the old reports. Instructions were also issued to visit these places and take fresh photographs in colour. During the course of this exercise, it was found that while to a great extent, the cultural moorings of these crafts remained the same, there had taken place in the decades since the last Report, considerable changes in the lives of the craftsmen as well as the crafts. I felt that it would be worthwhile to document these changes and thus began a foray into a territory. which I readily confess was completely unknown to us. As we got deeper into the study, we were fascinated by the intricacies involved and that lead us to produce a visual record of the entire process by way of in-depth photography as well as videography.

The focus of this study is the ancient craft of producing Art Metal Ware in Thanjavur, the headquarters of Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu. Popularly referred to as the "Thanjavur Art Plate" or" Swamy Work", the creations of these craftsmen are known to art lovers across the country and abroad. As Nanditha Krishna a well known writer puts it," As with bronze casting, brass and copper metal ware also have a rich and ancient tradition in Tamil Nadu". Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya the doyen of Indian Handicrafts describes this craft thus, "Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu has a fabulous style of encrusting metal on metal".

The present publication is based on information collected from primary sources as well as literature from a number of secondary sources. Primary collection was done during the Census of India 2001. Interviews with a large number of craftsmen in the field supplemented the study.

I would like to place on record my heartfelt appreciation to the entire team at the Directorate of Census Operations Tamil Nadu that has spared no effort in bringing out this Publication. The contribution of each member has been invaluable. I am also grateful to the Registrar General India, who has been, as usual a pillar of strength in all our endeavors.

No publication of this nature could be termed authoritative. A lifetime would be insufficient to fully document such an ancient cultural tradition. If at the end of the day, this effort were able to ignite a small spark in the reader to explore more fully the depths of India's vast cultural ocean, the purpose would be served.


Chapter I: Art Metal Plates of Thanjavur13
Chapter II:The Craftsmen21
Chapter III: Socio-Demographic profile43
of the craftsmen based on the Census of India 2001.
References - Arts Plates of Thanjavur49
List of Skilled Craftsmen - Art Metal Plates at Thanjavur51
Chapter I: Manufacture of Metal Icons in Swamimalai63
Chapter II: Metal Icons of Swamimalai69
Chapter III: Techniques of Production73
Chapter IV: The Craftsmen of Swamimalai99
References - Metal Icons of Swamimalai108
List of Skilled Craftsmen - Metal Icons at Swamimalai109
Genealogy of Sthapathies of Swamimalai115

Sample Pages

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