The ancient city of Thanjavur is famous for its culture, literature, music, magnificent temples, stunning sculptures and breath-taking artforms. Every dynasty that ruled over this territory has contributed to its rich history and the pre-eminence of this city has steadily grown over the centuries. The Maratha king, Raja Serfoji II was a distinguished litterateur and a patron of arts and music. It is said that the artisans were given a free hand during his reign and most of the arts that originated during this glorious period are practised by craftsmen even today.
Thanjavur art plate is a unique art of damascening (art of inlaying different metals into one another) that is not seen anywhere else in the world. In Thanjavur, three metals namely copper, silver and brass are used to create this exquisite trimetal artform.
This cottage industry is an inherited profession which requires tremendous skill and finesse. The base of this plate is of brass that is generally of 18 gauge. The brass sheet is cut into the desired shape and size using traditional hand tools like chisels, hammer and dividers. The plates are divided into six or eight sectors depending on the proposed design.
Figures and motifs are made in wax and cast in lead. This acts as the primary mold. Thin copper or silver foil of 42 gauge is cut into the required shape and fixed over the lead mold. It is gently beaten with a rubber shell and hammer until it takes the shape of the mold. The same foil is kept over a thin brass sheet which bears the minute details of the design and acts as the final detailed mold and beaten gently until it takes the minute details of the image.
The foil is then inverted and bees wax mixed with kungiliyam is heated and filled in the depressions to get a flat surface on the rear side of the relief image. The embossed foil is firmly fixed with minute decorative brass rivets. It is polished with hydrochloric acid and soap powder.
Some of the most popular plates have the Dancing Nataraja, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesha and Astalakshmi designs on them. The blend of silver in high relief on the reddish copper lends it a beautiful finish and attractive appearance.
Thanjavur art plate was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2007.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)