Thanjavur plates hit by dwindling number of artisans

The plates embossed with eye-catching motifs have been in demand from both within the country and overseas for several centuries since the ancient art was brought to Thanjavur by the Maratha king Sarofoji in the late 18th century.

However, with the number of artisans involved in the work dropping, the plate manufacturing centres dotting the dusty and narrow lanes of the town, considered the art capital of Tamil Nadu, are facing problems in meeting the demand.

Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development authorities say they were receiving orders from US, UK and the Middle East, but could not meet the demand as the craftsmen involved in making the plates for generations are depleting in strength.

The state Handicrafts Development Corporation, which earned a sizable foreign exchange through export of Thanjavur Art plates, has launched a training programme to attract more artisans to the art, brought to the town by then Maratha ruler Sarofoji in the late 18th century.

They said overseas buyers wanted inscriptions of Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha in the art plates and the artisans, numbering around 150 now engaged in making the plates had been trained to meet the requirement.

Working in a small room with delicate chisels to give a final shape to an art plate, with the image of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesh or the Nataraja, veteran craftsman, Krishnamurthy, a seventh generation artist, says the art has been enduring due to ever increasing demand.

Tracing the origin of the art, he said Sarofoji, who went on a tour to North India bought Bidari plates, made by the artisans in Bidar, Lucknow, Nurshidabad and Kashmir, which had gold and silver inlay on brass plates.

‘These patterns were mostly floral. Our ancestors, under the patronage of Sarofoji, replaced the floral decoration with Hindu Gods, which are in demand even now," he said.
Viswakarama community people in and around Thanjavur are mostly engaged in making the Thanjavur Art plates.

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