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Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation Limited
An introduction to Tamil Nadu’s rich & vibrant art forms

The sun peeping out of the idyllic waters off the coastal town of Mamallapuram (also known as Mahabalipuram), around 55 km from Chennai. The rising rays give a warm glow to the beautiful stone temple and chariot structures in this ancient town (dating back to the AD 550 to 912 period).
Cut to the temple procession of the Chidambaram temple in the southern district of Cuddalore, 78 km south of Puducherry. The gleaming statue in all its ‘uthsavam’ (festival) finery is a mesmerizing sight.
From solid stone temple architecture and bronze figurines with well-chiselled features to the grand gold-foil, jewel-encrusted Tanjore paintings and the elaborately carved brass lamps, Tamil Nadu’s traditional art and craft define variety and splendour in all its bright hues.
It was with the view to preserve and foster these art forms that Poompuhar  the handicrafts development corporation of the Government of Tamil Nadu  was formed. A repository of the best handicrafts from the state, it was established in 1973, and has been named after the erstwhile Chola port of Poompuhar
The town served as the capital of Kaveripattinam (in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu), ruled eons ago by Chola kings. Famed for its natural beauty, the port city, earlier known as Puhar, was renamed Poompuhar.
A major part of the nearly-2,000-year-old town was submerged in the Bay of Bengal after the Sangam Chola period. The Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation chose to market its wares after this village, which is still famous for its traditional handicrafts.
 The Poompuhar, Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation was setup in 1973 and registered under the Indian Companies Act on 26.07.1973 with the share capital participation from the Government of Tamilnadu and the Government of India which is governed by the Board of Directors consisting of official and non official Directors.
Corporate Profile:

The Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation was registered under the Indian Companies Act on July 26, 1973. It had share capital participation from the Government of Tamil Nadu as well as the Government of India. It is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of official and non-official directors. The day-to-day affairs of the company are looked after by the Managing Director, a post that is normally held by a senior IAS officer.
The corporation aims to encourage and hone the talent of artisans by training them, helping them improve their product quality and providing them social security by marketing their products
Poompuhar constantly trains artisans, helping them to cater to the changing demands of consumers. It also helps preserve traditional culture, making sure these ancient art and craft forms do not die out.
Marketing activities:
The Corporation markets the products of artisans through the 18-store-strong Poompuhar network as well as by organising exhibitions across the country, creating a steady source of income for these artisans.
Manufacturing activities:
In addition to marketing activities, the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Corporation also has its own manufacturing centres at Swamimalai (for bronze icons), Nachiarkoil (Tanjore district), Madurai and Vagaikulam in Thirunelveli district (for traditional oil lamps), Tanjavur (Tanjore art plates), Kallakuruchi (Sandal wood carving) and Mamallapuram (stone sculpture).
Poompuhar also specialises in executing temple projects such as golden chariots, silver chariots, wooden temple car, temple Kodimarams, temple Vahanams, temple bells, brass grill ‘Q’ lines and other requirements of Hindu, Christian and other religious temples with its highly talented and skilled sthapathies and artisans, who carry out all works according the agama shastras.
Working for the uplift of artisans:

The Corporation is implementing welfare schemes to develop craft clusters in languishing crafts like lacquer ware, mat weaving, paper mache, terracotta and establishing common facility centres for craftsmen and ‘Urban Hatt’ for marketing handicrafts with the financial assistance of the state and central governments.
It conducts an annual Poompuhar award competition in order to encourage and promote their work. Certificates, gold medal and cash awards are handed out to ten craftsmen every year. 

Commissionerate of Handicrafts:
The Tamil Nadu Government have established a ‘Commissionerate of Handicrafts’ in 2006-07 with Chairman and Managing Director of Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation designated as ex-officio Handicrafts Commissioner to focus on the development of the Handicrafts sector with a holistic approach, which includes the following: .
1. Conducting artisans’ survey
2. Technology upgradation and modernisation of production processes; skill upgradation through advanced training for increased production.
3. Cluster approach for sustainable growth
4. Strengthening existing infrastructure
5. Partnership with the state government in all development schemes of the Government of India in this sector
6. Assistance to artisans in export promotion
7. Government intervention in providing health cover and livelihood security for craftsmen in handicrafts sector on par with handloom weavers    
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BRONZES

The rule of the Chola dynasty (850 CE to 1250 CE) saw great artistic refinement in Dravidian art and architecture. An extension of the earlier Pallava architecture style with additional elements, much of the temple architecture, even in later periods, have taken a lot from that developed during the Cholas’ rule in the Thanjavur belt and surrounding areas.

The traditional manner of idol-making is long and tedious, but one that imparts beauty, strength and uniqueness to the bronze figurines from the state.

A wax mould of the intended image is first created. It is coated with a mixture of clay, ground cotton, salt and charred husk and sun-dried. This clay cast is then heated to melt the wax inside.

This is followed by the chosen metal being molten and poured into the mould. Once cool, the mould is carefully broken and the image brought out. The final touches are given by hand — the finishing, burnishing and perfecting the minutest of details.

Temple deity images are usually of stone, and, at times, wood. It is the procession figurines — uthsavamurthi — that are made of metals. Large bronze images were created to be carried outside during temple festivities through the town. Figurines meant for worship are made solid, while those made for decorative purposes are hollow.

In olden days, it was copper that was primarily used. The panchaloha (five metals, namely copper, tin, gold, silver and lead) became more popular later.

The most popular bronze image is that of Lord Shiva in the ananda thandavam (dance of joy) pose that represents knowledge, happiness and destruction of evil. Ganesha in various postures — standing, sitting, dancing, lying down, meditating, etc is the next most sought-after bronze idol.
STONE SCULPTURE

The beautiful temples that dot Tamil Nadu have earned the state the sobriquet of “land of temples”. The sculptors’ fine sense of balance and skill is displayed in the all the temples of the state. If the Meenakshi temple in Madurai is famed for its thousand-pillared mandapas, the Brihadeeswarar temple near Thanjavur is built such that at no time does the shadow of the vimana (gopuram) fall outside itself.

At Chidambaram, one finds beautiful panels depicting the 108 karanas of the Natya Shastra, while Kanchipuram houses a number of the temples starting from the earliest Pallava times to the Nayak period and even later.

In fact, stone sculpture first began with the Pallava rule in Mamallapuram area in the sixth century AD with the rock-cut chariot and shore temples. This kind of architecture was fine-tuned by the Cholas with the Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur, apart from others at Darasuram and Thribhuvanam.

Granite carving in Tamil Nadu is more or less confined to the area around Mamallapuram (also Mahabalipuram), Chengalpet and Thirumurugan Poondi in Coimbatore District. Sculptors accord great importance to the Shilpa Shastra that sets out the measurements and techniques of sculpting. Equally important are details regarding the quality of stone, its maturity, texture, color and other things.

Though dynamiting rocks is gaining ground in modern architecture, it is not recommended when working with stone for sculpture. The stone is cut by moving a series of wedges, driven carefully with hammers. Once complete, a series of religious ceremonies are undertaken to infuse the sculpture with divine power before being placed in the temple.

 
TRADITIONAL BRASS LAMPS

The beauty of aglow traditional lamps becomes most evident during the Karthigai month (the Tamil month that falls in November-December period) when all homes are adorned with beautiful lamps of various types. Filled with oil and lit with cotton wicks, these lamps are placed outside homes, at the entrance and even inside for a period of nearly a month.

Considered a symbol of Lord Agni (the God of fire) and Surya (sun), the deepam or lamp is always lit at the start of anything new. It heightens the solemnity of any occasion.

Lamps come in various sizes and shapes — on pedestals, freestanding, hung from a chain or hand-held. These lamps could weigh anywhere between 50 gm to 500 kg.

They are always seated atop a pedestal as an old saying goes that Mother Earth need not suffer the heat of the lamps in addition to all the burdens she unflinchingly bears.

Standing lamps, also known as ‘kuthu-vilakku’, consists of a bowl with or without beaks to support five wicks. These stand on thin, tall pedestals and are adorned with religious symbols, mostly the mythical swan, at the top. Some of these lamps come with multiple steps with each supporting more than one such five-wicked bowl.

Votive lamps are used by the priest in the performance of the arathi (offering prayers to the Lord with the use of lamps) and have decorative handles. Hand-lamps (where the oil-bearing bowl is in the shape of the two palms brought together) have elaborate decorations at the back, usually the Gajalakshmi (Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, with elephants on either side).

Hanging lamps too have intricately carved decorations on the bowl and are suspended by equally beautiful chains.

THANJAVUR paintings & art plates

Both,Thanjavur (or Tanjore) paintings and art plates were craft forms that developed in the Thanjavur district during the Nayak and Maratha rule from the 16th century to the 18th centuries.

The paintings — which are famed for the use of gold leaf foil and embedded precious and semi-precious stones — are done on materials like wood, glass, mica, ivory, murals and manuscripts. The images in this art form are unique in the way the subjects, mainly deities, have rounded bodies and almond-shaped eyes. While early paintings were embedded with real diamonds, rubies and other precious stones, it is now artificial and semi-precious stones that rule. Thanjavur paintings are also notable for the use of embedded glass pieces.

These are usually made on a wooden plank overlaid with cloth. This is coated with a paste of limestone and a binding medium and let to dry. Gold leaves and gems of varied hues are used selectively for pillars, arches, thrones, clothes and jewellery. Finally, colours are applied on the sketch. Natural colours and vegetable dyes were used in the early days. These days though, artists use chemical paints.

These are priced family heirlooms are treasured and handed down the generations.

The Tanjore metal plate dates back to the 18th century. Its creation is credited to Raja Serfoji II (1797-1832), the Maratha ruler of Thanjavur. These art plates feature designs of deities, birds, flowers and geometric patterns beaten out from the back of copper and silver sheets. These are then encrusted on a brass tray. Artisans of the Vishwakarma community follow this hereditary profession in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu).

Tanjore art plates make for good souvenirs and are extensively used as gift items.

WOODCRAFT

As is the case with most major art forms in Tamil Nadu, wooden craft too achieved great prominence in its temples. Craftsmen could give free reign to their creativity with the temple procession chariot — these are huge and need many people to help pull and push them through throngs of devotees during temple festivities — as well as temple doors.

Exquisite wood-work was also in vogue in traditional homes that had carved panels on both sides of the front door and wooden pillars inside the house. The panels usually boasted of auspicious motifs, such as the hamsa (mythical swan), (lotus) and poornakumbha (symbolizing abundance of wealth and well-being), apart from deities and floral patterns.

 
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