The world-famous craft of making art plates is only present in the city of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. These art plates, also known as ‘tri metalwork,’ are designed by almost 250 artisans of the Vishwakarma community who live in and around this city. These art plates were initially built under the Maratha dynasty as a gift for the visitors who arrived at the Maratha kingdom. However, today, the usage of these art plates has expanded to a multitude of purposes. With symbols of deities, animals, and saints inscribed in the centre and intricate floral designs and geometric patterns carved out at the peripheries, these art plates are emblems of the ancient Indian tradition and how this tradition finds its place in the contemporary world. The evolution of their usage and significance over the years, tells us a story of the journey of this handicraft from one generation to the next and allows us to catch a glimpse of our history in our present. 

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Rulers came and rulers went, however, the one thing that all Indian dynasties shared in common was a belief in the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ‘the guest is like God.’ Imagine being a ruler of a kingdom with expensive jewels and heaps of gold and silver- now imagine how you would welcome and thank all the visitors who came to your kingdom.

The Marathas that ruled over Thanjavur believed in the grandest of gestures to serve their guests. Therefore, in order to establish themselves as exemplary hosts, they asked the artisans to create a precious gift that displayed their status and wealth. This is how the art plates of Thanjavur came into being. Hence, in the ancient times, these art plates were used as souvenirs and tokens of thanks given out to all the visitors who set foot in the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom. These art plates became the epitome of paying respect to the guests. Since the central figure in the plate was usually of a deity (such as Laxmi or Ganesha) that symbolized wealth and abundance in the life of the receiver, these art plates also served the purpose of displaying the religious devotion of the Marathas and their gratitude towards their guests.

There is also evidence that suggests the usage of these art plates by the Kuruba community. The community of the Kurubas is that of ancestor worshippers who are known to possess golden discs known as the ‘hithāradha tāli.’ These discs were made by the Akasāles (goldsmiths) and contained figures of humans. These are either kept in the house or worn by women around their necks. In many cases, if the deceased individual was a celebrity, the disc was substituted with a large plate.

In the present day, the usage of these art plates has expanded to include different purposes. These plates could be bought as gifts for various occasions like birthdays, marriages, and house warming parties. These plates could be also be used as pieces of decoration, hung on walls or placed on stands. Many individuals say that these art plates bring positive vibrations into the house as well. Apart from being used as gifts or decoration items, these plates can also be used for prayer since they contain the images of deities. The fact that these plates could be shaped into any size, also increases their usage and market.

It is said that these art plates not only bring joy to the receiver but also help in keeping the Indian traditional art alive.


Different factors contribute to the significance of the Thanjavur art plates.

The Thanjavur art plates have an entire story of origin that is based on Indian history and tradition, as a result, one can say that these plates have a historical significance since they serve as reminders of the past rulers and their ideas.

These plates depict various deities and sacred animals that symbolize wealth and abundance in Hinduism, therefore, arises the religious significance of the art plates. Even to date, these plates are used for worship and prayer.

These plates also allow us to study the journey of the artisans in the past and how their knowledge has been transferred from one generation to the next. Moreover, these art plates help us comprehend how the techniques in the past have evolved and shaped to fit the present needs of society. Therefore, these art plates have a cultural significance since they facilitate our understanding of traditional handicraft and the factors that ensure their continuity.

Consequently, one can say that these art plates have economic significance since they are widely used for gifting and decoration purposes. The Geographical Indication (GI) tag that provided to the Thanjavur art plates also ensures its market and wide-scale promotion. Today, these art plates are not only exported all over the country but also exported all over the world. Many handicraft showrooms have also been developed to sell these plates. There have also been instances of these art plates being placed in museums due to their cultural and historic value. For example, the Thanjavur art plate made in the 20th century was placed in the Government museum in 2011.

The producers/artisans of these art plates have also been provided a specific logo/stamp to ensure the authenticity of the product.

According to Mr. Dattatrey, the Senior Assistant Director, Office of the Development Commissioner (handicrafts), the floral designs on the art plates are so beautifully designed that they can serve as inspiration for other utility products such as mirrors, candle stands, and jewellery boxes.

Therefore, not only the art plates themselves but also their design and the artisans who make them, have enormous significance in today’s world.

Myths & Legends:

For a craft that dates back to several hundred years, there are plenty of myths and legends that surround its origin.

The most common myth is regarding the art plate artisans who come from the Vishwakarma community. It is believed that Vishwakarma had 5 faces, 3 eyes, and 10 arms and was born out of the third eye of Lord Shiva as the deity of all artisans. Five sons were born to Vishwakarma from his five faces and these sons then moved ahead to become the clan deities of specialized crafts.


The history of the Thanjavur art plates goes back to about 250 years, during the rule of the Maratha dynasty. In the 18th century, the Maratha ruler Raja Serfoji-II asked his artisans to create a beautiful piece of work that would display the royalty of his kingdom and also serve as a unique gift for all the guests. Thus, the goldsmiths decided to create Thanjavur art plates. These plates were made out of copper, silver, and brass and cost tens of thousands. The blend of red from the copper with the shine of the silver provided these art plates with a sense of beauty that immediately captured one’s attention. The skill of the artisan determined the period for which the lustre and shine would remain on the surface of the plate.

These art plates are made by the artisans of the Vishwakarma community. This craft of making art plates is not simply an inherited profession, but also a way of living for these artisans. At present, these art plates are made at the houses of the artisans, therefore making this a cottage industry.

Therefore, it was during the Maratha rule in Thanjavur that these art plates occupied a central position in Indian handicraft and tradition.


The Thanjavur art plates are round in shape and can be mounted on a wooden base or placed on the wall as hangings. These plates can be made into various sizes, however, the maximum possible size is 32 inches. The art plate comprises of 3 parts- a base plate made out brass, a circular plate with primary relief that contains deities or sacred animals, and the secondary relief with floral patterns and geometric designs.

Generally, the design follows a theme- this theme could be mythological or non-religious and sometimes, even special motifs are placed onto the art plate to enhance its beauty and cover space. Various other designs of birds, flowers, and geometric patterns are carved onto the sides of the art plate.

Usually, the deities/sacred animals that are carved onto the art plate have an important standing in Thanjavur and South Indian culture. Moreover, these figures are also used to signify abundance and wealth for the receiver of the art plate. Most commonly the following figures are seen on the art plates- Lakshmi (and her different forms), Ganesha, Shiva (as Nataraja), Saraswathi, peacocks, and elephants. Many times, these deities are also depicted with flowers such as lotuses that symbolize purity and spirituality in Hindu mythology.

The motifs on the art plate are influenced by flowers, deities, art, and architecture of the Brihadeshwara temple in Thanjavur. The centre circle of the plate is decorated in silver, the second circle has the sequence of motifs with the combination of gold and silver, and the final (outer circle) has a series of repeated motifs.

Even though the patterns carved out vary from one plate to the other, it is important to note that the placement of the symbols and the space between them is always specific so as the ensure a geometrically appealing and symmetrical art plate.

Nowadays, apart from the base of the brass plate, silver foils embossed with motifs are being seated on laminated shields on the wooden base and covered with transparent vinyl rounds. This technique has helped in creating a richer look of the art plates. The 20th-century art plate that was placed in the Government museum had images of Lord Nataraja, the sage Pathanjali, and the goddess Sivakami in a standing posture, over a lotus flower in the central part of the plate.

Symbolism: The most commonly depicted deity in the Thanjavur art plate is Goddess Laxmi who is seen as the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. The different forms of Laxmi on the art plates are-

Ashta- Laxmi- In this art plate design, all 8 manifestations of Laxmi are depicted, namely- Maha Lakshmi, Aishwarya Lakshmi, Dhana Lakshmi, Gaja Lakshmi, Veera Lakshmi, Santaan Lakshmi, Adhi Lakshmi, and Vijaya Lakshmi. These 8 forms of Laxmi bring forth eight different meanings and blessings, these are- prosperity, fertility, good fortune, good health, knowledge, strength, progeny, and power.

Gaja Laxmi- In this art plate design, Gaja Laxmi is placed in the centre of the plate. She is depicted as four-armed- carrying two lotuses and other two arms in Abhaya mudra and Varada mudra, wearing red garments and being surrounded by two elephants bathing her with water pots on each side. According to the beliefs, Gaja Laxmi is the giver of royalty or giver of animal wealth.

Apart from Laxmi, Nataraja (a form of Shiva) is also depicted on the art plate. He is shown as a symbol of the lord of dance and dramatic arts. Lord Ganesha is depicted on the art plates since he is considered to be the ‘Lord of the people.’ It is said that Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the god of wisdom.

Although less frequently, goddess Saraswathi is also depicted on the Thanjavur art plate. She is seen as a symbol of purity and higher wisdom. She holds the musical instrument, ‘Veenai’ in her hands which has is considered to be an essential part of Thanjavur’s culture.

The peacock is perhaps the only animal that is displayed alone on the art plate. The peacock has a special significance in Hindu mythology since it is considered to be a bird of protection and guarding. The peacock is also known to protect the psychic self of an individual and bring joy and harmony into our lives. The feathers of the peacock are known to bring good luck and fortune to the house. The peacock is associated with many Hindu deities such as Krishna, Saraswathi, Brahma, and Kartikeya.


The artisans of the Thanjavur plate art face a large number of challenges in undertaking this art form in the present day. During the Maratha dynasty, these artisans had a high socioeconomic status and were supported by the kings in various ways. The kings ensured that the artisans lived luxurious lives and had enough material and sources to create their art.

However, as the role of the kings began decreasing, so did the status of these artisans and their funds. Today, Art plate artisans find it very difficult to survive and produce good quality products. The families engaged in this business have significantly reduced and a large number of traditional artists have moved on to find other occupations for themselves. Many artisans are working as daily wage earners as no financial institutions are coming forward to help them in becoming entrepreneurs. This is leading to a lack of skilled and traditional artisans further leading to the decline of this craft.

The main problem faced by the artisans is that of the increasing price of metals like silver, copper, and brass which are the foundation of the art plates. Therefore, The increasing cost and insufficiency of raw material supply are affecting the production. Moreover, the billing of electricity under the commercial slab is increasing the product cost.

Since the Thanjavur art plates are a purely decorative item, the scope of the market has also reduced for it since it has no utility attached to it.

Apart from this, the artisans also face other problems like not being able to avail the government schemes, lack of credit facilities, lack of recognition and encouragement, highly exploitative conditions created by middlemen, and respiratory diseases caused due to the hazardous air pollutants released during the melting of brass.

However, to counter these problems, the government has taken various initiatives these are-

  1. Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojana and Janshree Bima Yojana– These two schemes have been launched for artisans between the ages of 18-60 for health and life insurance (along with 3 dependents).
  2. Shilp Sampada scheme– This scheme has been launched by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to improve the economic standards of the artisans by providing them with loans up to 10 lakhs for upgrading their entrepreneurial skills.
  3. Welfare scheme of USTTAD (Upgrading Skills and Training in Traditional Arts for Development)- This scheme aims to upgrade and promote the skills of artisans from minority communities.

Labour Experiences:Apart from the challenges that are faced by the labour in undertaking the craft, a few interesting points to note in their experience as Thanjavur art plate artisans are that- First, despite carrying out the work at the household level and claiming the designation of a cottage industry, the work done by these artisans is similar to an assembly line production wherein parts are added in a sequence till the final product is produced. The work is broadly undertaken in 3 levels- first comes the metal worker, then the jeweller and finally the stone-setter. Therefore, the production of these art plates is similar to the functioning of an assembly line. Second, only men from the Vishwakarma community are allowed to engage in the production of this craft, not women. This depicts the presence of gender stratification within the production process. Despite efforts towards gender equality, no attempt has been made by the government or other corporations to introduce women into the production activity. This will not only help combat the gender inequality issue but will also increase the possibility of having a larger labour force and saving this craft from its decline.

Introduction Process:

Raw Materials:

The chief material that is used for making the Thanjavur art plates is metal. This includes a combination of 3 types of metal, namely- copper, brass, and silver. The base plate is mainly made out of brass with silver and copper figures embedded onto it. Moreover, brass and copper are often blended to make this plate. Thin sheets of all three metals are used in the process.

Other raw materials include-

  • Asphalt– used for making the baseboard
  • Glue- used for fixing and sticking the embossed metal motifs
  • Soapnut powder (Shikakai) and tamarind paste– used for washing the art plate towards the end of the process
  • Wax mixture (brick powder, gingili oil, and frankincense)- used for filling out the hollow depressions on the back of the metal relief sheets.

Tools & Tech:

The following tools are used in the process of making the Thanjavur art plate-

  • Hammer– used for fixing the metal relief sheets.
  • Pincers– used for fixing the relief sheets to the base sheet.
  • Moulds– used for creating impressions on the metal sheet.
  • Punch Tool– used for punching sheets to form an impression.
  • Chisels-used for engraving the metal sheets
  • Compass– used for measurement purposes.
  • Weight- used to fix the plate on the board at a certain position
  • Cutting tool– used to hold/cut the metal.
  • Needle– used while working with the metal beads.
  • Hooved metal box– used for creating circular metal beads used for decoration.
  • Grinding stone– used for sharpening tools.
  • Coir brush- used to clean the metal plate
  • Forge– used for heating metal sheets
  • Forceps– metal holders used for carrying metal objects.
  • Bhatti (furnace)- used for heating purposes.

All these tools are used at different stages of making the Thanjavur art plates.



The process of making the Thanjavur art plate is undertaken strategically. The art plate is composed of 3 main pieces-

  1. The base plate
  2. Circular metal plates with primary relief
  3. The secondary relief

The process of making the art plate is divided into three levels according to the three pieces that make the plate. The metalworker works on the base plate, the jeweller works on the circular metal plates, and the stone-setter works on the secondary relief. All of these three levels can be carried out by a single craftsman as well.

Stage 1: In this stage, the base plate is required to be created. It is usually made out of brass and is cut out depending on the required shape and size. The front side of this brass plate is polished thoroughly after which it is fixed firmly to a wooden base with an asphalt bed. A blowpipe is used for heating this entire frame up until the base design is prepared. After this, silver and copper sheets are placed onto the base for cross-checking of the size and then cut accordingly. These sheets are then heated with a dye to create an impression. Punches and chisels are used for etching and refining to create this impression.

Stage 2: In this stage, the metal sheets are encrusted and superimposed on the base plate. This is done with the help of a wax mixture made out of brick powder, gingili oil, and frankincense. Therefore, these materials are used for filling out the hollow depressions on the back of the metal relief sheets. After this, the relief sheets are positioned onto the base plate and encrusted by punching along the grooves. The relief sheet is then polished and prepared for the last stage of designing.

Stage 3: In this stage, the secondary relief is made. The main design of the deity/animal is made in the central metallic disc. Many different floral designs are also etched around the motif and in some rare cases, these designs also replace the main deity/animal in the centre. After this stage, the plate is cleaned with soapnut water and tamarind and left to dry. This helps in ensuring the shine and lustre of the art plate.


The corrosion of metals in art pieces/decorations is a common problem that is faced even by the Thanjavur art plates. Different temperatures, humidity, and climate conditions can fasten/slow down the process of corrosion of metal pieces. Even though the Thanjavur art plates are strong, the surface of the art plate can start fading or discolouring. Therefore, the art plate eventually loses it lustre and shine. To prevent this, efforts are being made by the Tamil Nadu government to introduce the artisans to some techniques/technology that would help in the surface treatment of these metals.

Cluster Name: Thanjavur


The city of Thanjavur, also known as ‘the cradle of arts,’ is a significant pilgrim center and a major tourist destination in Tamil Nadu, South India. The beauty of this city is inscribed in the art it creates and imbibes- be it the marvellous temple architecture on the walls of the world-famous Brihadeeswara temple or the intricate engravings done on the plate art. The plethora of designs, patterns, and colours present in every corner of the city makes one feel as if he/she has entered into a real-life kaleidoscope. The culture of this city upholds the soul of South India and its music, dance, food, festivals, and art provide an enriching experience to its residents and tourists. From the stone-cold metal of the art plates to the warm sunshine that falls on this land, from the complexity of its design to the simplicity of its people, from the gently flowing Kaveri river and its tributaries, to the fertile soil that makes it the ‘Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu’- Thanjavur is an amalgamation of beautifully juxtaposed imagery that invokes feelings of joy and happiness in one’s heart.

District / State
Thanjavur / Tamil Nadu
Hindi, English, Tamil
Best time to visit
Aug to March
Stay at
Many guest house and good hotels are available
How to reach
Almost all the large cities of India are connected rail networks. The nearest large Railway station & airport is at Trichy
Local travel
Must eat


According to Hindu mythology, the city of Thanjavur derived its name from a legendary demon named ‘Tanjan.’ It is believed that demon Tanjan had been brought to his death bed by Lord Vishnu and Sri Anandavalli Amman. As his last wish, Tanjan asked the Lord to grant him a city named after him and that is how ‘Thanjavur’ was named.

Some also believe that ‘Thanjavur’ is a Tamil name wherein- ‘than’ means cold, ‘chie’ means farmland and ‘ur’ means city, that is, “a city surrounded by cold farmlands.” Thus the word “Thancheiur” became “Thanjavur” in later days.

The history of this city comes under 5 dynasties, namely- The Cholas, The Pandyas, The Nayaks, the Marathas and the British.

Chola dynasty: The Chola dynasty ruled over Thanjavur from the 9th- 12th centuries. It was under the Chola dynasty that Thanjavur rose to prominence and came to be regarded as the paramount in South India. The Chola kings not only proved to be excellent rulers but also mighty builders that established magnificent temples all around the city. These temples display excellent carvings, paintings, and sculptures of the artisans in that period. Today, the Brideshwara temple, built by Rajaraja Chola has earned its reputation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from this, the Chola kings were also deeply interested in the music, art, and dance due to which there was a boom in the Thanjavur culture.

Pandya dynasty: By the beginning of the 13th century, the Chola dynasty gradually lost its power and influence and the paved the way for the Pandya dynasty. However, the control shifted between the Panyas and the Cholas twice. Finally, in 1279, Thanjavur was re-captured by the Panya king, Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I, who continued to rule over this city till 1311. It was said that the Pandyas added to the cultural significance of Thanjavur however short-lived their regime was. Soon after, the city came under the Muslim empire as Ala-Ud-Din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, took over the throne when the Pandyas were in a civil war.

Nayak Dynasty: The Nayak dynasty came to power when Thanjavur was under the rule of the Vijayanagar kings. They ruled over Thanjavur for a long period. Initially, the city was under the rule of Sevappa, the founder of the Nayak kingdom, and was then passed onto his son Achuyutappa Nayak. Throughout the ruling, the Nayaks remained loyal to Vijayanagar. However, the end of the 17th century saw the end of the Vijayanagar empire.

Maratha Dynasty: The latter half of the 17th century saw the rule of the Marathas under the first Maratha king, Ekogi. Despite being in control for an extended period, the Marathas soon became vassals to the Karnataka Mughal Governor. It was under the Maratha king Raja Serfoji II that art plates gained significance and popularity. Soon enough, the British and French started interfering with the matters of Thanjavur, and later on, a pact was signed between the Marathas and the British that reduced the status of the king to a mere vassal.

The British: With the help of the British, Serfoji II successfully ruled the city of Thanjavur in 1799. However, after he died in 1841, Thanjavur came under the direct control of the British. It was under the British that Thanjavur came to be referred to as ‘Tanjore’ and established itself as an important regional centre. However, after the independence of India in 1947, Thanjavur gained back the control of its district headquarters.

When one reads through the history of Thanjavur, it is important to note that there is not a clear-cut division between the dynasties that ruled over this city, instead, at many points in history, there was an overlap and continuous back and forth in the power dynamics of the rulers.


The city of Thanjavur is located at 10.8°N 79.15°E and has an elevation of 187 feet above the mean sea level. The total area of Thanjavur is 36.33 square kilometres and it is situated in the Kaveri Delta.

Positioned in Central Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur is bounded by the Mayiladuthurai district in the northeast, Tiruvarur District in the north, Palk Strait of Bay of Bengal in the south, and by Pudukkottai District and Tiruchirappalli in the west.

In 1991, the district of Thanjavur was bifurcated into Thanjavur and the Nagapattinam Districts. However, in 1997, when Tiruvarur district was formed by bifurcating the Nagapattinam District, a portion of the Thanjavur area (Valangaiman block) had been merged with the Tirvuvar district and thus, the present Thanjavur district was formed. Currently, the Thanjavur district is one of the 38 districts of Tamil Nadu with Thanjavur as its headquarters.


The temperature in Thanjavur varies from 20 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius and the average rainfall received by this region is 1020mm (through the northeast monsoon). From November to February, the climate in Thanjavur is pleasant with warm days and cool nights. In March, Thanjavur experiences a small season of spring, soon after which summer comes in June and stays till September. During this period, Thanjavur experiences its first monsoon with deficient rains (southwest monsoon). The second monsoon (northwest monsoon) comes in October and stays till January, and contributes to heavy rainfall for this region.

Thanjavur has highly fertile soil since it is positioned on the Kaveri delta and River Kaveri and its tributaries irrigate the land. It is primarily an agrarian economy and the most cultivated crop here is paddy. It is the main rice-producing region in the state due to which it has earned its reputation to be the ‘Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu.’ Apart from this, the farmers also grow major crops like coconut, sugarcane, groundnut, pulses, and minor crops like soybean, redgram, and maize. About 75% of the population is employed in some agricultural activity making it the main occupation of the people living here. Due to its agrarian nature, industrial growth in Thanjavur is also limited to agro-based industries such as oil mills and rice mills.

The predominant soil types of this region are the alluvial soil found in the Kaveri Delta, and the sandy soil found in the coastal area. The major water sources in this district are Cauvery, Vennar, and Grand Anaicut canals. Minerals like sandstone, laterite, and Kankar have been found here and it has 3246 hectares of land under forest area.


Being a prominent tourist area and an important centre of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur has well-connected and developed transport lines and infrastructure.

The nearest airport to Thanjavur is the Tiruchirapalli International Airport (57 kilometres by road) which has direct flights to Chennai. The railway lines are also developed and the Thanjavur junction is the main railway station in the city. There are daily trains running to and from main cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Madurai and so on. Individuals also have the facility of booking their railway tickets online through the IRCTC’s website. There are two main bus stands that are mainly described as the ‘old bus station’ and the ‘new bus station.’ The buses from the old bus stand are used to travel within the city for a starting price of 10 rupees. Several state and private buses (including ones that are overnight) arrive at the new bus stand which is approximately 4 kilometres away from the centre of the city.

The sanitation and water drinking facilities in Thanjavur have been deemed adequate. However, certain areas/towns around the city do not have proper water drinking supply or sanitation facilities.

Thanjavur is also known to have some of the most renowned schools of Tamil Nadu with well-trained teachers and developed infrastructure. All government and private schools in this area can be broadly classified into 7 clusters, namely- Cholagankudikadu cluster, Kollukkadu cluster, Neively (south) cluster, Pilluvetti Viduthi cluster, Pudutheru cluster, Venkarai cluster, and Vettikkadu cluster. According to records, there are about 60 hospitals in Thanjavur (both private and government). Not only individuals residing in Thanjavur, but also individuals from nearby towns and villages come to Thanjavur to receive medical treatment.


The entire district of Thanjavur has vernacular settlements. These settlements are of two types- First, consciously planned settlements created by the Cholas. These were community-based settlements and were exclusively for individuals with specialized skills. For example- the Sthapathis of Swamimalai, the bronze workers of Nachiarkoil, and the dancers and performing artists of Melattur. Second, organically grown settlements that were occupation-based. These settlements were primarily agriculturally based and located along the banks of the Kaveri river. The individuals in this type of settlement followed a strict hierarchy, wherein, the upper castes lived in the core area and the lower castes near the periphery or agricultural lands.

There are mainly 5 characteristics of the vernacular settlements found in Thanjavur, these are-

  1. All settlements have a compact size and population, usually surrounded by woody groves and agricultural fields.
  2. An essential element of the settlement is a water body or small ponds which form the main source of growth and contribute to the micro-climatic conditions.
  3. There is an east to west housing orientation.
  4. These settlements were known for their community clusters.
  5. Each street has a different typology of dwelling.

Over the years, these settlements have also undergone changes and seen development. These changes can be characterized into 3 stages-

Stage 1: In this stage, the house was a single-spaced multifunctional unit constructed with thatch, mud, and other materials. This was the most primitive form of dwelling found. These houses had a domical roof and were circularly planned. Later on, rectangular plans also emerged. These houses were also highly sustainable in nature.

Stage 2: In this stage, the house was divided into 3 parts- Thinnai (the front raised veranda) which was considered to the male zone, Koodam (the living hall) which was considered to be the family zone, and the Samayal (Kitchen) which was considered to be the female zone. These structures were constructed using locally available permanent materials. The roof of the house was pitched with a two-sided slope and made with country tiles.

Stage 3: In this stage, a courtyard was introduced in the earlier tripartite division of the house. This facilitated additional activities and allowed for a climate-conscious design. The roof contained ridges and valleys to accommodate the “open to the skyspace.” This house was made with locally available permanent materials and represents the final development in rural housing.

The evolution in the housing has been done in response to various factors like climate, availability of materials, lifestyle, and techniques specific to that region. Ultimately, all of these changes have contributed to the sustainability of these settlements. The main feature that is expressed through the designs of these settlements is that the quality of the space is more important than the quantity. Therefore, spatial flexibility and a climate-conscious design have been adopted in these settlements to enhance the qualitative aspects.

Apart from the housing, the architecture of Thanjavur’s famous temples and monuments also receives large-scale appreciation and acclaim.

Brihadeeswara Temple or The Big Temple:This temple was constructed in the 11th century by Rajaraja Chola. It is known to have unique antique architecture with statues of Lord Shiva and Nandi.

Thanjavur Royal Palace: This palace was built in the 16th century as the residence of the Nayaks. However, by the 17th century, it became the residence of the Marathas. The royal palace consists of Nayak Hall, Durbar Hall, Library, and the arsenal tower. This palace has various artifacts and a mirror-glass designed throne canopy made in Thanjavur style.

Thanjavur Art Gallery:This art gallery is situated in the Thanjavur Art Palace and is considered to be one of the most prominent attractions. An extensive collection of bronze and stone idols from the 8th and 9th century have been placed in this art gallery.

Vijaynagara Fort: Built in 1550, this fort is a famous historical monument of Thanjavur that is now taken care of by the archaeological department.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple: This is a thousand-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple structure over here is considered to be extremely fascinating.

Grand Anicut: Also known as ‘Kallani,’ the Grand Anicut is a famous heritage site in Tamil Nadu built in the 1st century AD. It is placed at the beginning of the Kaveri Delta and is 329 meters long and 20 meters wide.

The architecture of these historical monuments and temples pay homage to all the dynasties that have ruled over Thanjavur and reflect the artistic pursuits of each one of them. Therefore, visiting these monuments allows one to get a glimpse of the lives of different rulers in the past centuries and understand how their creations are embodiments of them.


Known as the ‘cradle of arts,’ the culture of Thanjavur is a unique blend of different art forms. Many historians suggest that Thanjavur’s culture is a “confluence of cultures” since there were 5 dynasties that ruled over this city and left their mark in different ways. Therefore, this city is also a significant historical centre of culture. At present, the unique Tanjore art comprises of classical Carnatic music, ancestral art forms, cultural events, religious festivals, and exotic cuisines.

The music in Thanjavur, known as ‘Carnatic Music’ is a representation of rich musical ancestry. Veenai and Thavil are famous music instruments that are known to cast a magical spell on the audience with the help of their enchanting melodies. The Carnatic Classical Musical Festival is also celebrated which attracts several musicians from all over. This festival is observed with great enthusiasm in January, in the memory of Carnatic musical maestro, Thyagaraja.

Dance also occupies an essential place in Thanjavur culture. The Natyanjali Dance Festival is celebrated for 5 days on the occasion of Mahashivratri and provides a platform to a large number of classical dancers to display their talent and art.

The food of Thanjavur includes several lip-smacking vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that are easy to cook and delicious to relish. The South Indian cuisine with Idli, Vada, Dosa, Sambhar, and Rasam, is the most loved. Every year, The Leela Palace Kempinski organizes an annual grand fest of pure South Indian delicacies which gives the local inhabitants as well as tourists the opportunity of trying different dishes from Thanjavur. A special drink made out of the water of coconut and mint, known as ‘Vasantha Neer’ is served to all guests and is known to quench one’s thirst and enhance one’s appetite.

The most famous vegetarian South Indian dishes include- Thavala Adai, Boiled rice, Dosa, Idli, Uttapam, and Vada. The most famous non-vegetarian dishes include- sea crabs, lobsters, and fish cooked in coconut milk. The sweet dishes of Thanjavur include- Surul Poli, Pal Payasam, and Kozhakottai. The wide variety of dishes in Thanjavur is seen as a reflection of its rich socio-cultural lifestyle.

Apart from this, the art and craft of Thanjavur is also an important aspect of South Indian tradition. This craft not only ensures the employment of several artisans but also contributes to the GDP of the country. Some of the crafts include- art plates, paintings, dolls, and sculptures.


According to the Census of 2011, Thanjavur has a population of 2,405,890. The sex ratio is 1035 females to 1000 males, against the national average of 929. The average literacy of Thanjavur is 74.44%, compared to the national average of 72.99%.

The district had a total of 605,363 households and a total of 974,079 workers- 117,321 cultivators, 327,673 main agricultural labourers, 26,430 in household industries, 363,060 other workers, 139,595 marginal workers, 12,592 marginal cultivators, 87,688 marginal agricultural labourers, 4,770 marginal workers in household industries and 34,545 other marginal workers.

The main religion of people in Thanjavur is Hinduism, followed by other religions like Islam, Christianity and Jainism. Tamil is the most spoken language, followed by English and Hindi. Some Marathi speakers also live in Thanjavur.

The culture of Thanjavur is a reflection of the people and their lifestyles. The rich traditions of dancing, singing, and craft-making depict how the lives of these people are deeply embedded in the traditional legacy of this city.

Famous For:

Apart from art plates, the city of Thanjavur is also famous for its temple, paintings, Tanjore dolls, sculpture, architecture, and metal lamps.


List of craftsmen.

Documentation by:

Team Gaatha

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