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Tamilnadu Arts and Handicrafts Specialities

Tamilnadu Arts and Handicrafts Specialities


Tamilnadu has a rich history of culture and tradition that has evolved over centuries. Perhaps the most profused flowering of the Tamil culture is in the handicrafts of Tamilnadu. Flights of fancy are tempered by tradition. Imagination and creativity find expression in the skill of loving, caring, disciplined hands. The crafts of Tamilnadu speak with subtle beauty. They add grace and beauty to lifestyles the world over.

By ceaselessly promoting the various ethnic art forms, simultaneously preserving antique artefacts from Chola and Pandya dynasties by reproducing their replicas, Tamilnadu has become a world-known destination for pilgrims of art in search of fine handiworks of India, such as life-like, Stone Sculptures, Celestial figures in Bronze, Brass lamps, Rosewood Carvings, Sandalwood Carvings, country wood Carvings, Tanjore Art Plates, Tanjore Picture Paintings and much, and much more. Herein we have collected brief descriptions of major Handicrafts specialities of Tamilnadu. Many items typically found in Hindu Temples such as wooden, silver and golden chariots, wooden ornamental doors, kavachams, vahanams, bells, idols, Dwajasthambams, silver sheeting work, gold cladding work on copper sheeting work, gold/silver kavasams for daities are sold in various Handicraft Centers of the State and Central Government.

Pattamadai mats

These beautiful reed mats crafted out of korai grass with cotton or silk in the weft are made in Pattamadai village in Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu. The traditional colours used are red, green and black and the weaves range from medium colour to 140 counts in the silk or pattu mat. The old pattern consisted mainly of stripes at the two ends or streaks through the body. Designs inputs by modern designers has led to the making of contemporary mats which are greatly in demand both in the international and national markets. Today, apart from the sophisticated Pattamdai pai Pattamadai weavers also craft korai grass shopping bags, place mats, runners, office folders etc

Kanchipuram Saris

The gorgeous and very popular Kanchipuram silk saris which weavers claim descent from Sage Markanda have distinctive designs such as sun, moon, swans, peacocks, etc., woven into the body in gold thread and characteristic contrast borders. The very distinctive pallav has a different wrap and is often woven separately and joined to the body.

The best of kanchipuram saris have a rich repertoire of delicately wrought designs, a thick sensous feel and outstanding woven borders in gold or intricate thread work. A contemporary look is achieved with less density of motifs or introduction of a new colour pallete.

Chola Bronzes
The ancient craft of bronze or "panchaloha" casting of icons which reached its apogee of excellence under the Cholas is done by the cire per due or lost wax method. The icon is first made in wax and three layers of clay applied on the wax model which is then allowed to dry. When perfectly dry, the clay coated mould is heated over an open ground oven and the molten wax forced out through appropriate holes in the icons. Whe the mould is completely drained of wax, molten metal is poured into the mould and allowed to set. The mould is broken after a few days and the bronze icon emerges. Chiselling, detailing and polishing follow. The icon is now complete, the only one of its kind in creation.

The best bronze icons are still made in the old Chola Centres of Swamimalai, Madurai and Tiruchirapalli strictly according to Shilpa Shastra rules.

Tanjore Gold Leaf Painting

Featuring the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses and stories from Ramayana and Krishna leela themes, the classic Tanjore paintings present perfect harmony and rythm in composition and blending of colours. The speciality of Ttanjore paintings, which originated in the courts of the Marhatta rulers of Thanjavur, lies in their ornamentation. Gold leaf, gilted metal pieces and semi-precious stones decorate and embellish the figures on the paintings.

The best of Tanjore gold leaf paintings are available in Chennai where traditional artists with an eye to authenticity and detailing reproduce superior Tanjores using the original vegetable pigments.

Papier Mache

In Tamil Nadu waste paper pulp is hand beaten into a soft substance mixed with local clay to be rolled out into thin malleable sheets. Life sized dolls, scenes from the epics, icons of gods and goddesses, masks and animal forms are among the many colourful papier-mch toys handcrafted in Tamil Nadu. After fashioning the form of the article out of papier-mch pulp, the articles are dipped into a thin solution of paper pulp and white clay and then painted in oil or water colour.

Through the ages the best talent in stone craftsmenship went into stone carving of images and structures made for the temples by hereditary sthapatis belonging to the Vishwakarma community. the stone icons are carved by the sthapatis according to the precise measurements, proportions and rules of shilpasastras.. One can see the best of Tamil nadu's stonecraft skills at mahabalipuram, the superb chiselling, detailing and even humour in Arjuna's penance with Arjuna standing in the traditional penance pose on one leg, arms upraised surrounded a cat standing in the same pose as Arjuna; by a stag scratching its nose, etc! the traditional icon making of Tamil nadu has been given a new lease of life at the Mahabalipuram School of Traditional Architecture. Today Mahabalipuram is full of units creating granite and soapstone sculptures both religious and secular, garden lights, nameplates, etc.

Vellore in north Arcot district is famous for black and red earthenwares. Usilampatti in madurai district has black pottery painted over with a special yellow substance which has an old tradition. Panruti in south Arcot is famous for a large variety of clay work that include small and large figures of deities, toys, etc. Karigiri in south Arcot is most famous for its unique style of pottery. The base of this pottery is made with a local semi-vitreous white low fusing china clay with high plasticity known as namakatte -- as it has been used for nama -- cast mark. The distinctiveness of this type of pottery lies in its highly artistic shapes, original colours in glazes and excellent ornamentation. Every article of this type of earthenware is distinctive. Even the very common clay pipe chillum is made into a noteworthy item both through its elegant shape and its deep blue or green glaze. Other noteworthy items are water jugs, tableware items including tea and dinner sets, ashtrays, beautifully decorated flower vases and decorative animal figures made as paperweights.

Pottery from Karukurichi in Tirunelveli district is popular for its technical superiority and novel and attractive shapes. Red, black and grey clay are used for the base. This clay body looks brighter after a coating of red ochre. This is done for all common items of use.


In Tamil Nadu there are a number of places noted for wood craft. Virudunagar is famous for the traditional style. It has now started making articles for household use. Devakottai and Karaikkudi make traditional panels in different sizes. Small shrines finely carved with wood known as kavadi have exquisite designs and serve as votive offerings to the deity that devotees carry on their heads as they go singing or chanting. Panels from some of these old kavadis are detached and are now used as wall decorations. Nagercoil and Suchindram have traditional carvers who also make figures.

Madurai is famous for its rosewood carvings. The style is marked by its bold forms, the details being minutely and painstakingly worked out. Tables with the top covered with floral motifs or lovely parrots or panels with epic scenes are the most outstanding examples of this type of craft.


The Toda women of the Nilgiri region have evolved a very rich distinctive style of embroidery called pugar which means flower. Geometrical patterns are stitched on long shawls called poothkuli that are worn in Roman style by the menfolk. The designs are mostly symbolic ranging from floral motifs to animal and human figures.

There is a unique style of applique work done in Tanjore for decoration on temple hangings, specially those adorning the carved charriots used in processions. They are tubular in form as they hang down the side of the charriot. the designs are appliqued with several traditional signs and motifs including images of gods and goddesses.


The Bhawani durries of Coimbatore district dte back to a couple of centuries. They are woven in cotton and silk. On a cotton base, cotton stripes or traditional designs are woven and on silk base, the designs are woven in silk. This place was initially famous for silk durries ut now staple has taken its place for economic reasons.


Nachiarcoil in Thanjavur district is famous for a light brown sand called vandal on the banks of the river Cauvery that is ideally suited for making moulds. Owing to the growing scarcity of copper, the bell-metal workers of the state have now switched to brass ware. Some of the articles cast are vases in different shapes, tumblers, water containers, ornamented spitoons, food cases, bells, candle stands, kerosene lamps, picnic carriers, and a large variety of lamps. Of these, a few items like tumblers, food cases and milk containers are in bell metal and the rest are in brass. A special jar with a cashew-nut design and named after it has become a kind of hallmark of Nachiarcoil.

Musical Instruments

Music and dance played an important role in the life of Tamil Nadu. Thus, the making of musical instruments became a major craft, here. Most of the centers for this craft are situated around Thanjavur, which is also the hometown of many famous musicians of the country. According to the Tamil classic, the Silappadikaaram, there's an ancient Tamil instrument, the wooden Yaazh in the shape of boats, fishes, and crocodiles, which is similar to the harp or lute. This instrument has been replaced by the more versatile Veena, made of Jackwood. The various parts of this instrument are, the kudam (pot), top plank, neck and yaali. These are first assembled and a mixture of honey wax and black powder is applied to the top plank. Then it is further processed for completion. In Thanjavur, there are families that are into the trade of manufacturing Veenas for generations. Other musical instruments are the Thamburas with their wooden bases, the flute or kuzhal-a wind instrument associated with Lord Krishna. It is popularly known as Vangiyam, made of bamboo, sandalwood, bronze, sengaali and karungaali woods.

Organisations promoting traditional crafts in India
  • Craft Council of India
    ensuring a better tomorrow for millions of India's crafts persons

  • DakshinaChitra a picture of the south:
    Reconstructing the timeless setting of the 19th century, it offers visitors an unforgettable and euphoric glimpse of the diverse lifestyles of four Southern States of India. DakshinaChitra, a serene and calm retreat for the esthetic conscious, transports you into a fantasy world of make believe.

  • National Folklore Support Centre:
    NFSC is a non governmental, non-profit organisation, registered in Chennai dedicated to the promotion of Indian Folklore research, education, training, networking and publications.

  • RAASI Rejuvenating Ancient Arts of South India
    RAASI was founded in November 1999 by Srinivasan, a painter. RAASI focuses on three aspects of traditional art - research and the study of the genesis of the art, teaching of the art and establishing a relationship with artists involved. Srinivasan plans to work with these artists and give them an opportunity to market their work.

Major vendors of Tamilnadu Handicrafts Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development corporation
Main showrooms
Chennai: Poompuhar Sales Showroom, 818, Anna Salai
Chennai - 600 002, Tel: 044-2852 0624, 2855 0157

New Delhi: Poompuhar Sales Showroom, C-1, State Emporia complex
Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Irwin Road, New Delhi - 110 001, Tel: 011-23363913

Bangalore: Poompuhar Sales Showroom, No.104/105 Brigade Road
Bangalore - 560 001 Tel: 080-25580582

Kolkatta: Shop No.21 & 22, First Floor C.I.T. Shopping Complex, Dakshinapan,
2, Gariahat Road, Kolkatta - 700 068 Tel: 033-24730028

Pondicherry: Poompuhar Sales Showroom Anna Arcade, 152, Maraimalai Adigal Salai
Pondicherry - 605 001 Tel: 0413-2203527

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