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Tanjore Painting: Celebrating India's Mastery of Colour

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Award-winning artist and Etsy maker Swarna Raja walks us through the creation of a Tanjore Painting — and its tradition of representing Indian gods and goddesses in rich evocative colour

Tanjore paintings, known for their masterful depiction of figures framed in arches of gold-leaf, encrusted with gems and coloured in rich blues, greens and reds, are one of Southern India’s most iconic art forms. The style can be traced back to works commissioned by the governors of 16th century Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu and created by migrant artist communities for Hindu temples. 

While Hindu gods like Krishna and Rama remain the primary subjects for Tanjore painting artists, the art-form extends beyond religion. Over the course of history, Tanjore painting has attracted a wide variety of patrons including British colonial officers and indigenous rulers of different faiths. The artists, in turn, have embraced the breadth of subject matters available to them from botanicals to depictions of Sikh saints and Jain monastics, creating a rich and diverse repertoire for the art-form.

“We use our imagination to create these paintings, which are mostly influenced by our culture,” explains artist and educator, and Etsy maker Swarna Raja. After years of research and through projects like the Tanjore Art Studio that runs classes and workshops around the world, Raja has brought the rich history and traditional techniques of the painting style to mainstream attention, especially the use of rare natural colours and dyes that had become almost entirely replaced by synthetic paints in Tanjore painting in modern times.

In this Etsy film, Raja walks us through the creation of a Tanjore painting  a tradition that has represented Indian gods among other subjects in richly composed, coloured and embellished works for centuries.

This film featuring Tanjore painter Swarna Raja was produced by Etsy India as part of its commitment to highlight the artists behind the lesser-known Indian artforms on its platform. As a global marketplace for unique and creative goods, Etsy’s mission is to ‘Keep Commerce Human’ by using the power of business and technology to strengthen communities and empower people around the world.