Veena making is a traditional art that has been fostered from ancient times. It is a large guitar like instrument, about 1.5 meters long, with a thick wide neck and is made from a single block of wood of the jackfruit tree. There is a carved head of a dragon at the end of the neck. It has 24 metal frets embedded in hardened bees’ wax that is mixed with charcoal powder. It takes one month for a skilled craftsman to handcraft a single veena. According to Hindu mythology, gods and goddesses play various instruments, and the veena is particularly played by Goddess Saraswati.
Many intricate and artistic statues are on display all over Tamil Nadu. Bronze statues are made from a skilled process, where the design in first carved out in wax. Then clay is set around the design and the wax is melted away. This gives a hollow cast for the bronze to be filled into. After the bronze has cooled the statue is then finished and polished. Bronze, being a copper based alloy, has a lower melting point that allows the artist to cut intricate shapes. Once the sculpture is cut by the artist it takes anything from six weeks to four months to get out the perfect sculpture.
The traditional silk sarees of Kancheepuram are famous across the globe, and every wedding or auspicious festival is incomplete without silk. Traditional sarees are hand crafted by artisans using looms. These thick fabrics have deep colours and are even mixed with hints of gold. Legend has it that the silk weavers of Kancheepuram are descendants of Sage Markanada who was considered a master weaver used by gods. The Kancheepuram silk weaving industry goes back around 400 years. The silk sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk. The silk thread is dipped into rice water and then sun-dried before the weaving process begins. The warp frame used to weave the fabric contains around 60 holes, in which there are around 240 threads in the warp and between 250 to 3000 threads in the weft. The pallu, border and body are woven separately and joined together very skilfully. The zari is made with 3 silk threads that are twisted with a silver wire, which is why a traditional Kancheepuram saree can weigh up to two kilos. The border has motifs from temples, palaces and pyramidal designs. The sarees are available in 9 yard weaves and 6 yard weaves. Kancheepuram sarees have been recognised as a Geographical Indication since 2006. There are around 5000 families involved in the production of these sarees.
Clay pottery making is another ancient art form that thrives in Tamil Nadu. Objects are shaped with clay and then heated to high temperatures in a bonfire, pit or kiln which lend strength and rigidity to the shape. The clay is first sourced and prepared and the pot is made on a traditional clay centre wheel. These are then dried and then hardened in the kiln. The important thing about the process is the consistency of the clay, which should be combined with the right amount of water.
This is a traditional morning ritual which is followed by most households in Tamil Nadu. Symbolising the connection between the internal and external, it allows for women to display their creativity and imagination. Drawn on the threshold of homes, these were traditionally made with powdered rice which would attract insects and birds. Kolam art composes of geometric lines and loops drawn around a grid pattern of dots. Complex kolams are created and coloured during festive occasions and special events. The kolam is drawn to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and drive away evil spirits. It adds aesthetics to homes and is generally very cheerful and special.
Native to Tanjore these paintings are exclusive with their embellishments of gold and other materials. Said to have originated in the 16th Century under the reign of the Cholas, these are generally representations of Hindu gods and goddesses. Gold leaf is added to these paintings to give depth and a three dimensional feel. The dense composition, richness of the surface and vibrant colours distinguish them from other styles of painting. It consists of a cloth that is pasted over a wooden base, and chalk powder or zinc oxide with a water soluble adhesive are added. The drawing is then made and new materials are added to bring out its glamour. Some of these paintings also have embellishments of semi precious stones, pearls and glass pieces that add to its allure. Laces or threads are also added to augment its effect. These paintings used to be the status symbols for princes and the wealthy.
It is a tradition in the villages of Tamil Nadu where an enormous terracotta horse, considered the horse of Ayyanar who is the protector of the village against evil forces, guards the village. Ayyanar, with his enormous moustache and wide eyes keeps a constant vigil surrounded by his horses and warriors. These tall figurines can stand at a height of over 6 metres, and are sculpted painstakingly by mixing clay, straw and sand. These figures are made in parts. In the making of the horse, for example, four clay cylinders are rolled out, with a piece of wood for the legs. The other parts of the body are built on this later. The parts are then joined together on the 10th day, which is considered auspicious. These are then baked in a kiln with straw and dried cow-dung. The faces are then painted red sometimes, to denote anger and the neck is painted blue to denote calmness. The body and other accessories are painted in bright colours.
In the Chettinad village called Athangudi, tiles are made by hand using local materials. This time worn tradition brings a range of finishes, from simple red oxide to intricate geometric and floral designs. This art form is said to have originated around 5 centuries ago and have very distinct attributes. The best part is that these tiles can also be custom made into any geometric pattern, floral motif or freestyle designs. Though the tiles are very smooth as if prepared on a glass plate, they offer a non slippery surface. Since each tile is made individually, no two tiles are the same and have become a special feature of these tiles. These tiles are coveted by people from all over the world who have an eye for art and aesthetics. Resembling mosaics they are handmade over glassy surfaces for which they have been patronised by the rich.
The City of Coimbatore is famous for its dhurries and handloom rugs. Created out of cotton, jute, wool or silk, these are beautifully patterned and are very popular among designers. When combined with the beauty of Athangudi tiles, these look spectacular and lift the ambience of any room. The hand knotted rugs of Coimbatore elevate the fashion statement of many homes in South India.