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In the movements of their mind, as in the vibrations of their daily life, and in the mystical flights of their spirit no less, the Indians looked upon the human body, as they looked upon the material world, with curiosity, with longing, with fear, with regret. At no time were they indifferent to it. The human body remained on abiding concern, with this recognition, however, that man’s being is not limited to his physicality. In all the conflicting expressions of his humanity there runs a connecting truth: nothing that is natural and human need be despised, much less negated, but everything that is natural and human is to be transcended for in self-transcendence is man fulfilled.


Indian art, like the systems of Indian philosophy, was rooted in that truth, and so were Indian music and dance. Together they evolved as related expressions of man’s humanity, symbolized by a tree inverted, whose leaves and branches and fruits are spread upon earth, and its roots in the cosmic space.


Indian sculpture, stone and bronze, like Indian painting, took for its material the symmetry of the human body, male and female, and the asymmetry of human emotions. Both these were then transposed on to gods and goddesses, just as the human body itself was transfigured in the architecture of the temples and in the seven basic notes of Indian music.


The art of making images in bronze reached its most brilliant expression in the Chola period; and the Chola period the tenth century in particular, was without question among the most creative periods of Indian art. The Chola bronzes express more than the preceding Pallava rock-cut sculpture did, the fullness of the human body and emotions. The virility and strength of the male figure, and the sensuousness and grace of the female acquired in them very nearly a life-like quality. One can see in them the expression of a vast range of human emotions: ecstacy, simple joy, tenderness, tranquility, authority, and coyness; and because nothing in life was negated, even the aggressive, the violent and the grotesque. All are energy movement, dance.


In the dance of Siva the Cosmic Man, all human emotions come together, dance and are transformed. The Nataraja group of icons hold, therefore, a central place in Indian art.


Like them, each Chola bronze had a transcending quality. The ultimate effect they generate is one of profound stillness. They depict energy, but they depict of the same time the primordial stillness from which all energy flows and into which it returns.


The Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation was set up in 1973 by the Government of Tamilnadu.


Having six production units of its own, the aim of this Corporation has been to develop the handicrafts of Tamilnadu and by providing market outlets for a wide variety of them, to support the numerous artisans who have as their forefathers did, the making of handicrafts as their principal means both of livelihood and creativeness – in clay, stone, brass metal, wood, gold and silver, ivory, cane and bamboo, silk and cotton and in bronze.


The bronze icons, such as depicted in this brochure, mostly replicas of the 10th – 12th centuries Chola bronzes are sculptured strictly on the lines prescribed in the Silpasastra texts, at the Corporation’s units at Swamimalai in Thanjavur district and also at Salem. These like all other medieval Indian bronzes, carry no signature.


Named POOMPUHAR after a most ancient and fabulous Tamil coastal city, the Corporation has its emporia in almost all district towns of Tamilnadu; in Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Salem, Erode and Coimbatore.


It has an emporium also at Mahabalipuram, fifty-five kilometers from Chennai. Invariably visited for its famous Pallava rock-cut sculpture (c 700 A.D.) and here even today one can see the sculptor or work, and hear the sound of his chisel and hammer as it was heard in the centuries past. The major POOMPUHAR emporia are in Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Calcutta.

Courtesy: Chaturvedi Badrinath, IAS.,

Former Managing Director, The THDC Limited (02.05.86 – 21.08.89)aa


Handicrafts of Tamil Nadu


God created the universe for the joy of all living beings. But it is the artist more than anyone else who delights a little more in the world around him and expresses his delight as well as his appreciation of things around him in various art forms. This fullfils not only his inner desire to imitate what God has created but also in the end delights rest of the mankind. The greater the artist, the finer his creation.


Art need not necessarily be in any particular form. It can be as diverse as the work of the ancient artist who left his drawings in the caves in which he lived, as magnificent as the frescos in Ajantha caves or the stupendous architectural marvels of Angkor Vat or as incomparable as Nataraja of Tamil Nadu of Chola period.


Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of the Indian sub-continent has remained a citadel of Dravidian art and culture for centuries now. The magnificent temples, the marvelous stone sculptures, the bronze images of celestial figures, the wood carvings and the soul stirring wall paintings – all made by master craftsmen with perfection – have enriched social life and given a new dimension to our living culture.


In this publication, we seek to display among other things, icons in brass and bronze and art forms in other mediums such as stone, wood etc. crafted by artisans in Tamil Nadu today. Mostly they are replicas of ancient pieces though certain original pieces have also been displayed.


We ourselves produce brass lamps of various designs and sizes. The 6 feet Annam lamps and the branch lamps that we produce are indeed unique pieces of art and are in such high demand that we find it difficult to satisfy all customers instantly. But we do satisfy them by taking orders and delivering lamps of their choice as quickly as possible. We also encourage production of lamps through private artisans and handcrafted pieces such as Kalasam and Poornakumbam.


Soapstone is another medium which has recently emerged as a source of many exquisite handicrafts depicting gods and goddesses or such down-to-earth decorative pieces which are displayed in any sophisticated drawing room.


Vridhachalam, a small town in this State, was once well known for ceramic products. Unfortunately the art of producing artistic pieces from a special type of clay in and around this place, has declined over the years. After the closure of the Tamil Nadu Ceramics Limited (TACEL), the artisans who used clay as a medium for creating lovely pieces of art have suffered from neglect. The Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation is making serious efforts now to revive this sector of handicrafts in Tamil Nadu. A few of the finely finished ceramic pieces have now been displayed in our major showrooms.

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.

Marketing 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



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.


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.


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.


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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