The Census of India has an enviable track
record of documenting diverse aspects of life
of the people of India. The canvas extends to
an entire gamut of subjects like "Village and
Town Studies", "Fairs and Festivals", "Arts
and Crafts", "Temples of Tamil Nadu" and
the like. Reports on Tribes and Temples have
been well received and greatly appreciated
by discerning experts in various fields.
The present Publication "Arts and Crafts of
Tamil Nadu" contains two studies,
i) Manufacture of Art Metal Plates at
Thanjavur and ii) Manufacture of Metal
Icons at Swamimalai.
This monograph is embellished with maps
and excellent colour photographs depicting
various aspects relating to the Craft and the
The Census of India is internationally
acclaimed not only for its credible data
on population and its characteristics but
also for the many unique studies on the various
social and cultural themes that touch the life of the
people of this country. Monographs on Fairs and
Festivals of India, Village and Town Studies,
Studies on the various Arts and Crafts of India are
a part of the diverse repertoire of literary
compositions that have served to throw light on
the various aspects of the Indian people. Arts and
Crafts are not only the means of life for the artisan,
but one of the important dynamics of the social
and economic development of a country. Several
studies have been conducted and volumes are
being brought out on these themes.
For the first time in Census, monographs on the
arts and crafts were published during the Census
of India 1961. "Handicrafts and Artisans of
Madras State: Art Metal Wares of Thanjavur" and
"Handicrafts and Artisans of Madras State: Icons
in Stone and Metals" published by the then
Superintendent of Census Operations, Shri P.I<.
Nambiar (1964) and "Cire Perdue Casting in
Swamimalai (Madras State)" brought out by the
Office of the Registrar General. India (1967) are
some of the excellent Publications brought out
during this period.
The present Volume, brought out by the Directorate
of Census Operations, Tamil Nadu is an attempt to
study some of these arts and crafts, as they exist
presently. A painstaking effort has been
undertaken to highlight the vast changes that have
taken place during the intervening four decades
since the last study was published in the mid
sixties. Like its other recent special studies on
Temples of Tamil Nadu, this monograph is also
embellished with maps and excellent colour
photographs depicting various aspects relating to
the Craft and the Craftsmen.
The Directorate has also brought out a CD ROM on
the same theme. I am confident that laymen as
well as connoisseurs will welcome this monograph
as well as its electronic version. I appreciate the
teamwork of the Directorate of Census Operations,
Tamil Nadu for this effort. I am extremely happy to
place before the readers yet another monograph
that documents the extremely rich and diverse
cultural and art traditions of India.
Culture has been described as the
characteristic way of life inspired by
fundamental values, in which people live.
It is the sum total of the values expressed through
art, religion, literature, social institutions and
behavior. Seen in this light, the Arts and Crafts of a
country are manifestations of a country's cultural
moorings. The Census of India has always had the
unique distinction of presenting a multi-
dimensional snapshot of the country and its
people. Any aspect concerning the people of India
is of interest to the organisation and counting
people is just one such activity. True to this
tradition, the Census of India has apart from the
various publications on the socio-demographic
profile of the people of India, been prolific in
documenting diverse aspects relating to the people
such as Arts and Crafts, Fairs and Festivals, Castes
and Tribes, Temples and the like. The present study
is a humble attempt to add to the vast literature
that the Census organisation has produced.
The Census of India has a unique place among
connoisseurs as well as common people interested
in arts and crafts for having placed in the public
domain, detailed reports on the various streams of
arts and crafts in the States of India. Very often,
these Reports are the only documentation that is
available on the subject. The present Report "Arts
and Crafts of Tamil Nadu: Art Plates of Thanjavur"
is more in the way of a revisit of an area traversed
earlier. A Report on the subject was published
during the Census of India 1961, namely,
"Handicrafts and Artisans of Madras State: Art
Metal Wares of Thanjavur" published by the then
Superintendent of Census Operations,
Shri. P.K. Nambiar ( 1964). This Report, like others
in the same series were in great demand and
reprints were not available. This prompted the
Office of The Registrar General, India to order the
preparation of electronic copies of the old reports.
Instructions were also issued to visit these places
and take fresh photographs in colour. During the
course of this exercise, it was found that while to a
great extent, the cultural moorings of these crafts
remained the same, there had taken place in the
decades since the last Report, considerable changes
in the lives of the craftsmen as well as the crafts. I
felt that it would be worthwhile to document these
changes and thus began a foray into a territory.
which I readily confess was completely unknown
to us. As we got deeper into the study, we were
fascinated by the intricacies involved and that lead
us to produce a visual record of the entire process
by way of in-depth photography as well as
The focus of this study is the ancient craft of
producing Art Metal Ware in Thanjavur, the
headquarters of Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu.
Popularly referred to as the "Thanjavur Art Plate"
or" Swamy Work", the creations of these craftsmen
are known to art lovers across the country and
abroad. As Nanditha Krishna a well known writer
puts it," As with bronze casting, brass and copper
metal ware also have a rich and ancient tradition in
Tamil Nadu". Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya the
doyen of Indian Handicrafts describes this craft
thus, "Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu has a fabulous
style of encrusting metal on metal".
The present publication is based on information
collected from primary sources as well as literature
from a number of secondary sources. Primary
collection was done during the Census of India
2001. Interviews with a large number of craftsmen
in the field supplemented the study.
I would like to place on record my heartfelt
appreciation to the entire team at the Directorate of
Census Operations Tamil Nadu that has spared no
effort in bringing out this Publication. The
contribution of each member has been invaluable.
I am also grateful to the Registrar General India,
who has been, as usual a pillar of strength in all our
No publication of this nature could be termed
authoritative. A lifetime would be insufficient to
fully document such an ancient cultural tradition.
If at the end of the day, this effort were able to
ignite a small spark in the reader to explore more
fully the depths of India's vast cultural ocean, the
purpose would be served.
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