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  • Writer's pictureKripa Radhakrishnan

The relation between Tanjore Paintings and Mughal Paintings

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Development of Indian classic Tanjore Paintings:

Thanjavur was under Maratha rule from the 17th to the 19th Centuries. The Maratha Empire was established by the Maratha warrior-hero Chhatrapati Shivaji, in response to the anarchy and misrule that existed in the Deccan at the end of the 17th century. It happened as the Mughal Empire spread to southern India. Hindu nationalists revere the Maratha Dynasty, which emerged among the Hindu warriors of the western Deccan Peninsula. Their reverence stems from the fact that it was this state that overturned centuries of ever-increasing Muslim political control over the subcontinent. Like any other empire in the 18th century, the Maratha Empire meant to preserve itself, even if it meant battling the Hindus and allying itself with the Muslims. The patchwork of states that arose from the collapsing Mughal Empire at the time was so complicated that it was unavoidable that alliances of convenience between states of different religious sects would be the rule. There is no question that the Marathas, like all Hindu states, have been influenced by Islamic rituals, literature, architecture, and warfare.

The Maratha commitment to the creation of a conventional Hindu state in the subcontinent is demonstrated by the enormous effort they made to crown Shivaji and formally established the Maratha Empire in 1674.This occurred at a time when great Hindu imperial crowning was rare, as most rajas were rulers of smaller states or under Mughal control.

The Maratha rulers were great admirers of the local traditional forms of painting and promoted all types of local art. Although there is no record of who started the trend of this form of painting for the first time, there is some evidence that supports the fact that painting evolved with skill and talent in later years. Thanjavur's School of Painting evolved and flourished during a time when there was a lot of political chaos in South India, especially in Madras or Tamilnadu today. Initially, this art form was practiced by two major groups, namely The Rajus (a family) in Thanjavur and Trichy, a town near Thanjavur and The Naidus (another family) in the temple town of Madurai, which is once again a very famous temple town ruled by Pandya kings during that period. Both the artistic families, Raju and Naidu, originated in the neighboring Andhra Pradesh or Rayalseema area, which had migrated to Tamil Nadu. Thanjavur has the legacy of painting from Chola period. The famous Thanjavur Fresco painting in the Bragadeeswar temple is compared with Ajanta and Ellora painting. Most of the paintings drawn after 1750 were inspired by Mughal art and later by British art. Tanjore painting can be found mostly in four types, such as wall painting, wood painting, glass painting and paper painting.

Visual Art during Maratha rules

Some development of visual art (especially, painting) took place during the Maratha period, in Maharashtra, and specifically in Western Maharashtra, the seat of the Peshwas. It was not until the later decades of the 1700s that we saw some progress in the art of painting, the Marathas. And this creation had a lot to do with the interaction of the Marathas with Rajasthan and European influences, then with the inevitable transmigration of artists from the North or the Deccan. The law and rule of the Peshwa period, from the mid-1700s onwards, rose at about the same time that the Mughal empire was in decline, so it would seem that the artists would make a beeline to this power center as well. From the mid-1700s, we can see a growing contact between the Marathas and the forces, north of the Narmada, when campaigns were led to Malwa, Gujarat, Bundelkhand, and other parts of Madhya Pradesh. Baji Rao, I was invited to the Rajasthan courts as the chief of the Marathas. Almost immediately we see the inclusion of a certain Bhojraj, a well-known artist from Jaipur, who was brought to Pune for the paintings of Shaniwar Wada. In any case, a well-known school of painting was founded by the Tanjore branch of the Marathas (1674–1855) to promote visual art. The arrival of Ekoji, the king of Maratha, ultimately led to the conquest of Tanjore in 1675, which marked the beginning of the rule of Maratha in Tanjore. Ekoji, taking advantage of the confusion in Bijapur Kingdon, usurped the power of Chengaladhas and established the rule of Maratha in Tanjore. In 1676, Ekoji established the kingdom of Maratha, and the rule of Maratha lasted for a century and a half, marking the beginning of a cultural renaissance and the blooming of the artistic tradition. The Tanjore Marathas retained a separate identity from the date of its inception. The Kingdom faced the political opposition of the various Hindu and Muslim rulers on the one hand and the economic demands of Western countries on the other. Room for any political expansion, but the amalgamation of different cultures persisted, making Tanjore the core of court culture. Serfoji II was considered the founder of Tanjore's current style of painting, and it was during his reign that Tanjore's painting flourished and achieved the form and style in which we recognize it today. Serfoji II had to go through a difficult path during his rule, constantly challenged by Amarsimha, who ran a parallel court in Thiruvidaimarudur even after his accession. However, despite the troubled times, the reign of Serfoji II was a time of great innovations in Tanjore art and many other parallel fields.

Style and technique of Tanjore paintings:

Tanjore paintings are characterized by bright, flat and vibrant colours, clear classic composition, glittering gold foils overlaid with delicate yet comprehensive gesso work and inlays of glass beads and parts or very rarely precious and semi-precious gems. Essentially acting as devotional symbols, Hindu gods, goddesses, and saints are the focus of most of the paintings. Episodes from the Hindu Puranas, Sthala-Puranas, and other religious texts have been visualized, sketched or traced and painted with the main figure or figures in the central section of the image, surrounded by several subsidiary figures, themes and subjects. There are also many instances where Jain, Sikh, Hindu, other religious and even secular subjects were portrayed in Tanjore paintings. In addition to paintings on canvas, walls, wooden panels, glass, paper, mica and exotic media such as ivory were also painted. Small portraits of Ivory were usually worn as cameo pendants called rajaharam and were quite common. Thanjavur glass paintings, using Chinese reverse glass painting techniques, were popularized during the reign of Serfoji II as a cheaper and faster craft. The paintings were created on the back surface of a glass sheet with metal strips in transparencies to mimic the effect of jewelry and precious stones. Most of the paintings were created by Hindu deities and saints. Other courteous and secular portraits have also been made.

Thanjavur Painting was generally made on canvas pasted over a wooden plank (Jackfruit or Teak) with Arabic gum. The canvas was then finely coated with a paste of French chalk (gopi) or powdered limestone and a binding medium and was dried. The artist then drew or traced a detailed outline of the main and subordinate subjects on the canvas using the stencil. A paste, made of limestone powder and a binding medium called sukkah or makku, was used to make Gesso's work. Gold leaves and gems of varying shades were put in selected areas, such as pillars, arches, thrones, suits, etc. In the end, colors were applied to the sketch.

Source of Persian Arts in India:

In the 11th century AD, Islam came to India from the Persian side by Sultan Mohammad Ghaznavi. The subsequent spread of Islam on India had a rich Persian influence. Iran's beautiful art and architecture has come to be aligned with Islam. Islam became a common element connecting the Persian and Indian elites. Ghaznavi has put together a variety of poets, craftsmen and religious who have settled in India. In the 16th century, after a period of upheaval, Iran witnessed the rise of the Safavi dynasty, and India saw the rise of the Mughal Empire. Under these two dynasties, India and Iran became great powers. The relationship between India and Iran was multifaceted, covering politics, diplomacy, culture, literature, sculpture, trade and religion. The Mughal patronage of art and culture has continually attracted Persian scholars and artists: talented Persians have been absorbed in the growing services of the Mughal Empire. The relationship between the Safavids and the Mughals was characterized by the alliance of Shah Ismail 1 with Babur and the friendship of Tahmasp and Humayun. After defeating the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, Humayun, the son of Babur, fled to Iran and was only able to return to India with the help of the Safavid king of Iran, Tahmasp I. Humayun visited several places during his stay in Persia. Humayun's stay in Iran further stimulated Mughal's interest in Persian literature and art. Several Iranian poets, artists and scholars later migrated to India due to his long stay in Iran. Persian artists such as Abdus Samad, Mir Sayyed Ali, Faroukh Qalmaq, Muhammad Nadir Samarqandi, Mr Hashemi and Mohammad Faqirullah Khan collaborated with their Indian colleagues in royal Mughal courts, mixing form, lines and colors with those of India. At the Royal Mughal Courts, Indian artists and craftsmen collaborated with Persian and Turkish masters to create a new, harmonious art and architecture. The Indian flora was mixed with Islamic calligraphy. A new color palette of turquoise blue, emerald green, lapis, viridian and dazzling white was applied to Indian saffron, indigo and vermilion. Relations with Persia were the most important aspect of the foreign policy of the Moghul rulers of India. The cultural interaction between the Mughal courts and the Safavid monarchs improved their diplomatic relations, and the envoys were exchanged. Even the Muslim rulers of Golconda and Ahmednagar in southern India sent envoys to the Shah Tahmasp court in Iran. The Mughal School of paintings had a lot to do with Iran and bloomed under Akbar's patronage. Iranian painters also taken the craft of portrait and miniature painting to Mughal courts. Major developments have taken place in the field of miniature painting, portraits and scenes of war, social events and manuscript illustrations.

Deccan Wars-Maratha Dominance over the Mughal Empire:

The Deccan Wars, also known as the Mughal-Maratha Wars, was a 27-year conflict between the Mughal and Maratha Empires. It's the longest war recorded in the history of India. At this time, Maratha was the rising power to the south. The Mughal Empire was a Muslim kingdom, while Maratha was a Hindu kingdom. It was essentially a dominance fight. The Mughal Empire was in dire straights as early as 1701. The war had been going on longer than Aurangzeb had ever expected, and his treasury had been depleted. In 1706, the Mughals were in decline, and Aurangzeb was seeking peace. He died in 1707, and the war ended with his death. The Maratha Empire had no manpower to conquer the Mughal Empire. But the Mughals had been so weakened that their supremacy in India had come to an end.

Proposed contribution: The above-mentioned political narratives illustrate Persian painting styles which have had a lasting impact on Indian art at the Sultanate and Mughal courts as well as at the Maratha courts. (Tanjore painting styles). Apart from that, I would like to emphasize the origins of Mughal paintings and Tanjore paintings are from Persia, as they elaborate the materials used in these paintings.

Paper was introduced to the Arab world by the Chinese in the 8th century BC. The technological innovation of paper has brought new illustrative possibilities to Arab calligraphers and has made possible the development of miniature paintings and manuscript illumination. Paper from Damascus and Abyssinia was considered inferior in quality to that of Samarqand and Bhagdad. Emperor Babar, the father of the Mughal empire, even said in his memories that the finest paper in the world had come from Samarkand. A smooth surface was important to the flowing line of Persian calligraphy or to the exact details of a miniature painting. This was accomplished by placing a leaf on a plank of smoothed, even-grained chestnut wood. Paper came from Samarqand to India, until then Indian Buddhists, for whom written texts were essential components of their religion, wrote calligraphy on palm leaf strips and wrapped them in books.

Mineral pigments, organic inks and colors, and earth tone pigments are all important components of miniature paintings. To maximize the versatility of the available materials, painters often mix their pure colors in order to obtain a range of secondary and tertiary colours. A gleam of metallic gold and silver leaf, typically used in Persian, Mughal and later Indian miniature paintings such as Tanjore paintings, was applied to these colored pigments. Gum arabic was the most common vegetable binder used by both Persian and Indian artists. Mughal artists favored brushes made of downy fur of a common type of squirrel. Persian artists favored brushes made from the hair of a white cat that was specially bred for brushing hair.

The political events of the 11th to 16th century in India and the materials used for the paintings of Persian, Islamic, Mughal and Maratha (Tanjore) are connected.


1. Negi Mohita, Essay on Thanjavur Painting

2. Tanjore Paintings: Marathas.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 2 Apr. 2015

3. KAMAL CHAVAN, Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, Vol. 58/59 (1998-1999)


5. .Persian and Indian Miniatures, F. K. W.’Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum

6. MUGHAL AND DECCANI PAINTINGS FROM THE BINNEY COLLECTION, R. S. C., Bulletin (St. Louis Art Museum), New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1974),

7. Persian Artists in Mughal India: Influences and Transformations, Priscilla P. Soucek Muqarnas

8. Akbar and The Formation of Mughal Art

9. › Iran Review › About Iran › Art

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