Bronze image casting in Tanjavur district, Tamil Nadu: Ethnoarchaeological and archaeometallurgical insights

Publication Type:

Book Chapters

Source:

Metals and Civilisations, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on the Beginning of the Use of Metals and Alloys, NIAS Special Publication No. SP7-2015, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru , p.209-216 (2015)

Abstract:

The profusion of metal images made in the Tanjavur region, going back to the early medieval Chola bronzes of the 9th-13th century ranks amongst the finest of Indian artistic expressions. Clusters of artistic and artisanal activities have thrived over generations in the Tanjavur district including metalworking workshops for bronze and bell metal casting of images and ritual objects especially around Swamimalai and Kumbakonam. Ethnometallurgical and archaeometallurgical insights on the making of icons at Swamimalai are highlighted from observations made over the past couple of decades, especially in relation to making comparisons with historical practices of bronze casting going back to Chola times. Since the processes are rapidly undergoing change, to get a better sense of the trajectory of past practices, this paper particularly aims to highlight unpublished observations made by the author going back to her first visits in 1990-1, as background to her doctoral work (Srinivasan 1996) and in relation to observations reported by other scholars going back to the early landmark efforts of Reeves (1962). These observations were particularly made by the author at the workshop of late master craftsman Devasena Sthapathy, in his time the most renowned of Swamimalai Sthapathis. His son Radhakrishna Sthapathy has now inherited this mantle. While Levy et al (2008) give a more recent account of image casting at the workshop of Radhakrishna Sthapathy, this paper attempts to also contextualise the previous trajectory that has not been covered much therein. Since their workshop now goes under the name of Sri Jayam Industries, for the sake of convenience it will be referred here by the same name.