famous brass and copper metalware has a rich and ancient
Tamil Nadu. These metal objects are used for both
religious and secular purposes, though utility is a primary
deepam or lamp are regarded as a symbol of Agni, which is auspicious and is the best known of the State's
metalware. There is a good variety of lamps that includes standing lamps,
aarathi (votive lamps), deepalakshmis, hand lamps and chain lamps. Patterned trays and shallow dishes in circular, hexagonal, octagonal and oval shapes are widely used in Tamil Nadu and are made out of bronze or sheet brass. The popular
Thanjavur plates feature designs of deities, birds, flowers, and geometric patterns beaten out from the back of copper and silver sheets and subsequently encrusted on a brass tray, kudam or
panchpaathra. Metal toys include models of horses, cows or elephants are made chiefly of brass. A whole range of attractively polished and finished utensils of utilitarian value are also made.
The most famous of Tamil Nadu's art forms is probably its bronzes-aesthetic perfection acquired over the centuries, placing them among the greatest achievements of Indian art. The art of bronze casting is still strictly governed by the canons of iconography. The measurement for a bronze figure is the
thaala, the distance from the forehead to the chin. Prepared according to the
cire perdue or lost wax method, the final touches to the figure are given by hand-the finishing, burnishing and perfecting of the minutest details.
The most remarkable bronzes of Tamil Nadu, sculpted primarily from copper, belong to the
Chola period, though later the panchaloha or five metals (copper, tin, lead, silver, and gold) became more popular.
The most outstanding figures depicted in bronzes are those of Shiva as the Lord of Dance and along with
Parvati and the Naayanmaars (Shaivite saints). Of the dozen erstwhile bronze casting centers of Tamil Nadu, today
Kumbakonam alone survives as a major producer of bronzes and the art is concentrated in the village of
Swamimalai. Thanjavur and Salem are the centers of a separate substratum of folk bronzes with their very real depiction of rural life and beliefs. The bronze
uthsavamurthis, taken out in procession around the town, fostered several other crafts such as the making of wooden chariots, appliqué decoration cloth, garland making and the manufacture of intricate jewelry.