CHENNAI: The first time T Venkatesa Raja got a word of praise was for his work on “Bhakthakrisha”, a painting on traditional Thanjavur style when he was barely 20 years. He could hardly believe it. But, some later works gave him confidence, and today Raja is acknowledged as the most prominent craft artist in the Thanjavur style of painting.
When President Pranab Mukherjee recently conferred Shilp Guru Award on the renowned artist at a function in New Delhi, the 64-year-old artist was thrilled. He wanted to share the award with all the artists in his family. “My family has been dedicated to painting in traditional Thanjavur style for five generations. We never tried to break away from the traditional format. We never compromised, and that’s why we could continue it for such a long time,” said Venkatesa Raja, who is also the recipient of a national award for his contribution to the Thanjavur paintings in 2002. “I am not taking this award as a personal one. It’s an award given to our tradition,” he said.
The ‘Tajore Painting Craft’ started during the Chola period and it flourished during the Nayak-Maratha period. Raja developed the craft using modern materials without allowing it to affect the aesthetics. “I create the colours on my own. It’s not easy. A lot of hard-work is needed to get the exact mix,” he said.
Raja doesn’t remember how many paintings he finished so far. “May be some 50,000,” he said. But, he meticulously adheres to the traditional format and style. “We normally paint on jack tree wood. The size varies from theme to theme. If you are looking for a ‘Sri Rama Pattbhishekam’, you need a bigger format to draw the details of the procession. At the same time, small format is also suitable for expressing some emotional themes,” said Raja, who lives in Thanjavur.
He has trained a large number of artisans, including 100 woman, on Thanjavur painting at Srirangam under the chief minister’s special programme. Durbar Kannan, Bhakthakrishna, Rukmini Kalyanam, Sri Rama Pattabishekam, Ahalyamosham and a special painting on ’63-Nayanmars’ are some of his most acclaimed paintings.
Raja has been chosen for the award mainly for his contribution to the preservation and promotion of Thanjavur paintings. The award consists of a gold coin, Rs 2 lakh in cash and a certificate.