Origin: In the early 19th century, Maratha ruler Raja Serfoji introduced Thanjavur to the art of making dolls. Thanjavur is a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Raja Serfojis interest in craft and love for aesthetics gave shape to this splendid structure. Thanjavur dolls or Thanjavur thalayatti bommai in Tamil means “head shaking doll.”
Since Indus Valley Civilization, toys have been employed as a medium to entertain and educate children. Natural and colourful head shaking dolls of Tamil depict the tradition of its region.
Thanjavur doll is crafted to resemble a king and queen. Thus, its aura symbolizes the multiple dynasties that left their footprints in Thanjavur. Thanjavur dolls are characterized by roly-poly bobble-head, shades, expressive faces, head movement and shapes. The bottom, most central part of the doll, is the centre of gravity carrying all the weight. This lends the doll ease in making continuous dance movements.
Present Day: A while back, around 60 families engaged in the doll making art. However, now approximately only five families are left. Like most handicraft items of India, craft of making Thanjavur dolls has been handed over from one generation to another.
To encourage and preserve this craft, in 2009, Thanjavur thalayatti bommai has been given Geographical Indicator status by Government of India.
During Navaratri festive season, in South India these dolls are used as a Golus meaning divine presence. In another festival titled Bombe Habba spelling Doll Festival, womenfolk exhibit their everyday life through doll arrangements.
Procedure: Historically, simple and natural raw materials were employed in making these dolls such as plant shoots, cloth, clay, cow dung, sawdust etc. Most of these raw materials are present in abundance in villages.
These lightweight dolls are also made utilizing tapioca flour, papier mache and plaster of Paris. It also uses Copper sulphate powder as a fungicide.The doll is crafted in halves. The doll dough is rolled out and pressed into cement-based moulds, with generous chalk powder dusting.
Then, the dried halves are pasted with sheets of paper at the back. It is then glued together with an adhesive. This adhesive is naturally made using tapioca flour as a base. Post the assembling phase, these dolls are sandpapered and then hand-painted.
Bring Home Thanjavur Dolls of Tamil Nadu: Thanjavur Dolls of Tamil Nadu can be bought directly from artisans in Thanjavur city of Tamil Nadu. We recommend you purchase dolls around Punnai Nallur Mariamman temple. These dolls can also be picked from artisan fair trade exhibitions.