Sambhaji Rajah Bhonsle is a master of Thanjavur style of painting.

Sambhaji Rajah Bhonsle stands beside a magnificent, antique 6ft X 4ft Thanjavur art portrait of his great-great-great-great grandfather Maharaja Serfoji Rajah Bhonsle (1798-1833) under whose patronage the famous Thanjavur style of painting reached its apogee of excellence.

Serfoji himself was a painter of the art form as is his direct descendant, Sambhaji. He is a State award winner whose use of colours and expressive faces give a special focus to his frames. Sambhaji's resplendent, bejewelled Gajalakshmi against a lotus ‘malai' as well as Sita caught in a Thai pose with Thai facial features and costume are indicative of his artistic, innovative streak. The portrait of Chandramouliswaran is yet another compelling piece while there are many portraits of Radha Krishna, Muruga, court scenes, etc., on display at the exhibition currently on in the city.

Sambhaji uses both herbal and poster colours to create his paintings. For the base cloth he uses a tamarind seed paste and hard rock powder mixed with gum. Over this base he does freehand sketching, embedding kundan stones and embossing work, both time consuming processes. Detailing of jewellery such as etching, etc. will be done next, along with sticking of 25 carat gold foil. After three layers of colouring and more detailing of face and form the picture is complete.

Family ties

What led this scion of Maratha royalty to wield the paint brush? “Thanjavur art is our heritage,” says Sambhaji Bhonsle. “Both my grandfather and father took up painting as a hobby. So from a young age I was exposed to it. I learnt the nuances from palace painter Kuppuswamy and have been painting for the past 25 years. I got the Tamil Nadu State Government award for my depiction of Bhoomadevi, Andal…” He trains students in this art form free of charge.

Along with Sambhaji's work, ‘Ovia Kalanjiyam 2011' also has on view some exquisite, antique Thanjavur art pieces executed in a bygone era by palace artists. Mellow, gilded with old gold charm and wonderfully delineated figures, some of the huge frames have protective doors. These include a stunning 5ft x 4 ft Ramar Pattabhisekam executed in a distinct style and presentation, and a Sivalingam with Siva etched on it, again a mélange of mellow loveliness. Also on display are Orissa's palm leaf craft done by master artisans, silk paintings of birds and flowers and ‘Phad' paintings from Rajasthan. Realistic reproductions of Ravi Varma's paintings in big sizes compel attention with their soft colours.

Srushti's ‘Ovia Kalanjiyam 2011' exhibition of traditional paintings by award winning artists is on view at Srushti, Sudarsan Building (Ground Floor, Opposite Park Sheraton Hotel) Alwarpet, till June 22.