Thanjavur paintings (Rs 1,800 to upwards of Rs 2 lakh), which use semi-precious stones and gold foil to create highly skilled representations of deities in a style unique to the region, make a fine purchase. For reasonable prices and good quality, go to Poompuhar on Gandhiji Road or the antique shops on South Keezha Veedhi. You will also find Tanjore `plates' (brass plates with silver inlay work that are gifted at most government functions), bronze and panchaloha icons, brass lamps, bells and puja accessories here. Genuinely antique Tanjore paintings are now extremely rare, and can be found only in ancestral homes or abroad. We now get newly painted pieces, and some that are given an `antique finish'. Do not worry about the antiquity of the painting; buy it if it is well painted. A couple of well-known private antique dealers are: VR Govindarajan (Tel: 04362-251282) at Kuthiraikatti Street, Karanthai, and N Arumugam (Tel: 271687) at 1861, West Main Street, Thanjavur. Both these dealers operate out of their homes, which present an interesting mix of humdrum life and history. You might find a tin of Ponds talcum powder on the same shelf as a 200-year-old brass lamp.
Thanjavur is most renowned for the veena (Rs 3,500-5,000), Goddess Saraswati's divine instrument. There are around 50 veena makers in Thanjavur, many of them in the streets off Therku Veedhi. The colourful Thanjavur thalayatti bommais (head nodding doll; Rs 50 upwards) are also famous. Made of either clay or papier mache, these rounded dolls usually come in pairs and are weighted at the bottom in such a way that they rock with the gentlest breeze. A variation is the dancing doll, which, by the use of a spring, keeps shaking her head like a Bharatanatyam dancer. These dolls are available near the Punainallur Mariamman Temple or in carts outside the Big Temple.