Terracotta Ayyanaar Figures of Tamil Nadu

Terracotta Ayyanaar Figures of Tamil Nadu

Traditionally all the villages in Tamil Nadu had clay figures of the village diety Ayyanaar accompanied by his army who guarded their entrance; the belief system was and is till today that these figures guard the villages from evil. There is a temple built for the deities and this temple traditionally located at the entrance to the village, usually in a thicket of trees with a lake or pond nearby. The diety Ayyanaar is known by different names across the villages of Tamil Nadu as he is a folk deity and each village has differing stories and legends of the miracles wrought by him. The sight of these silent sentinels standing guard in a vast group is awe inspiring.

All the figures are made of clay which is specially treated and well mixed to give it a malleable working consistency. The figures are painted in bright colours with each colour conveying a meaning. The figures are made large in size, almost lifesize and each year one or two new figures are added to the army as the old figures lose shape and strength over time. The artisans who mould the Ayyanaar figures make other clay products too, depending on utility, demand and season. Districts like Salem and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and parts of Pondicherry are well known for these figures. The fascinating aspect is how these age-old beliefs have stood the test of time and are still strongly and widely prevalent in the region.

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