The Chola dynasty was the dominant cultural, artistic, religious and political force in south India, for a period of four hundred years from the ninth to thirteenth century. Its dynasty extended till Sri Lanka and nearby Maldives islands, maintained regular contact with Java, Myanmar, Malaysia and china. Enlightened patrons of the arts, Chola rulers commissioned elegant sculptures and dedicated majestic temples to Hindu deities in order to proclaim the power, wealth, and piety of Chola dynasty. During this golden age, the arts music and dance, poetry and drama, architecture and sculpture flourished.
Rajaraja Chola, born as Arunmozhivarman was one of the greatest kings born to Parantaka chola II and Vanavan Mahadevi. He was a Valiant warrior and a master strategist who built his empire by his might of his army, navy and political treaties. Rajaraja built the Great Temple of Thanjavur. It is a magnificent haven of architecture, sculpture and paintings. During the construction of temple Rajaraja brought carpenters, sculptors, goldsmiths, stone masons and other artists from places all around to build the temple. After the construction of the temple these people settled down in and around Thanjavur. Swami Malai is one such place.
Swami Malai is a panchayat town near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur District. It lies on the banks of river Kaveri and is one of the six abodes of the Lord Muruga. One group of artists called as “Sthapati” settled in this region. Sthapati means an architect or master carpenter or builder. These people after settling down in Swamimalai started making bronze icons. Since the time of Rajaraja chola these sthapati are producing bronze icons which are spread all around the world.
Sthapati’s comes under vishwakarma community. The designers and artists of the classical Indian traditions of sculpture (stone and metal) and architecture were known as the Vishwakarma community, whose name is mentioned in the ancient Vedas and the Puranas. In south India, the Vishwakarma community of artisans is also known as the Kammalas.
During the Thanjavur temple construction time Sthapati’s emerged a distinct class of craftsmen. They are not merely stone carvers or metal workers but something more.” Their familiarity with the Shilpa Shastras, the complex nature of metal icon production, and other religious traditions related to their craft has elevated them beyond the rank of ordinary craftsmen.
The Sthapathi community in Swamimalai who trace their descent back to an ancestor named Agora Veerapathira Sthapathy from the time of the temple construction are residing in that region. Around three hundred families are presently into bronze casting business.
One such family is presently staying in Swami Malai Sri S. Devasenapathy Sthapathy and sons. Mr. Devasenpathy sthapathy is a National award winner and is the founder of Sri Jayam.