Thanjavur dancing dolls, popularly known as Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai, are traditional hand-made dolls used to decorate the house or give away as gifts. These are basically a pair of a king and a queen symbolic of the many dynasties that homed Thanjavur. These dancing dolls of Thanjavur have now been included in the Government of India Geographical Indications Registry. This has recognized the dancing dolls’ origin to belong to the city of Thanjavur lawfully.
The beautiful movement of the doll’s head adds to its uniqueness. The head and bodies of these dolls shake and are detachable too.
The dolls are believed to be made during King Saraboji’s reign in the early nineteenth century in Thanjavur. Since then this craft is being made by the creative and talented artisans of the city. The dolls were made of clay taken from the banks of river Kauvery. The fertile soil is believed to add beauty to the dolls.
The pair of King and queen dolls were the initial form of dancing doll which were the tilting versions. The curved base is heavy and is made of clay to provide weight while the upper body is hollow. The dolls are designed in such a way that it will not topple over when pushed, they just oscillate and come back to stable position. Basically these are rocking dolls with hemispherical bases.
The concept got evolved into bobble head version and then full body bobble version.
The bobble head has a stable body and the head alone bobs resembling nodding gesture. The movement in head alone is achieved by placing the detachable head on the metallic string attached to the stable base. This variety of doll is popularly known as Chettiar bommai or Thatha Paati (i.e Grand Father & Grand Mother) Doll.
The full body bobble version has four detachable parts namely, head, Torso, Skirt & Base. Each part is made separately and finally assembled on above the other. The oscillations achieved due to external forces with the help of metallic strings embedded in each part. Based on the same modus operandi, different varieties of these dolls are made namely Girl dancing doll, Kathakalli doll, Manipuri Doll and Poikkaal Kudhirai dance.
Dancing dolls were initially made of clay and then terracotta material. Owing to weight and their vulnerability to break, now paper mache is the most preferred material by the artisans. Plaster of paris, paper pulp and sago are mixed to form a dough and the dough is pressed against shape rendering moulds to make the front and back panels. Upon drying the panels are removed from moulds and paper is pasted to the inside part of the panel to add stiffness. The front and back panels are glued together and after final drying the dolls are smoothened using emery sheet. To the panels, colours are applied as per the defined design. Crafted artisan’s are deployed specifically to draw the eyes on the dolls. Finally the various parts of the dolls are assembled and tested for proper balancing.
These dancing dolls contain their core weight at the bottom-most part of their body, hence the lower part of the body is bigger than the head. This presents a dance-like movement due to its slow oscillations.