Tamil Nadu is acclaimed as a souvenir-shoppers-stop. Stone and bronze carvings were heavily patronized by the Cholas, Pallavas and the Chettiars. The modern carvings today owe their attributes to this royal lineage. The temple corridors and spires showcase a rich exhibition of this fine art to the tourists and students of art from all over the world.
In the carving industry, stone carving has carved a great niche for itself, largely because of the availability of the raw material and as an industry that grew under Temple Architecture. There are big sculptures of deities that have been carted away to other states in the south because of the workmanship that only Tamil Nadu can boast of.
Madurai is the prime centre of stone sculpting and the most popular themes are deities and animals. Today, granite and soapstone sculptures are available in plenty. The best centre of bronze casting is Swamimalai, in Kumbakonam district, with smaller centres strewn around Thanjavur and Cudallore.
Brass also has a place in artistic handiwork, though it is mostly used to make household and puja utensils. Casting in mould is the usual method but for exquisite works it may be forged or beaten. Among the household items the most popular is the lamp and urli (circular vessel). It is customary in Hindu families to worship fire and sun at sunrise and sunset. So a vast collection of lamps are available in various forms and stature. Tall standing lamps are usually found in the royal houses even as the new fashion conscious household has the lamp holding figurines to add a little aesthetic value.
Jewellery is another major industry, popularized largely by the ornaments used by the affluent Chettiar families. The Chettiars as traders have taken the fame of the skilled jewel smiths all over the trade route. There is a potential market slowly growing for the distinctive diyaanam (girdle), Chettiar thali and the navarathna ring which holds the nine gems related to the zodiac.