KERALA INFO: Crafts of Kerala

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Crafts of Kerala

by by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)  (Feedback)

Ebony and Ivory

In a land where elephants and humans live in harmony, where the elephant is revered as the chariot of the Gods, Ivory is an important medium of artistic expression in Kerala. It is not only an object of beauty but also a symbol of purity. Idols of ivory, carved with extreme finesse, are found in places of worship all over the state. Wood with ivory inlay was a natural progression for the artists of Kerala. The striking contrast of the exquisitely carved dark redwood against the milky white of the inlayed ivory is simply wonderful. Screens, ashtrays, keyrings, table tops, decorative boxes, chess sets and bookcases are some of the more popular wood and 'ivory' inlay products. Now with the ban on ivory, alternatives such as bone, resins and plastic are being used.

Brass Work

In Kerala the crafting of brass vessels is an art. A method called the 'lost wax' process which has its origin in Egypt is employed in making brass items. Molds are made of clay and hot wax, the furnace is heated to nearly 800 degrees, and the molten brass is poured into it. Etching of designs is done on the finished product using sharp, chisel-like objects. The centers at Kasaragod and Trivandrum are engaged in the casting of vessels called urales which are generally large and used for cooking in large quantities in temples and at community gatherings. In Iranjalkuda, both small and large items are cast in brass and bell metal. Tall lamps used in rituals at temples were traditionally made of bell metal now are made of brass. Idols, ashtrays, fruit bowls, lamps and tabletops are some of the more popular items. Brass is also gaining in popularity for the making of some of the larger temple idols. The skilled craftsmen of the Sthapathy community polish these to perfection.

Mental Inlay in Wood Laminated Wood

The laminated wood craft originated in and around Ernakulam District in Kerala around 1975. Rosewood, Plywood, Whitewood and brass metal pieces are the main raw materials used in the craft. The rosewood and whitewood are cut into required sizes and pasted on the plywood pieces according to the various designs by using araldite as adhesive. After drying, the entire piece is fixed into the lathe machine for turning. Generally sheenlac is used for final polishing. The brass metal pieces are fixed in different designs to make the final product ready. The product ranges include Anjali Face, Dancing Lady, Peacock, Candle Stand, Star Wheel, Kathakali Heads, Wheel of Furniture, Key Stand and Butterfly etc.  

Naturepetty or Nettor Box

One of the Kerala's most exquisite wood products is a nine-sided wooden chest called naturepetty. This chest contains the bride's jewelry when she leaves for her husband's home. This box is also traditionally used for preserving the Kathakali Costumes. These chests are generally made from the jackfruit tree and sometimes rosewood, polished to perfection. Brass cut out design and hinges fitted for these boxes to use them for keeping the valuable known as 'Abharana Petti'.

Rose Wood

The large number of temples, the door, windows and ceilings of most of the ancient houses depict the high level of craftsmanship and tradition of Rosewood carving. The main theme of carving in those days was drawn out of mythology. Now, there is a new form to carve items like Elephant, Tiger, Deers etc. in different poses to suit as paper weight, book ends, lamp stands etc.

Bell Metal

Metal as a media of expression by the craftsman weather it is for creating objects to meet the religious commitments or for meeting the domestic necessities of common man, has the tradition going back to the second millennium B.C. The studies also revealed that the metal alloys have been in use for workshop art in India from time immemorial, perhaps as old as lamps, bells and other temple requirements and utensils to meet the customary requirements of the public is yet another form the metal craft practiced mainly in Kerala.


Joint Wood Articles Joint Wood Table Mat

Found in and around Quilandi of Calicut District, this is a new craft form. Rose Wood, Coconut Stem and Soft Wood (Karimuruku) are the three varieties of wood used as raw material for making the laminated joint wood table mats. The wood sliced into small sizes of diamond shape by using table saw machine, holes are made crosswise, jointed together by using nylon thread to form the mats of deferent shapes and sizes. The mats are given a coating of mansion polish by using cotton cloth and after sometime rubber to get fine finishing. The most popular designs include Star mat, Flower mat, oblong mat, stripped mat etc. 

Coconut Shell

The usual items of manufacture are cups, flower vases, snuff boxes, sugar basins, nut bowls, powder boxes and spoons. The brass broidered coconut shell is an admirable deviation from the usual coconut shell carving. Ever since the Arabs took interest in the brass broidered coconut shell hookahs, the trade has maintained certain continuity. The craft is mostly concentrated in calicut district. The shells are cut into proper sizes or shapes by using a handsaw. Specially made chisels are used for carving.

Screw Pine

Screw pine mat weaving is one of the major cottage industries in Kerala. Three types of mats are woven with Screw pine leaves. The Screw pine mat weaving has existed for more than 800 years. Embroidery on Screw pine mats is a commendable deviation from the ordinary cloth embroidery. This craft is popular in Karunagapalli Taluk of Kollam Dist, Mavelikkara & Karthikapalli Taluks of Alappuzha dist. Thazava, Vachrai and Vallikunnam Panchayaths, some villages in Thiruvananthapuram and Kottayam Districts.  
 
Horn Carving

Horn carving in Kerala is mainly concentrated in Thiruvananthapuram. The artisans belonging to Viswakarma Community are mainly practicing this craft. A wide range of utility and decorative items like flower set, birds, animals, combs & cigarette cases etc. are made out of horn.

Bamboo Reed Paintings Bamboo Mat Paintings

Bamboo mat painting is one of the major craft which requires more concentration and devotion as well as an artistic mind for the craft person. Most of the paintings are based on gods, goddess, animals, birds, scenery etc. in different sizes and attractive colours. The craft persons initially make mat of required size as canvas, draw the sketch according to the required painting, finish with bamboo reed frames at bottom and top with a tag. 
 
Lace and Embrodiery

This alien craft was introduced early in the Christian Era by a colony of Syrians who are settled in Kerala. The present form of embroidery is of a recent origin and it is believed that the London Mission Society gave a start to it during first quarter of the 19th century. The embroidery and lace work can be seen in the Eravipuram, the Changanassery, the Kottayam, the Pala, the Parrasala, the Trissur and the Cannoor. The entire lace work is done by passing fine thread attached to wooden pages around pins fixed on a cardboard for embroidery work, then the designs are first drawn on the cloth by hand or copied through a stencil. The embroidery work is done only after selecting the different colours to form an attractive pattern.

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