Ivory Work

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Ivory art in Kerala dates back to the era of Swati Tirunal Maharaja. A throne of ivory chiseled by the Raja is a remarkable work of art. The Maharaja of Cochin is famous for his tortoise shaped palanquin made of ivory,that blooms into an elegant floral shape. The figures of birds and animals adorn the palanquin.

Ivory carving, like the making of coir, is a painstaking and elaborate task. It calls for meticulous precision and an aesthetic sensibility. The tusk has to be hacked with great care. This requires the labor of a couple of men, approximately. Then comes the most difficult part of the process. The artisan has to dexterously draw the pattern that he wants to carve on the surface of the ivory and cut it out with great care. The uneven ivory surface is then polished to its gleaming best with sandpaper. The white and yellow category of ivories are treated differently. While the white ivory gets a methylated spirit treatment , the yellow ivory is decolorized with water and hydrogen.

Scenes from the Ramayana finds depiction in the ivory art of Kerala. The very nuances of the performances are effectively chiseled on the milk white ivory surface. The very famous snake boat races, that is a stunning spectacle of hundred boats competing with each other, is a popular ivory memento. The chundan vallam or the boat races are popular tourist haunts, made famous by the Nehru Boat Race of Alappuzha , initiated in 1952. Ivory artisans also carve out elegant showpieces like ashtrays, figures of birds, animals, deities and a host of other premium quality products, that exudes class and stands as luxury items. This is, however, a dying art form, like many others, that is fast fading into oblivion.

Thazhapaya Mats

Posted by Admin | 1:08 AM

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Screw pine weaving of mats is one of the traditional crafts practiced by women in Kerala. The leaves for this mat are taken from the sword-shaped thorny screw-pine plant. The process is tough as the leaf has sharp thorns growing in both directions. Two different types of pines are used in the making of mats. The short variety is used for a large number of items as it can be both faded and painted. The finer varieties of mats need narrower splits and as they need to be extra silk therefore they are boiled in the pure milk.

The weaving is done crosswise; and interlacing continues as new strips are added. On completion the edges are hemmed with narrow screw-pine strips. Superfine mats made of very fine screw-pine leaf splints placed at 8 to 10 per inch are woven by the highly skilled craftsmen. The products made are table mats, bags, cushion covers wall hangings, and beach hats. In the rough textured variety of mats the edges are woven simultaneously and the weaving starts with dual strips, while at the edges it is continued with a single strip. Decorative embroidery adds to the beauty of the products.

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Besides being the ubiquitous herbal beauty product and an indispensable item used during the religious rituals, the sandalwood is also a popular decorative tool. Kerala is a repository of this fascinating handicraft. The temples of Kerala are a treasure trove of sandalwood art with intricately carved pillars, beams, door frames. In fact you would be gripped to know that each house used to have a temple that was beautified with sandalwood carving. The pillars, beams , brackets were adorned with flora and fauna images. The Matsya Purana has it that the carved wooden door frames were the perfect way to usher guests. This art became the trendsetter of sorts for temples and buildings across the country. The enamoring temple art is, however, slowly dying.

Chests, furniture, collector’s items like paper weights, candle stands, incense stick stands are the top draws. The spell binding Kathakali is fodder for the sandalwood artisans. Beautiful models in several riveting poses, with the nuances of a live performance captured, adorns many a art lovers’ house. Other mythological characters too are represented. The elephant which is considered a religious icon and is worshipped with great pomp and grandeur, also finds prominent depiction in the sandalwood art. Nut containers, flower vases, snuff boxes are some of the other popular items that are carved out of sandalwood.

The sandalwood artisans follow different patterns like the engraved form, sculptural relief and clip. Cochin, Ernakulam, Travancore, Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram have gained reputation for their magnificent sandalwood artistry. Each place has its own unique selling point. The Travancore artisans etch out motifs in bold patterns. The carved tables and chairs stand on equally engraved legs which are often chiseled in the shape of vyali, which is considered to be the protector of gods. The mandapam form is another pattern of sandalwood art prevalent in Thiruvananthapuram temples. The Mahadeva temple is a case in point. The mandapam model comprises a chiseled out Lord Brahma riding on a swan, surrounded by a host of other deities. The churches of Kerala also fine testimonials of the sandalwood art. Sandalwood is an auspicious commodity in a Keralite’s life.

Maps of India is your guide on a virtual tour of Kerala. It tells you all that you need to know about the traditional handicrafts of the state ranging from the brass and bell metal industry to the sandalwood carving art.

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Trivandrum and Trichur have skilled artists practicing rose wood carving from generations together. Decorative items such as tiger, camel, elephants, kathakali dancers, Christ, couple dressed in the traditional attire and Buddha are a few rosewood carving products which are in high demand.

Grass Mats

Posted by Admin | 1:03 AM

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Mats made with kora / sedge grass are extremely delicate and highly valued. Kora grass is found in abundance along the banks of the rivers and in marshy areas in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The process of creating the mat is painstaking and time consuming. The grass which grows to a height of 3-4 feet is green in colour. The grass is harvested in the months of September/ October and February/March and is cut very finely while it is still green. The outer part of the stem is used for weaving while the inside of the stem is removed with a sharp-edged knife. The strips of grass are then dried in the hot sun and care is taken not to expose the grass to humidity, as they tend to turn black with the exposure. As the dried grass strips turn a yellowish green colour they are boiled in a pot of water and then dried again. The dried grass is made up into bundles and then soaked in running water so that the grass remains just below the surface of the water for three to seven days which causes the grass to swell up to three times its original size. After it is then dried again in the sun the slow process of weaving commences on a floor loom. Once the weaving is complete, the mat is dried in the sun for a short while after which it is polished.

With the introduction of chemical dyes a wide hue of colours are now being incorporated into mat making which otherwise used red and black colours. The mats which are extremely reliable and can be easily folded include the 5 x 3 feet sleeping mat, prayer mats, table mats and panthi mats which are used to sit on while eating.

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In the previous time the handmade paper craft was mainly carried out by Muslims known as Kagzis or the paper – makers. These craftsmen have their root in Arabia and over the years they have migrated to India mainly during the period of the Ghazni invasions(A.D. 997-1030). The craft flourished in India thereafter as the Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Mughals were fond of books, paintings and written works. Today the craft is fading because of the mill made paper.

In olden days the process fo paper making was slow but over the years the industry has advanced with new technology and methods evolving to make the process faster. A variety of materials are also used, of which, sun-hemp, flax, sisal, water hyacinth and bamboo are most common.

Hand made paper besides being aesthetic, is economical and environment friendly, characteristics which are dependant on the production process and uses waste material that has low energy requirement and is non polluting.