Paintings, tapestries, sculptures, architecture are just a few from the finest of the zillions of arts and crafts prevalent in the ancient land of India. Skills handed down over generations through this artistic land, makes it home to some of the most unique art and crafts found all over the world.
The breathtaking “God’s own Country”, Kerala is one of the gems in the crown of this magnificent country, producing some of the finest handicrafts with the indigenous methods and skills carried down through time.
Kerala showcases the expertise in woodcraft in every nook and cranny of the state in the form of temple art and other architectural carvings. There are several different items of furniture such as chairs, table settees, sofas, almirahs, cots, radio castings etc., and models of animals and deities, toys and Kathakali accessories produced by Kerala craftsmen that are in high demand. The models of caparisoned elephants and the carvings of Kathakali dance-dolls are other major attractions.
Making Kathakali headgears, ornaments and costumes is a traditional occupation in Kerala. Woodcraft also plays a part here. The models are made in different sizes from teak and jack wood and are painted in the brilliant colors of the traditional makeup of Kathakali characters. Rosewood is used for models of animals, the elephant being a favorite, and the comparatively cheaper mango wood for toys. Articles like stands, flower-vases, lamp-stands, umbrella-handles and toys are given lacquer-work finish.
Varieties of lamps are produced in Kerala. Nelavilakku and thookuvialakku are the lamps, which are made for the temples, and the prayer rooms are popular all over India. Lamps embellished with a peacock, garuda or with the figure of a god or goddess are the ones found most commonly. These lamps are multi tiered and hanging lamps of different sizes are also famous.
Trivandrum, Angadipuram and Payyanur in Cannanore are the trade centers for statuary art, which can be seen very clearly in the temple images. There are skilled craftsmen at Kerala practicing Koftagiri, which is the inlay of a light colored metal on a darker metal surface, which was used for weapons and arms.
The Greek lamp (Changalavatta), the Archana lamp, the Arati Dipa etc are some such beautifully crafted lamps. The Aranmula metal mirror has attained fame among the products of the bell metal products. An outcome of an accident in metal casting, it is made of an alloy of copper and tin and resembles the mirror in every respect.
The sculptures of Kerala have been created down history and were mainly designed for temples. The sculptors of the yester years were engaged in making carvings on stones and rocks. One such creation in stone is the three figures seen in the cave temple at Kaviyoor belonging to the 8th century. Another sculpture of the same period is the rock cut sculpture at Vizhinjam. It has close similarity to the works of the Pallavas. There are stone carvings at the Edakkal caves in Sulthan Battery. These carvings include various figures of both animals and humans and certain symbols used by the people. The period of creation of these carvings are not yet found. The sculptures of southern part are influenced by the Pandyans whereas that of the northern part is influenced by the Pallavas. The typical sculptural works include figures of gods, animals and dancers.
Crafts from Flora
The indigenous craftsmanship of creating handicrafts from the naturally occurring flora is one other marvelous art of Kerala. Screw pine mat weaving is one of such handicraft. Articles such as pillow covers, cushions, vanity bags, purses, hats etc., are made of screw pine. The art of weaving bamboo-reed mats, baskets and fancy articles is another of the popular Kerala handicrafts. Kora grass is similarly used for making mats of different sizes and colors. Rattan is used in the manufacture of articles of daily use like chairs, settees, teapoys, cradles, trays, shopping bags and a variety of other utility-cum-fancy articles. The coconut shell is used for the manufacture of such articles of utility and beauty as lamp stands, flower vases, ashtrays etc. Coir carpets and matting produced in many attractive designs and colours find a ready market in India and abroad.
Kerala mural paintings are the frescos depicting mythology and legends, which are drawn on the walls of temples and churches in South India, principally in Kerala. Ancient temples, churches and palaces in Kerala, South India, display an abounding tradition of mural paintings mostly dating back between the 9th to 12th centuries CE when this form of art enjoyed Royal patronage.
The masterpieces of Kerala mural art include: the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor, the Ramayana murals of Mattancherry Palace and Vadakkumnatha kshetram. The “Gajendra Moksham” mural painting in the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam, the Ananthasayanam mural painting in the Pallikurup Mahavishnu Temple, Mannarkkad Palakkad District and the mural paintings in the sanctum of Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram are very famous.Some of the oldest, largest, and best executed murals in Kerala are to be found in the churches at Cheppad, Alappuzha (dozens of panels on the three walls of the Madhbaha depicting scenes from OT and NT),Paliyekkara, Thiruvalla ( a dozen panels, scenes from NT), Angamaly(esp. huge murals “Hell”, and “Last Judgement”), and Akapparambu
Textile has been a famous and established craft in Kerala since time immemorial. Lace and embroidery work of high quality are weaved by women in several parts of Kerala. The Talangara village of Kasaragod taluk is famous for the textile cap making industry. The cotton caps manufactured here find a ready market in the African and Gulf Countries.
Hand-woven extravaganza: Amongst the various types of hand-woven goods, Kerala’s kasavu sarees find great favour among women all over the country and even abroad. Their remarkably fine count, texture and rich gold borders are the chief reasons for their unique appeal.
Ivory carving is another famous traditional art of Kerala. The art was given an impetus by Swati Tirunal Maharaja. An ivory throne made by Swati Tirunal is still preserved as a showpiece. The craftsmen engaged in this art at present produce a variety of models of mythological characters, animals, birds, cigarette cases etc., to cater to different tastes. A typical specimen of ivory carving produced in Kerala is that of the snake boat (Chundan vallam) and tourists to the State as a memento cherish it. The craftsmen engaged in ivory carving also use other materials like the buffalo bone for practicing their art.
The jewelry of Kerala is noted for its artistic perfection. Each caste or community have their typical ornament. An ornament of the Nair women was Nagapadam or serpent hood, so called after the shape of the pendant. An ear ornament called Toda, a double convex disc, was worn after dilating the earlobes. Mukkuthi was an ornament for nose and Kappu for the wrist. The most important ornaments for the neck were Addyal, Yantram, Avil Mala and Puli Nakham. Cherutali was a kind of necklace worn loose over the breasts by the Namboodiri women; while the Tamil Brahmins used Kasi Mala and Oddyanam. Christian women wore a kind of heavy guilt brass ring called Mekka Motiram. Ottezhapathakkam, Kombu, Tala etc., were also typical Christian ornaments. Though most of the traditional ornaments mentioned above have become defunct now, the Kerala women are still found of ornaments, and jewelry items like necklaces, bangles, chains, earrings, studs etc., are now made by Kerala goldsmiths in a variety of attractive designs.
Apart from the main crafts described above, there are also a few others like granite carving, which is mainly centered in Chengannur. The granite workers manufacture a variety of articles like idols, household equipment, pillars, and survey stones etc., which are in great demand. The manufacture of musical instruments like Chenda, Maddalam, Mridangam, Edakka etc., is done in some places.
Kerala’s traditional metal craft widely acclaimed world over is ‘the Metal Mirror of Aranmula’ created by the highly skilled odu/bronze workers of the village of Aranmula, near Pathanamthitta, use metal alloy plates which were polished into a highly reflective surface, matching the reflective quality of glass mirrors.
In Tellicherry, the home of Indian circus, the peculiar kinds of umbrella required by circus companies are manufactured. Being a maritime State, Kerala has its own handicrafts based on marine materials. Craftsmen in the Trivandrum area make conch-shell articles like paperweight, pincushions, ashtrayas, studs etc. In Kasaragod area articles like bangles, vanity bags and name boards are made of glass beads. Thus the legacy of Kerala in the field of arts and crafts is a rich and varied one.
Handicrafts in Kerala are either hereditary occupation or practiced by amateurs who have great interest in the art. Kerala has the tradition of making beautiful handicrafts with ivory, bamboo, palm leaves, seashells, wood, coconut shells, clay, cloth, metals, stone etc. Many old handicraft classics can be seen in Palaces, old heritage homes, museums, etc. The artists are experts in making beautiful flower vases, ash trays, ornamental plates, jewel boxes, miniature boats, elephants, idols, Kathakali masks, embroidery works, etc.
From art, the handicrafts have evolved into a small-scale industry in Kerala. The making, domestic selling and exporting are increasing and now there are many institutes giving training in handicrafts.