Handicrafts of Karnataka
Karnataka is famous for its traditional handicrafts which have lived upto generations and still continued in various ways. Earlier the various crafts were being patronized by the royal houses but now these crafts are survived through various govenrmrnt efforts and quest for survival. Many craft traditions in Karnataka have been handed down from father to son and this continuity has helped to support a vast variety of handicrafts with their high degrees of perfection.
This has helped keep many craft traditions alive so that their practitioners can cater not only to the local population but also to the many tourists who visit Karnataka.
The very mention of Mysore spells the fragrance of sandalwood. This soft material is used extensively to produce charming art pieces. The range of objects and designs are varied and the gudigar families of Shimoga, Uttara Kannada and Mysore districts specialize in this craft. Sandalwood lends itself to extremely delicate carving that is needed to embellish the figures of gods and goddesses. Krishna images are very popular among the devout, while many prefer to buy utility articles made in sandalwood which include lamp shades, caskets, trays, jewel boxes, combs and even walking sticks with rosewood handles.
Many of the shilpis or stone carvers of Karnataka have won the master craftsmen awards at the national level while others have been commissioned to carve stone idols for Hindu temples abroad, especially in the USA. Karnataka has a village called Shivarapatana in the district of Kolar, where every fourth house is a sculptor’s studio. The stone carvers are skilled craftsmen and like the marble fabricators of Jaipur in Rajasthan, have descended from generations and feel proud that they belong to a long line of hereditary sculptors.
Metal Ware is one craft tradition that engages many families in the state. Metal Ware in Karnataka has a rich and ancient tradition and the objects serve both religious and secular needs. The temple town of Udupi is famous for its small images and ritual objects, while Karkala, an ancient Jain center, is well known for its Jain icons. Mangalore in the west coast boasts of domestic articles made of bell metal while Nagamangala near Mysore is celebrated as a center for bronze casting. The bronze makers of Nagamangala have for centuries displayed delicate and graceful workmanship especially in delineating, in the most charming manner, the anatomy of the human body.
Enter any Kannada home and your eyes will focus on the innumerable dolls that are displayed in a glass-covered shelf in the drawing room. Dolls are favourites among women and children alike and every family has a large collection of these. These are symmetrically arranged on wooden platforms, decorated and displayed during the nine day Dusshera festival when visitors are treated to delicious snacks and the celebrated Mysore coffee. Kinnal and Gokak in north Karnataka and Channapatna on the Bangalore/Mysore highway are important centers for doll making. Most of the dolls made are painted with vegetable dyes while the Channapatna ones are lacquered.
Karnataka has come to occupy pride of place in the field of woodcarving. The State’s relatively good forest cover provides enough raw material for its craftsmen who continue to employ age-old techniques to carve, inlay, veneer, paint, and lacquer articles in wood.
Their skill is manifest in the ancient temples where wood has been used extensively, as also in the intricate fixtures they make for present-day needs in architecture and furniture making. The lintels and doors of some old homes in the hilly region and the temple cars in villages and towns are literally overflowing with hundreds of intricately carved images of gods and goddesses. Rosewood articles are a favorite with the well-to-do buyers and no tourist leaves the state without carrying at least a beautifully carved rosewood elephant.
Ivory carving was yet another popular craft. In recent years, however, because of the ban imposed on the ivory trade, the craft has received a setback. But you can still find articles carved very intricately without floral tracery surrounding the figures. The figures are mostly of gods with Krishna being featured in several aspects. Some of Mysore’s masterpieces in ivory are now preserved in the Heritage Museum in Russia and in the South Kensington Museum, London.
Bidar in north Karnataka is a famous center for bidriware-a well-developed craft, which includes the use of a metal plate of an alloy made of zinc, copper, tin, and lead. This craft had its origins during the rule of the Bahamani kings. Bidri articles include ornamental jugs, bowls, plates, penholders, candlesticks, and even paper knives.
Folk Art and Craft
Some of Karnataka’s folk arts and age-old rituals have given rise to many traditional handicrafts. The worship of spirits-the bhuta cult-in the coastal districts has encouraged the making of huge wooden idols, some of which are kept outside villages as guardians of the inhabitants. Likewise, the art of puppetry has encouraged many wood carvers and painters to produce a variety of puppets. In addition to puppets made of wood, Karnataka also makes leather puppets though the latter are more extensively used and made in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
The story of Karnataka’s arts and crafts is never complete without a reference to the traditional Mysore paintings. The art dates back to the Ajanta times and to the reign of the Vijayanagar kings. It was a ruler with an artistic vision-Mummadri Krishnaraja Wadiyar-who revived the art of painting. The delicate lines, the graceful delineation of figures and the discreet use of bright vegetable colors and lustrous gold leaf, make the traditional paintings of Mysore very elegant and attractive. Many senior traditional painters have now started schools to teach this art to the younger generation. Chitrakala Parishat in Bangalore, which has a fantastic collection of old paintings, has also started a school headed by the living doyen of traditional painting, Subramanya Raju.
The very word silk has a touch of class about it. Sensuous and romantic, it has fascinated man for many centuries. In Karnataka, as in other parts of India where silk is fancied, it is, in fact, a way of life. It has also become an inseparable part of the Kannada culture and tradition. No ritual in complete without the participants wearing silk in some form or another.
Karnataka has contributed a great deal to the progress of India’s silk industry. Karnataka’s 200-year-old silk industry owes its origin to Tipu Sultan who ruled Mysore with his capital at Srirangapatna. Tipu showed a very personal interest in sericulture and sent his people to Bengal to obtain silk worms. He also established 21 centers in his dominion to rear the silk worm thus providing the required foundation for sericulture in the region. Sericulture received yet another boost during World War II when parachute manufacturers needed large quantities of the fabric. As China, the largest producer, was then under Japanese occupation, the Allies obtained silk from India especially from Mysore. Necessity compelled the British to encourage silk production not only in the then Mysore State (now Karnataka) but also in the neighboring regions. Today, Karnataka alone is contributing 75 per cent of mulberry silk to the nation’s production.
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