Craft traditions


The tree was probably man's earliest friend, and he held it with awe and admiration from the very beginning. Man discovered the wondrous qualities of the wood and shaped it with his own fingers to wooden houses, structures and furniture.

India boasts a luxuriant range in wood and the wood worker has evolved styles and items that particular types of wood lend themselves to, providing considerable range in wood-work.

The Indian epic Ramayana refers to Hanuman bringing down the Chaitya-Prasada shrine at Lanka. Literary sources testifies that Chaitya-Prasada and its post were made of wood
and it is very probable that the original form of the Chaitya with its gateway and column was of the same type as the stupa at Sanchi. In the Rig Veda the carpenter is referred to as taksan and tvsti, who made ladles, vessels, furniture, all in wood. The Jataka tales of the early Buddhist period speak of carpenters specialising in making boats. Images of Buddha, wood carvings in the Ramayana all tell of the rise in importance of the carpenter as a craftsman of artisitc excellence.

Kashmir has the soft toned elegant walnut and the facile deodar wood. The Kashmiri wooden architecture flourished from the 11th century AD. The lattice work called acche-dar and azli pinjra and the Khatamband are famous. The Gujarat architecture is lyrical and elaborate with its projected balconies, decorative windows and doors.

The elegant tharavad homes of Kerala, corresponding to the havelis of Gujarat, are brilliant pieces of architecture in deep brown teakwood. The sandalwood of Karnataka is used for carving items like statues of gods and goddesses, utilitarian objects, and sandalwood boxes in jali ( with patterns in high and low relief depicting epic scenes or birds and elephants) work. Red sandalwood of Andhra Pradesh is used traditionally to carve figures of deities and dolls.

There are hundreds of special occasions throughout the country when certain wooden figures are produced for rituals; famous among them is Puri Jagannath in Orissa. The magnificent wood sculptures of the Bhuta cult of ancestor-worship from coastal Karnataka are carved from solid blocks of wood obtained from the jackfruit tree. Wood carving in religious figures, whether it be in a temple or a Church, is common in India. Scenes from the epics, particularly those from the battlefield, forest and palace, in addition to figures of deities, are recurrent themes in the wood carvings.

The artisans in Uttar Pradesh are famous for their Moghul designs such as fret work, jali and anguri. The wood carving of the north-eastern tribes are executed in a wood locally known as kumisyng. Among the carved objects, the huge log drum is particulary noteworthy. A partitioned stand with three legs, rice pounding tables, wooden cups and platters, smoking pipes and musical instruments are typical Naga woodwork.

The wood carvings of the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Rajasthan include doors, window frames, "marriage-litters", wedding pillars, anthropomorphic sculptures, tobacco cases and pipes.

Wood lacquerwork is popular in Karnataka and Maharashtra. The classical style of woodwork like painted cradles, boxes and ganjifa, the traditional set of playing cards are painted with religious and mythological figures.

Wood inlay, which developed and flourished through Mughal influence involves the placing of small parts of ivory, plastic, horn, metal pieces or other types of wood into carved surfaces of wooden items. This is found in various parts of the country such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

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