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Art & Culture


Industrial arts and handicrafts form an invaluable part of the Cultural heritage of Kerala. Metal crafts have the pride of place among the traditional arts. Bell-metal casting is an old time industrial art. It has involved mainly two kinds of activities. Images or idols of deities made out of copper, bronze and brass are used for consecration in temples and other religious purposes. Huge Varpus (shallow basins of hemispherical shape), multi-layered lamps and household utensils are all made of these metals. These products are noted for their high degree of perfection.

Lamps of the most artistic beauty are also made by Kerala craftsmen. The Greek lamp (Changalavatta), the Archana lamp, the Arati Dipa etc., deserve mention in this context. The Aranmula metal mirror has attained fame among the products of the bell metal industry. A product of an accident in metal casting, it is made of an alloy of copper and tin and resembles the glass mirror in every respect in point of utility. The Koftagari work, one of the popular metal crafts of India, is also being practiced by a few artisans in Trivandrum. Figures of deities, landscapes, floral designs and fancy articles of a wide variety are produced in Koftagari.

Wood craft is one of the ancient arts of Kerala as is testified to by the temples and churches of the State which abound in wood carvings. Items of furniture like chairs, tables settees, sofas, almirahs, cots, radio castings etc., and models of animals and deities, toys and Kathakali accessories produced by Kerala craftsmen are very much in demand. The models of caparisoned elephants and the carvings of Kathakali dance-dolls are items of popular demand.

Lace and embroidery work of high quality is being done 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.

Ivory carving is another 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 show piece. 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 it is cherished by tourists to the State as a memento. The craftsmen engaged in ivory carving also use other materials like the buffalo born for practicing their art.

The jewellery of Kerala is noted for its artistic perfection. Each caste or community had its 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 breast by Namboodiri women while Kasu Mala and Oddyanam were used by Tamil Brahmin. A kind of heavy guilt brass ring called Mekka Motiram was worn by Christian women after boring their ears in several places. 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 jewellery 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 which deserve mention. Granite carving is one such art, which is mainly centred in Chengannur. The granite workers manufacture a variety of articles like idols, household equipment, pillars, survey stones etc., which are in great demand. The manufacture of musical instruments like Chenda, Maddalam, Mridangam, Edakka etc., is done in some places. The costumes and accessories required in Kathakali and Teyyam are being manufactured by some craftsmen. 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. Conch-shell articles like paper weight, pin cushions, ash trays, studs etc., are made by craftsmen in the Trivandrum area. 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.

Source: IT Department, Government of Kerala