On a cold December afternoon in Bihar, Padmini and I were doing our best to keep ourselves warm. Our back-packs did not allow for elaborate winter clothing and we hoped to get by wearing multiple tee shirts under a thin sweater. It was about 4 pm when we reached the Sikki Sangh, a women’s co-operative in Ratwa. Working with incredible speed and weaving multi-coloured baskets, these women seemed oblivious to the biting chill. Their fingers flew in a kind of rhythm that seemed to warm them while the constant banter distracted their minds away from the cold.

Over a sip of piping hot tea, I addressed :)  the bunch of ‘didis’ (elder sister as we call them here). I gave them drawings of what I expect, the colour combinations that will work and the little details that could go in for the ‘wow’ effect. Using a battery operated emergency lamp, we pored over the designs. Working late on winter afternoon is not a great idea as the sun sets quite early in these parts. So coupled with the erratic power supply, the women prefer starting their day early to weave as many baskets as possible during the sunlit hours. Sometimes during the festival season, the orders are big and they weave at night in their homes. Since the weaving process is intricate, it causes a huge strain on their eyes.

Sikki basket weaving was previously a domestic activity. The women weave baskets from the locally availbale Sikki (golden grass) grass. Though most of the baskets are used to store knick-knacks at home, special ones are woven by the mother to be used as dowry boxes for the daughter.

Little toys are also made for children. The grass is available in abundance during the summer and winter months. Copious rains turn huge areas into swaps where this grass thrives.

Once the rainy season comes to a close, the slowly drying swamps yield piles of grass. This is then dyed with colours and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the grass is cleaned and cut into thin strips that are then woven into baskets, toys, trays, etc.

Some complex designs have been tried. This lamp here was designed by designers from the Jiyo project.

We left Rathwa just when the sun was about to set. It was the end of a long cold day and we were hoping the cheerful faces we left behind and some frantic texting would bring some warmth to our cold fingers.

According to Wikipedia, India has about 882 million mobile phone users. The number of land line connections are a mere 35 million and they have been around far far longer than mobile phones. Compare this with a basic need like electricity. In December 2011, over 300 million Indian citizens had no access to electricity.Over one third of India’s rural population lacked electricity, as did 6% of the urban population. Of those who did have access to electricity in India, the supply was intermittent and unreliable. In 2010, blackouts and power shedding interrupted irrigation and manufacturing across the country (Source: Wikipedia)

While such growth and potential have caused major scams and losses amounting to several crore rupees, the telecom sector has given rise to many heartening signs. The numbers above claim that about 70% of our population have access to mobile phones. This means so many people can connect easily with the rest of the world.

Consider a situation 10 years ago for any Indian village. While the urban areas were getting better, the villages did not see any major growth. Our GDP rose rapidly, thanks to all the development in the service sector. In the middle of these shining statistics, a huge bulk of India was left behind. They had no access to power, clean drinking water, sanitation, primary education and no focus on women’s development. While successive governments were battling these basic issues, protecting local art and craft was not on the list.

As with most businesses that flourish mainly because of demand, this one started dying a slow death. Craftsmen moved to alternate livelihoods. The most skilled painters were working as a daily wage labourers building huge skyscrapers for the urban audience that was growing by the day. Some of those who retained their craft started making low quality products in order to speed up their production.They used low quality raw materials. They were fighting a battle against mass produced inexpensive machine made products. Quality deteriorated and so did the demand. The second generation did not see a lucrative livelihood in this and they refused to learn the art.

Today the scenario is a little different. A craftsman can set up a stall in one of the many exhibitions. He can pass on his mobile number to prospective customers. They customers can use that number to call him and place additional orders. He can stay in touch with designs with the help of MMS, market information, exhibitions via text messages and forums. His business is slowly coming back. At this point, he should be helped with some inputs on design and quality, better supply chain processes and a steady market for his products. He needs to be handheld for a while, till he is able to work on his own and even train the next generation. All this will take some time.

From my side, I am glad for this. I am able to connect with artisans across the country. I use technology to help bridge the gap. I use technology to introduce them to urban centric products and aesthetics. I am helping them earn a livelihood with what they know best. I hope the next generation too will see this potential and take up the craft.

And my sincere thanks to the telecom industry for this.

It’s Diwali again. The time of the year when everything is so happy and festive. The time when winters are here and so are the hot chocolate and coffee sessions with friends. I am particularly fond of candles, little diyas and I cannot have enough candle holders at home. On one my trips to Udaipur in Rajasthan, I found this beautiful hand-carved marble piece. I got one for myself and the many compliments I’ve received over the months has inspired me to make this a part of the Diwali Gift Hamper.

Tea light hand carved with marble

Tea light hand carved with marble

Here is how the lit one looks. It casts a beautiful shadow all around it.

Diwali gift boxes

Diwali gift boxes

Gift Hamper from CraftCanvas (GS001). Combined with dry fruits and scented candles, the marble tea light holder is packed in an attractive box. Priced at Rs. 699/-

Ganesha Dhokra Diwali gift box

Ganesha Dhokra Diwali gift box

Another one with a little ‘Dhokra‘ Ganesha from Dhenkanal, Orissa- one of the Ganesha’s from the band. Priced at Rs.599/-.

Diwali gift boxes packaging

Diwali gift boxes packaging

Boxes made in subtle, yet rich Diwali colours. Perfect for Diwali gifting.

You can click here for more photos and email craftcanvas@gmail.com in case you are interested.

This item is available at our eBay Store.

How to order Athangudi Tiles?

  1. There are various designs. You can choose a design and colour of your choice. Click here for a catalog of designs.
  2. You can also custom make designs. In this case, you need to pay the cost of the mould.
  3. Once the order is placed, the tiles are produced. The tiles cannot be stocked for a long time as the ends are porous and discolouration is bound to occur at the corners.
  4. Only about 75 sq ft can be produced each day.
  5. The tiles are about an inch in thickness. Three size options are available- 6 by 6 inches, 8 by 8 inches and 10 by 10 inches.

How are Athangudi tiles laid?

  1. The laying process is different from the regular tile laying process. Masons from Karaikudi should be employed as they understand the process better.
  2. For a minimum of 600 sq ft, the local masons are willing to travel anywhere in India for the laying process. Depending on the quantum of work, one or two helpers need to be provided for the masons. Please note that the mason speaks only Tamizh. A better idea would be to source low cost labour from Karaikudi itself.
  3. Rice husk is used for polishing, which is also sourced from Karaikudi.
  4. About 100 sq ft can be laid in a day.  Post laying, 2-3 days are required for polishing. The polished tile reflects light like a mirror.

How are Athangudi Tiles maintained?

  1. The tile responds well to use. The more you walk on it, the shinier it gets. Non usage may dull the tile. Hence, it is not advisable to use as wall tiles.
  2. Regular cleaning should do. You can even wash the floors. Once a week, mop the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil. It keeps the sheen intact.

What areas are best suited to Athangudi tiles?

  1. It is best suited to porches, verandahs and living rooms where traffic is quite high.
  2. Not advisable for kitchens and open to sunlight areas.
  3. For smaller size rooms, use smaller and less intricate designs. The more intricate ones look dramatic in larger areas.

 

Athangudi tile designs from Karaikudi

Athangudi tile designs from Karaikudi

It’s been 2 years since I set my eyes on Athangudi tiles. I saw it on a blog that I frequent and it was love at first sight. I’ve spent all these months planning for a trip to Karaikudi. I travel quite a bit, but this trip wasn’t just coming through. When I finally managed to get here, the trip was just perfect. Two really close people, one a friend with whom I’ve spent the dreamy years of college giggling, shopping and forging a friendship for the rest of our lives. The other one is an interesting story, I’ve hardly met him thrice in the ten odd years that I’ve known him and we get along very well.

In the coming weeks, I will write about all the wonderful sights and people we met in this packed four day trip. For now, let me start with my first love.

Athangudi tiles in Chettiar mansions

Athangudi tiles in Chettiar mansions

Athangudi is a relatively new craft. The region is dominated by Chettiars, a community of rich traders. The Chettairs built fabulous mansions with wooden pillars, Belgian and Japanese tiles, Italian marbles and imported stained glass. But over time, they realized that repairs were expensive due to the non availability of spares. So the inherently enterprising community set up an industry that made replicas of the imported tiles. The sand from Athangudi suited this procedure the best and this village became the hub of tile production.

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) Made with white cement, sand and pigments, the tiles are entirely hand-made. Colors mixed with white cement are poured using a mould on a glass base. The glass helps in giving the tile a smooth, polished surface.

Athangudi tiles blue and red

Athangudi tiles blue and red

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) The design is packed with cement on top and left to dry in the sun.

Athangudi tiles out to dry

Athangudi tiles out to dry

It is later cured in water for a couple of days and again dried in the sun.

The laying process involves the use of sand, cement, lime and the top is polished with rice husk.

There are about 60 designs, will try to put it up on Flickr with product codes. Here are some of them.

Athangudi tiles contemporary design

Athangudi tiles contemporary design

 

Athangudi tiles on a staircase

Athangudi tiles on a staircase

Ulsoor is just a stone’s throw away from the heart of the city.Nestled in between hundreds of bylanes, there are two small workshops making replicas of old doors. Those old doors were once made by their grandfathers. The replicas are made mostly with the help of machines, only the last bit of detailing is done manually.

Carving a replica in wood

Carving a replica

Here is a lamp stand in an old house that needs a pair. The new one is machine cut and will end up looking less imperfect, less intricate and in the process less beautiful than the original.

Tools for carving wood

Tools for carving wood

The tools are still simple. A compass, a measuring scale and a hammer.

Chisels for carving wood

Chisels for carving

Different sizes of chisels for various degrees of carving.

New designs for Pooja room doors carved in wood

New designs for Pooja room doors

Nowadays, owing to the decline in demand, small parts of the door or the pooja (prayer) room doors are made here. With such options available in synthetic materials like fiber and plastic, the craft is definitely on the verge of extinction.

Reupholstering a vintage chair

Re-upholstering a vintage chair

It mostly serves as a repair centre for old doors and furniture. This beautiful chair is being refurbished and a replica has also been ordered.

A era gone by. Bangalore is no more the place it used to be, isn’t it?

I’ve lived in Bangalore for a year. Yet I’ve never come across this place called ‘Oklipura’. Usually crafts are made in villages and I had no clue how to find them. I just knew they were in Oklipura (purely based on some reference in a book), but the address was not known.

So I walked around the neighborhood for about an hour and finally was directed to the right place by the local dhobi (launderer). There I met a very enterprising lady, the daughter of the master craftsman who explained the details. For generations they have been catering to their clients in South Karnataka.

Dakshin Kannada district is known for its unique culture. Bhuta Kola or Holy Spirit worship is a stylised form of ritual dance of the spirit impersonator. It is quite similar to ‘Theyyam’, an art form from the Malabar region of Kerala.

Yakshagana Bhoota mask

Yakshagana Bhoota mask

An interesting form of dance-ritual called ‘Yakshagana’ a dance-drama creating the world of divine and super human beings with all the paraphernalia of costumes, make ups, music, dance and dialogue is practised. A mask of the demon God is worn during this ritual.

 

The sculptures are made in various sizes for different purposes. For sake of puja at home, sizes smaller than a palm size are only used. Any size bigger than a size of a palm are either worshipped in temples or used as decorative pieces at home. Panch Dhatu, an alloy of five metals or Brass is used to make these figures.

Mahishasura metal sculpture

Mahishasura metal sculpture

Spirits are classified as animisitic or they represent Puranic Gods, Cultural heroes or local characters. Mahishasura, the bull demon is worshipped.

Varaha metal sculpture

Varaha metal sculpture

Varaha, an avatar of Vishnu where he was a boar is also worshipped.

Goddess Lakshmi's bust

Goddess Lakshmi's bust

Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in a different form here. The picture shows the top part of the body of Goddess Lakshmi.  I left the workshop with a fascinating fact told by the lady. She said that the none of these idols are worshipped by people who make them. And its been that way for generations.

Hanuman puppet

Hanuman puppet

I got a leather puppet custom-made to fit my balcony window. It is a 6 ft tall structure of Radha in all her splendour. There was a Krishna too in beautiful blue, but I needed just one and I chose Radha over Krishna. I haven’t installed the structure yet. Once it is in its place, I will definitely put up a picture.

Tulsi Rao, Charmakari artisan

Tulsi Rao, Charmakari artisan

Once of my friends Nisha Subramaniam (I call her ‘Nishakka‘) had been here earlier. I’d asked her to get me a puppet. Once I saw my ‘Radha‘, I had to see the whole thing myself. So my recent trip to B’lore took me to Nimmalakunta, a 3 hour drive from Bangalore. Here I met Tulsi Rao (the one on the left) who was happily dozing under the cool shade of a banyan tree. I had spoken to him countless times over the telephone. Though we speak no common language, we have mastered the art of communication in such circumstances.

Radhamma, Tulsi Rao's sister and a puppeteer

Radhamma, Tulsi Rao's sister

Almost everyone in the village is involved in either making puppets or hosting shows. Here is Tulsi Rao’s sister, who plays the female lead in the puppet shows.

Preparing the leather canvas

Preparing the leather canvas

Made with goat leather that is soaked in water and dried, the translucent sheets of leather are used as canvases for these puppets. The basic deign is sketched on the sheet, cut out to form a puppet and then coloured.

Tools for punching leather

Tools for punching leather

Holes are punched into these puppets with simple tools. These holes let light pass through when held against it. This contrast is used for the puppet show.

Leather lampshades

Leather lampshades

Nowadays, owing to the lack of interest in puppet shows, business has taken a downturn. So colourful lamps are made to cater to the current market trends.

Dasavatar punched leather puppet

Dasavatar punched leather puppet

Tulsi Rao was all enthusiastic as he took out his harmonium and played ‘Bahut Pyaar Karte Hain Tumko Sanam‘. He also showed us a minute long puppet show. But what took my breath away was this Vishnu’s Dasavatar (10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu) piece that he had made.

Scene from the Ramayana

Scene from the Ramayana

Ramayana is a very common theme for their puppet show. Here is Hanuman and Sita.

Animal puppets, deer

Animal puppets, deer

And here is the deer that lured Sita away! :)

Lord Ram puppet

Lord Ram

So many beautiful pictures, an amazing bunch of people. Here is my favorite picture.

And if your glass door is asking for something like this, any design, any size can be custom made. How about a back-lit panel of Lord Krishna for the Pooja room door? :)

Please click here for more pictures.

After the overwhelming response on my wall project, I had to write about the craftsman who made those wonderful plaques.

Local myth claims that a blind ancestor was granted vision by the local deity ‘Dharmaraja’. The blind man sculpted the god’s shadow on a two dimensional plaque. Thus evolved this practice of making plaques, instead of three dimensional figures.

Molela Artisan's own wall

Artisan’s own wall

Molela is a quaint village, the one that you will normally miss on your way to Nathdwara. The only signboard is usually hidden under layers of movie posters. Once you get there, the rows of houses with their terracotta wares is the first sight to greet you. I wanted to visit each one of them. I started with the first one, spent around four hours and reluctantly left the place without any time for the rest.

Lady working on the design of terracotta plaques from Molela

Lady working on the design

I visited master craftsman Jamnalal Kumbhar’s home. I entered a workshop where his entire family was involved in making these plaques. Here is the picture of his wife putting in the final finishes on the plaque.

Storing terracotta plaques in the workshop

Storing terracotta plaques

The entire household revolves around his work. Stacks of these plaques are found everywhere. While I was there, Jamnalal was working on an order for a thousand plaques for a home in Delhi!

The clay is collected from the local river bed, dried and beaten to a fine powder. This is then mixed with donkey dung (binding agent)! and water. The mixture is used to make the plaques. For the details, balls and strings of this mixture are used. The basic idea is in the craftsman’s mind, which is further improvised on the go.

Colourful plaques for sale to tribals

Colourful plaques for sale to tribals

The local deity is ‘Dharmaraja’ and during the months of March-April,  tribal communities from as far as Madhya Pradesh come to Molela to buy these brightly coloured plaques. These are then carrried on their heads back home as a ritual. The winter sun is just right for making these plaques that are sold during the summer. The summer sun is quite harsh and can lead to cracking.

 

Five sisters Molela terracotta

Five sisters from Molela terracotta

A plaque with ‘five sisters’ is used as a symbol of welcome in homes. These sisters are believed to welcome the good and ward off evil.

Village scenes made by Molela artisans

Village scenes

A series of scenes from village life are made using these plaques. When the demand for Dharmaraja idols dwindled, these smart craftsmen started introducing new designs.

Award winning Molela mural

Award winning Molela mural

This mural has all the major designs used in this craft. Jamnalal made this thirty years ago. Though replicas of this piece can be commissioned, this one is definitely not for sale! :)

Please click here for more pictures.

It’s been three months since I’d picked up a few terracotta plaques from Molela, Udaipur. I knew the wall where I wanted it, but I was contemplating a design. Initially the plan was to intersperse this with a few black and white pictures taken during my travel. Then it was a mix of paintings and finally I decided to give it a go. Without the paintings, of course and I am very happy with the result.

Before the wall mural

Before the wall mural

The wall where I wanted to do this installation. The plain white walls weren’t just right. I wanted something that was warm, Indian and would contrast the red terracotta brilliantly.

First step- Preparing the base wall

First step- Preparing the base wall

However much I was impatient to have my yellow walls, I had to wait for the process. And it takes time!

The right shade of yellow

The right shade of yellow

Yellow is definitely a difficult color. Too bright is tacky and too light is dull. I bought the brightest yellow possible and manually mixed white colour and applied patches till I was sure (almost!).

The yellow wall

The yellow wall

All that effort was definitely worth it. The wall turned out beautifully.

The Molela tiles

The Molela tiles

Since they were going to be riveted directly to the wall, I had to get the placement right. I tried a lot of combinations and decided to take my friend Shivani’s advice. She said the more intricate ones neeed to go at the end. That would be visually more appealing.

Screwing the plaques to the wall

Screwing the plaques to the wall

Terracotta is tricky. One crack and the whole thing falls apart. I hadn’t really planned it in my head when I bought it. So I had exactly 9 pieces! So it was such a relief once all of them had holes drilled in. One of the plaques chipped a bit, but I cleared this round without much incident.

Putting up the plaques on the wall

Putting up the plaques on the wall

I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I decided to use two screws diagonally on each plaque to fix it to the wall. One piece of advice for hanging art- ideally the mid point should be 57-60 inches from the floor. Mine is about 64 inches, but then there is a lesson to be learnt in almost everything in life! :)

Close up view of the Molela tiles

Close up view of the tiles

The beauty of handicrafts is in the imperfections. The similarly (almost) sized tiles look fabulous when put together. I used some red color and cement mixture to camouflage the rivets.

Living room with the terracotta wall mural from Molela

Living room with the terracotta wall mural

I cannot even explain how happy I feel, everytime I pass by. The colour is perfect, the setting is right and brings a lot of character to my home.

If you like this and want something like this for your home, just message me!