Kolkatta (previously known as Calcutta) is a traveler’s delight. It is the last stop of India’s most sacred river Ganges as it blends into the Bay of Bengal through the mangroves of Sunderbans. Sunderbans is a natural habitat for the royal Bengal Tiger, the vehicle of the ferocious Goddess Durga. The story of the Goddess’ triumph over evil is celebrated in a week-long festival known as Durga Pooja. The Goddess is believed to be visiting her parents’ home in the plains during this time. Celebrated with much pomp and grandeur, it brings life regular life in the city to a complete halt. During the festival, people visit the Pandals along with their friends and family. The women are dressed in traditional finery and exchange vermillion with each other. They pray for the well-being of their husbands. Initially celebrated only by rich families across Bengal, the festival turned into a community event during the Independence movement.

Situated in the northern part of city, Kumortoli, the potters’ quarters is the seat of activity for days leading up to the festival. Their artistry is so well known that they export as many idols as they supply locally. The potters, both men and women work on sculpting these figures. The base is made of straw which is then covered with clay. Upon drying, the idols are painted in bright colours. Adding the third eye is a crucial process. It is a work done by the senior artistes and some of them are known to meditate for long hours before drawing it. The third eye is believed to be the one that breathes life into the idol.

The tiny settlement is home to some illustrious artists whose work is sought after by Bengalis across the world. Most of the famous artists’ works are booked a year in advance, with some of the lesser known ones selling idols off the shelf. It was estimated that Kumortuli sold more than 12, 300 clay idols in 2006. This settlement was allotted to the potters during the British colonization of India in the eighteenth century.  Calcutta was the power centre for the British East India Company. The British wanted to allocate quarters for each working group and thus this colony housing the potters came up. Over time, this place became home to various artists with some major roads in this neighbourhood named after them.

Today the entire city is home to multiple community Pandals, which are temporary structures erected to showcase the Goddess on a stage. Most of the Pandals are elaborate structures (that require more than a year of planning) with magnificent architectural features pertaining to a theme. These themes range from mythology to period based architecture and sometimes even current issues that plague the nation at large. During the Cricket World Cup series that India won, there were Pandals that showcased idols of famous players. Each neighbourhood vies with the other in showcasing the festival, with some having idols as tall as 20 feet. In the midst of all this ostentatiousness, the central figure in every Pandal is still the idol of the Goddess. She is depicted with her ten hands holding different weapons and standing on a lion mount.

Post the festivities, the idols are taken out in a procession with the entire city coming out on to the streets. The idols are then immersed in the river. Earlier the materials for idol making were purely eco-friendly causing no damage to the river. However, with the advent of bright coloured paints, these have replaced the older options causing heavy ecological damage to the river. The government is taking measures to stop the usage of such toxic material.

The week long reverie comes to an end as the Goddess departs from her parents’ home to her marital abode in the Himalayas. Kumortoli gears up for another busy year of planning and idol making.  For more pictures of Kolkata, please click here.

I really wanted to post my Diwali pictures. True to what I believe in, I decided to have a completely handcrafted Diwali. I toiled over Kesar Phirni (thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor), poured them into terracotta bowls and decorated them. Then I baked some Mattris (yes, I didn’t fry them!) in different shapes. Dressed in a traditional ‘Kandhangi‘ handloom saree, I decorated the whole balcony with diyas (terracotta lamps with oil), lit up the Vilakku ( brass lamp) and was all set to take pictures for the blog. That was when the catastrophe struck! :( My camera refused to detect the memory card and I didn’t have a spare!

Since I won’t be able to give you a glimpse of my balcony (btw, my little lily pond is finally showing signs of revival), the least I can do is write about ‘Kandhangi’ sarees. I harbour a secret love for sarees. Though you may hardly ever find me in a saree, I am definitely a pro at wearing them and hope to have a collection someday.

Saree Shop in Karaikudi

Saree Shop in Karaikudi

Photo Courtesy: Girish

During the recent Karaikudi trip, my friend Roxana was very particular about visiting the saree looms. Widely worn in the hot climes of Chettinadu, these sarees are woven in bright colours. A typical sight in this region is of ‘aachis‘ (the Chettiar womenfolk) wearing a Kandhangi saree, complete with oodles of jewelery and well oiled hair adorned with jasmine flowers. Both of us went berserk, fought over the loot and went broke buying sarees for almost everyone we could think of. Most of the ‘gifts’ never reached their recipients and ended in our wardrobes! :)

Hand Loom at Karaikudi

Hand Loom at Karaikudi

Characterised by huge borders (sometimes two-thirds of the saree is covered with the border), these sarees are woven using high quality cotton from Tirupur. These sarees take about a week to be hand woven on the loom. Over time, the enterprising community anticipated the decline in demand for hand woven cotton sarees. They have slowly diversified into making silk blended cottons sarees and  stoles. Nowadays low quality yarn is also used to reduce the cost of raw material used.

Yarn for Kandhangi sarees from Karaikudi

Yarn for Kandhangi sarees from Karaikudi

This cotton yarn is used to make those simple, yet stunning sarees. The hot weather throughout the year call for the use of light fabric, one that breathes.

Home loom in Karaikudi making Kandhangi sarees

Home loom in Karaikudi

The looms were in an old house, whose courtyard and verandahs were used to showcase the products for sale. We sat down on the verandahs, enjoying the cool evening breeze and discussed the declining demand for such hand spun beauty. The lady of the house, dressed perfectly in true Chettinadu style was happy to share her knowledge and love for these sarees.

Kandhangi Sarees from Karaikudi

Kandhangi Sarees from Karaikudi

I came back with this and Roxana with lots more. The plan is to couple them with Ikat blouses and loads of bead jewellery :)

Here is the tour to my friend Kabir’s apartment. A lawyer by profession, with a passion for collecting art from the ‘silk road’, Kabir’s home is one of a kind.

Living Room Entrance of a Persian style home

Living Room Entrance

I’ve hardly known Kabir for a month now. But with some people, we hit off like we’ve known each other for years. He lives alone in an apartment on the 9th floor of an old building complex, just near one of the most crowded junctions (char-rasta, meaning four roads as we call them here) in Ahmedabad. But the minute you enter his home, the change is drastic. Impeccably maintained and tastefully decorated (he doesn’t agree to this), this home is surely unique in its approach.

Kabir Learning Farsi

Learning Farsi

Kabir’s travels have taken him to Iran, a place he seems to have fallen in love with. He has taken to studying the language as well.

Lanterns from Iran

Lanterns from Iran

Who doesn’t like lanterns?! Imagine an evening full of conversation, sitting on cushions, warmly lit by these glass lanterns, smoking an ‘Hookah’ (Kabir is strict about it being tobacco-free), surrounded by soulful Persian music. Not a difficult setting to pull off, isn’t it?

Using floor space to display knick knacks

Using floor space to display knick knacks

He is yet to put in nails on his apartment walls. But that doesn’t prevent him from using floor space to display his treasures. Of course, you can see the beautiful rugs a little bit here..

Coffee Table decor

Coffee Table decor

The centre table is decorated with a colourful cover, used on camel backs. Stacked with lanterns, a Persian Calendar, a book on poetry gifted by his friend back in Iran, this table is full of personal memories.

Indian art

Mixing Indian art with Persian pieces

Kabir has added a few pieces of Indian Crafts, that actually go well with his original theme. One of these pieces is a replica of one found in the Baroda museum.

Clock from Iran

Clock from Iran

This clock is one of the priced possessions from his travels. Engraved with the ‘traditional blue’ of the region. it is prominently placed in the living area.

Lantern from UP

Lantern from UP

A painting from his friend is kept next to an old lamp from UP, gifted to his grandfather.

Stone carvings from Persepolis

Stone carvings from Persepolis

The stone carvings from Persepolis is one of his favorites. They depict an era gone by.

A Persian quote of love

A Persian quote of love

A fitting end to this house tour would be this Persian quote that talks about ‘love’.

Thanks Kabir for letting me take these pictures.

 

Stone sculpture in balcony garden

Stone sculpture in balcony garden

You have already seen the beautiful stone sculpture in my balcony garden. Here is the post on where I found it.

When we finally managed to drive out of Bangalore (which seemed almost endless) and left behind the huge building complexes, my friend Mandy and I were glad to take in some fresh country air. The highway was a pleasure to drive on, with picturesque and almost uninhabited surroundings for our eyes to feast on. Some really good 90′s music (loads of nostalgic thoughts in the process) and we were well on our way to Shivarapatna. All that we knew about the place was that it was in Kolar district!

Finding Shivarapatna on Google maps

Finding Shivarapatna on Google maps

We reached Kolar and figured that we had crossed the village atleast an hour earlier and had to head back the same way. So we took a detour (again a vague direction following instructions given by the village folk, who measured distance by the time it took them the last time they visited that place!) and we trying Nokia maps to figure out the direction. Thats when we realized that as far as the maps were concerned, we were non-existent!

Stacked up stone sculptures

Stacked up stone sculptures

Shivarapatna was hardly made up of a couple of rows of houses, all of which were busy with activity. Statues were strewn around in all stages of work. The workshops (like the one shown above) were full of statues ready to be shipped to the US.

Tools for stone carving

Tools for stone carving

The craftsmen were all immersed in their work using simple tools, sometimes even oblivious of our presence.

Some of them were working under the shade of a bamboo structure, an interestingly ‘green’ feature.

My friend helped me with Kannada translations and we slowly started getting an idea of the work. This craft has been practiced for generations, the raw material (stone) coming from nearby areas of HD Kote and Mysore. Granite and soapstone are the two common stones used for sculptures.

Navagrahas- the nine planets

Navagrahas- the nine planets

Navagrahas, the nine planetary gods in Hindu religion are made here. These sculptures are used in temples across South India.

Few interesting designs.

Nandi, Shiva's gaurdian bull

Nandi, Shiva's gaurdian bull

Nandi, Lord Shiva’s bull, a representation of Dharma.

Tall stone sculpture

Tall stone sculpture

The tallest structure that we saw in the village.

Goddess Laskhmi, symbol of wealth

Goddess Laskhmi, symbol of wealth

Goddess Lakshmi, a symbol of wealth.

Hanuman

Hanuman

Hanuman, a devotee of Lord Rama.

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga.

If you are planning to drive there this weekend, you can contact me for directions!

Please click here for more pictures.

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.

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!

Ganesha Pattachitra masks

Ganesha Pattachitra masks

There is no exhaustive list of products that are made in Raghurajpur (considering their homes are also works of art). The walls are painted on in their homes, the empty bottles are painted in bright tribal art and Lord Jagannath, (the focal point of their lives) is portrayed on every conceivable medium. So when masks in bright colours and interesting themes beckon, it is hard to resist.

Ganesha paper machier masks

Ganesha paper machier masks

Made with Papier-mâché, Lord Jagannath and his triad were the only themes made initially. Nowadays apart from making faces of other Gods and Goddesses, regular Pattachitra and village themes are also used.

Take your pick from the ones in the pictures. There will soon be lots more available on CraftCanvas.

Twin Pattachitra masks

Twin masks

Durga's Pattachitra mask

Durga’s mask

Tiger Pattachitra mask

Tiger Pattachitra mask

Please click here for more pictures of Orissa- Rath yatra and crafts.

The rampant power cuts in Raghurajpur ruined some of the pictures. It was very dark inside Dilip’s home and I am not a fan of flashlights! :) So forgive me for the ‘ok-ish’ pictures, but I am sure you’ll love the concept.

Pattachitra on a palm leaf

Pattachitra on a palm leaf

After two posts of praises about Raghurajpur’s skill with the brush, this one takes it to another level! Dilip Kumar has carved out this piece on palm leaves sewed together to create a canvas.

The palm leaf canvas

The palm leaf canvas

The palm leaves are sewn together to make a canvas. The drawing is etched on the canvas using a sharp object.

Etching the design

Etching the design

Dilip took less than a minute to etch this!

A Pattachitra girl

A Pattachitra girl

The characteristic portrait of a girl’s face used in Pattachitra.

Soot for filling

Soot for filling

Black colour (made from soot of lamps) is used to fill the etching.

Colour application

Colour application

The colour is applied.

After the application

After the application

The excess colour is wiped off with a rag showing the face of the girl clearly in contrast to the beige background.

Pattachitra boy and girl figures

Pattachitra boy and girl figures

A close up to reveal the face of a boy and a girl.

Without a stencil or any measurements, Dilip managed this perfectly ‘in sync’ faces.

Please click here for more pictures of Orissa- Rath Yatra and crafts..

Pattachitra artisan Dilip

Pattachitra artisan Dilip

I have known ‘Dilip Kumar Prusty’ for a year now, but had never met him in person. Going by his highly talented work and the average age of skilled artisans in our country, I expected him to be at least 60 years old. When I finally met him during this trip, I was surprised to meet a chirpy 30 yr old, with a lot of interesting ideas and dreams for the future.

Pattachitra Borders

Pattachitra Borders

As someone who has explained the process to complete strangers a million times, he clearly detailed out the process for us. Pattachitra is drawn on a special paper. The paper is made with multiple layers of old fabric treated with a concoction that consists of tamarind seed paste, a completely eco-friendly concept. A final coat of a limestone mixture is spread on the paper, which is then polished to provide a smooth canvas.

Colours in coconut shells

Colours in coconut shells

(Photo courtesy: P Sindhuja) On this paper, the basic sketches are drawn. The colours that are used are also derived from natural sources like Conch shell (white), soot from lamps (black), Geru (red), etc. The colours are stored in empty coconut shells.

Brushes for Pattachitra

Brushes for Pattachitra

The brushes are made with animal hair based on the thickness required, with the finest one being made from squirrel hair! Mythology is the central theme of most paintings. Most crafts in our country have evolved to support the various rituals performed in temples (or the other way round!). Patta paintings are used in the place of idols in the Puri temple during a specific period of the year. During this period the gods are supposed to be sick and are not fit to offer darshan to their devotees.

Painted home exteriors

Painted home exteriors

Pattachitra is just not limited to a single canvas. Walls painted with Krishna’s Raas-Leela, his life’s story and Vishnu’s ten avatars abound in Raghurajpur.

Woman artisan Raghurajpur

Woman artisan Raghurajpur

(Photo Courtesy: P Sindhuja) Traditionally done by men, women have also taken to this craft. Initially, they were involved only in the process of making colours. Nowadays they are formally trained in this art by their family members.

Pattachitra artisan Narayan

Pattachitra artisan Narayan

 

Though I would have loved to visit all the 120 families in the village, it is impossible to cover everything in a day. So I restricted my visit to two homes, Dilip and his neighbor Narayan (the one in blue shirt).

Pattachitra artisan Dilip adding his signature to his painting

Dilip adding his signature to his painting

At the end of it, we insisted that Dilip sign our purchase. He had never done it before and took a lot time to write his name on the painting.

Please click here for more photos of Orissa Rath Yatra and Crafts.