Diwali Gifts are here!

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.

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

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/-

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

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.

FAQs on Athangudi tiles..

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 tiles, finally!

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 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.

(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.

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

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.

The Bangalore series: Wood carving in Ulsoor…

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.

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.

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

Different sizes of chisels for various degrees of carving.

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.

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?

Spirits and Demons

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.

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.

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

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

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 Gods are worshipped by people who make them. And its been that way for generations.

Puppets and puppeteers

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

And here is the deer that lured Sita away! 🙂

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.

Wall murals from Molela

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

 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.

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.

This mural has all the major designs used in this craft. Jumnalal 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.