My handcrafted Diwali!

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.

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! 🙂

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.

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.

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.

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

A Persian touch..

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.

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’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.

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?

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..

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Thanks Kabir for letting me take these pictures.

The Bangalore series- Stone sculptures


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!

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!

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.

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

Few interesting designs.

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

The tallest structure that we saw in the village.

Goddess Lakshmi, a symbol of wealth.

Hanuman, a devotee of Lord Rama.

Goddess Durga.

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

Please click here for more pictures.

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.

Terracotta on my wall..

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.

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.

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

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!).

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

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.

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.

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! 🙂

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.

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!

Raghurajpur Part 4: Masked in creativity..

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.

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.

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