In Kerala, God’s own country, it is hardly surprising that its artisans trace their lineage to Vishwakarma, the architect of Gods. Kerala’s artisans are world renowned for their impeccable craftsmanship and unique artwork, many of which have found their places in homes across the world. Kerala is indeed a hub for artisans of all genres and has inspired the world with its keen sense of beauty and elegance.
The aesthetically appealing art and crafts of Kerala are one of a kind, thanks to raw materials that are exclusive to this Southern coastal state. Most of its handicraft traditions can be attributed largely to its rich natural resources.Take a look at some of Kerala’s handicrafts and souvenirs that stand out among India’s art and craft.
1. Culture of carving: Woodcrafts
Kerala has always been an important coastal point in Indian maritime history and many of its towns were a trading point for timber, ivory and spices. Mahogony and rosewood are found in abundance here and therefore led to wood being an essential part of everyday life and its arts and crafts. Carving techniques have been the Kerala artisan’s most celebrated selling point; the Nettoor petti, polished elephants and Chundan vallam or snake boats from the state adorn living rooms far and near. Homes from the yesteryears that have survived the times still showcase their elaborately carved wooden doorways and pillars. Many of Kerala’s wooden handicrafts are now considered priceless heirloom pieces.
2. Naturally yours: Coir and coconut shell crafts
The abundance of coconut trees have made Kerala the largest producer of coir, which is now a prominent cottage industry. In fact, every part of the coconut tree is put to use in this state. While coconut flesh is used to cook, the husk makes coir and shells into handicrafts. A variety of handicrafts and utilitarian items are made from coir such as table mats that are very popular. Coir lends itself to a lot of crafts including figurines that are light and can be transported easily. Coconut shells are made into useful kitchen utensils such as bowls and ladles, accessories like earrings and much more. These make for great souvenirs from Kerala and also gifting purpose.
3. Usher in good luck with the Aranmula Kannadi
The Aranmula Kannadi is as the name suggests, a traditional mirror in the town of Aranmula, Kerala. What sets this apart from other mirrors is that the mirror itself is not glass but a special alloy of copper and tin that reflects with no distortion. The art of making this mirror is guarded by a small community of artisans in Aranmula town. Owning an Aranmula Kannadi is said to bring in good luck and makes for a beautiful addition to your living room or bedroom.
4. Aesthetic and functional: Brass and Bronze artifacts
Bells, lamps, vessels, figurines – you name it and Kerala’s metal artisans can make it for you. The artisans called moosaris or metal smiths specialise in bell metal, brass and bronze. Towns such as Mannar and Kunhimangalam have a small community of them that make decorate lamps or nilavilakku, bells that adorn temples and churches and also functional vessels called urlis. While lamps are lit and bells are still rung, the urlis or bell metal vessels aren’t used in cooking anymore unless in large scale kitchens. However given Kerala’s aesthetic craftsmanship, these are now used to decorate house-fronts with flowers.
5. Give your home a facelift with the Kerala Murals
Kerala mural art stands out from the rest with their simple themes, earthy colour tones and clarity of execution. These paintings are done using only five colours – yellow, red, green, black and white, all of which are extracted from vegetables or minerals. Traditionally these murals draw inspiration from Indian epics such as the Ramayana and depict the Gods, Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesha. The process of creating each mural is a painstaking process; artists start with a yellow colour base on the drawing, following it up with red and progressively darker colours. A Kerala mural in your home brings in a warmth to the space with its bright yet subtle colour scheme. Now mural artists have taken a step further and brought these designs to sarees and clothing as well!
6. Cool Cottons from God’s own country: Kaithari cottons
Kaithari cottons are exclusive cotton weaves that are produced in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The weave is a heirloom one and its origins are traced back to the Royal family of Kerala who had weavers brought in exclusively for them. Kaithari cottons are truly a souvenir from the royal past of Kerala – for the looms use the same technique that they used decades ago, and so do they maintain the quality. Kaithari cottons are made in the form of sarees (for women) or mundu (for men) and often come with subtle gold weaving called Kasavu. Kerala thanks to its tropical climate brings out much sought after handlooms such as those from Balaramapuram, Kuthampully and Kannur towns. Beat the summer with these cool cotton handlooms from Kerala.
7. Crafts, chips and more from the Banana plant
Like the coconut, the banana plant is found in abundance in Kerala. And like the coconut tree every part of this plant too is put to good use! Banana leaves are used as a traditional plate and for packaging food, while the tender insides of the stem can be eaten too. What is most famous is however the raw banana chips that Kerala is associated with; golden yellow, little round discs that melts in your mouth. The banana plant’s fibrous stem is used to make yet another popular utilitarian handicraft in Kerala- banana stem bags, mats, wall hangings and more. So much from one tree!
8. The land of spices
Kerala is synonymous with spices, so much you could call this state – India’s treasure trove of spices. Pepper, clove, cardamom, cinnamon – you name it and Kerala grows it. It’s not surprising that the ‘Spice route’ that traders from around the world followed via sea led straight to this southern state. Kerala’s tropical weather and green, rainfed slopes are extremely conducive for spices like pepper; often referred to as black gold. Take home some of Kerala’s flavours with the help of these spices!