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  • The Timeless Art of Wood Carving in India

    Woodcarving has been one of the most universal handicraft techniques around the world. Be it intricate pulpits inside Gothic churches in Europe, delicately carved panels in Persia or massive columns from Japan depicting aquatic plants, wood carving is an eternal, timeless craft appreciated across the world.

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    India itself has a rich wood carving history and contributes prolifically to the array of carved handicrafts produced in wood. Being a climactically diverse nation, India is blessed with a variety of soft and hard woods — each being used to produce a different family of wooden crafts. Moreover, the cultural, lingual and religious diversity is reflected in the different handicrafts that emerge from different regions. In Assam, they are reflected in the unusually carved thrones in the shape of peacocks which are called ‘namghar’ or ‘kirtanghar' and the figures of the one-horned rhinoceros. In Uttar Pradesh, we see elegantly chiseled screens or ‘jaalis’ patterned with floral and vine-like details reminiscent of the Kashmiri origins of the craftsmen who first brought them here. Large, chests called ‘pataras’ carved out of rosewood, teak or sandalwood in Gujarat are part of wedding trousseau for brides to this day.

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    Although wood carvings in Tamil Nadu come in a variety of themes such as animals, mythological creatures and dance forms, one of the most prominent of these themes is the depiction of mythological scenes with gods and goddesses mounted on their chariots. From doors to wooden brackets and panels, one can find this theme running across different handicraft items produced in the state. Idols of Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Dashavtara idols of Vishnu are some of the most highly demanded products in the region.

    When creating a wood carving idol, the artisan begins with a single large block of wood. Designs are first drawn on paper which is then imprinted upon the wooden block. Then, using a hammer and chisel, the artisan carves out the wood from the appropriate places in the design, layer by layer. Soon the idol begins to take shape. When the artisan is satisfied with the carving, he buffs the wood so that its natural shine appears. Then it is painted or polished suitably and is ready to go on the market. The whole process takes days and even months depending upon the complexity and size of the idol. Rosewood and sandalwood is most commonly used for creating wood articles produced in Tamil Nadu.

    Over 2 lakh artisans in Tamil Nadu work behind the scenes to uphold our cultural heritage through sheer hard work without proper recognition and appreciation. Poompuhar, in collaboration with the TN state government is proud to be observing March 5 as Artisan’s Day in order to bring these gems to the forefront in the handicraft making process. The video of artisan P Subrayan below is just a small initiative in that endeavour.

  • Art of Carving

    Sculpting is possibly one of the oldest techniques of creating artifacts. Throughout human history sculptures have been created using several methods; wood carving being the most prominent among them. Although the metal carving scores high on the scale for longevity but wood carving has been practiced since prehistoric times. Ancient civilizations of Egypt and Indus Valley made extensive use of wood carving. European settlements in the middle ages have produced scintillating pieces of art carved on wood. Advent of Christianity during early centuries of Common Era experienced a little growth but wood carving culture reached its pinnacle in 12th century AD. It flourished in the entire continental Europe and Eurasian lands defining the cultures of the regions.

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    Wood carving which had initially been a source of experiment was a well-developed art by the time Italian Renaissance started. The carved wood pieces by now had broken religious barriers and entered personal households as furniture, decorative items etc. Indian subcontinent and the corresponding culture have always valued wood carving. The presence of innumerable wood carved pieces in the temples and historic sites is the perfect proof that this part of the world has contributed equally to the evolution of wood carving. Another major factor which has influenced the emergence of wood carving is the geographical availability of appropriate wood to be carved.

    Let’s talk a bit about the types of wood which are widely used for carving. Wood used is primarily of two kinds; softwood and hardwood. Both the kinds have distinct properties which are advantageous and disadvantageous for carving. Varied kinds of flora across the planet have been the primary cause behind a wide variety of wood carved artifacts.

    Softwood

    • Cottonwood
    • Butternut
    • Basswood
    • Sycamore Maple
    • Plum

    Hardwood

    • Mahogany
    • American Walnut
    • Rosewood
    • Teak
    • Pine

    The southern part of India is known for exquisite wood carving culture and the artisans here carve various religious and cultural figures on the wood. Rainforests in the region provide abundant supply of wood to be carved upon. Poompuhar an ancient port town is famous for its rich cultural heritage primarily surrounding wood carved sculptures. A spellbinding collection of such artifacts can be found on http://tnpoompuhar.org/tamil-nadu/wood-carvings.html.

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