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Bamboo Reed Painting

Decorative articles created from bamboo have been a part of traditional industries of Kerala. Bamboo is a versatile source acting as a building material and primary material for several equipments. As it has grown abundantly in Kerala since pre-historic times, the arts of Bamboo reed painting and creating painted bamboo mats is a part of the state’s heritage.

Mats made out of bamboo splits are common but mats with fine miniature paintings are an art form honed by the artisans of Kerala. These rustic, bamboo mats once coated with a basic pigment, become the canvas for talented miniature painters. The themes for these paintings are inspired form nature and commonly birds in flight, herds of animals, trees and other floral aspects. Mostly there are some fixed sizes of mats that are used for painting, while other sizes are not.

The colors use traditional pigments from Kerala. Colors are rich, dark and contrast the mellow shades of the bamboo mats. White, red and green are the traditional favorites, but with the advent of the industrial paints and pigments, it is becoming harder for artisans to use traditional paints, as they are costly to produce and use. Nevertheless, one can still find handful families producing bamboo and reed paintings according to the old ways.
Apart from Bamboo industry, various similar industries involve processing readily available natural fibers in the state. Cane working of Kerala is renowned for furniture like chairs and sofas. The abundant reeds are used to make mats and wall hangings, the reed blinds and curtains are especially appealing because of their rustic charm. The coir industry is also a booming field in Kerala that is encouraged by the state and union Governments.

The methods of skillful manipulation of the bamboo fibers and reeds are well developed in Kerala. Partitions, blinds, fans and even photo frames of small pieces of mature bamboo and bamboo grass are popular as durable and embodying a stylistic nature. Reed fibers are very versatile when it comes to making flexible artifacts like curtains and painting surfaces.

There are other uses for reeds, bamboo and cane in contemporary industries as well. These fibers are used in the basic rope industries. The fine and soft pulp of bamboo and cane are used extensively to produce cardboards and affordable paper in Kerala.


The creation of a bamboo painting starts with proper sorting and arrangement of bamboo fibers, these can be anything from fine bamboo splits to young bamboo grasses. Then, these strips are woven together like threads, forming a square or rectangular surface. There are different traditional methods that produce intricate visual and texture patterns. The weaving style depends on the application of the piece of bamboo ‘board’. Once the board of the canvass of a particular dimension is formed, it is primed with a coating that facilitates the painting process. The painting is done by hand, in many stages, which depend on the size and complexity of the painting and the painting surface. Borders are added as the last step of the process, and are usually bamboo or reed, stylized for an artistic effect.

The process for reed mats is similar, although the weaving involves a little threading and stitching, as dry reeds are not as structurally strong as bamboo fibers. After a thin coating of primer, painting carried out, that is usually multilayered. Near the end of the process, the reed mats get borders and any final additions to painting remains as the very last step. The paintings on these reed maps are realistic and have a definitive cultural personality.

The town of Irinjalakuda is the leading center for bamboo mat paintings. Several other towns in Kerala produce good bamboo reed products, especially furniture like fancy chairs, bowls, traditional multistoried lunch-boxes, lampshades and hand-held fans. The bamboo-reed products from Kerala are much popular among tourists that often by these items as souvenirs.

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