Wood Craft of Kerala

Woodworking is one of the ancient crafts of Kerala. The natural wealth of various types of wood is evident in the prolific woodcrafts of Kerala. Crafted wooden sculptures abound in much historic architecture and skilled carpenters of Kerala create magnificent art in tables, chairs, cabinets, and sofas, apart from the traditional figurines depicting popular animals, designs and gods. The wooden accessories used in the Kathakali dances are a popular form of souvenirs in addition to the dolls.

The ancient and historic structures of Kerala, like temples and palaces are a testament to the exquisite woodcraft, in the forms of their carved pillars, doors and ceilings. One such pillar is in the Padmanabhapuram palace, with the form of a tree – it has a base with intricately carved moldings and as it raises it becomes slender and branches out at the ceiling. Each branch ends with the form of a lotus and equally decorative designs are carved within them. This pillar is over four hundred years old and modeled over the monolithic pillar at Fatehpur Sikri. Wavelike patterns in the carved ceiling of this Palace resemble the foliage of a great tree and it is simply a masterpiece of woodcraft. The heavy wooden doors in the Palace appear to be delicate with their life-like floral designs.

Many aspects of architecture of the middle ages have provided excellent opportunities where medieval artisans have immortalized their art in wood, which is also present in the colonial Christian and Jacobian churches in Kerala. These old churches have classical Catholic motifs displaying much religious symbolism, like the naturalist vines to abstract geometric designs in their pulpits. These masterpieces have sadly remained unnoticed by the outside world. Several wooden miniatures are a part of the altar, which are a delicate and intricate accompaniment to the traditional stained glass windows of churches

In the inquiry of wooden furniture, the royal cot of Padmanabhapuram palace is a perfect epitome of traditional design, both functionally as well as decoratively. The four legs, as they continue to form the canopy are again themed on the natural image of a delicate plant. The slender posts with their flowing decorations seem as if they have grown out of the bulk of the cot and are deservedly a masterpiece.  Delicate screens made entirely out of wood, employ complex symmetric patterns carved with great skill into a delicate layer of wood. Much wonderful timber is indigenous to Kerala, like chrome yellow to deep dark blackish browns of Teak or the dark to light purple complexion of Rosewood or perhaps the gradual ageing of White Cedar from a light dirty grey to a dark lustrous gray. Rosewood and teak hardwoods have been Indian favorites for ages and continue to do so today. The lost art of Marquetry that creates many articles like trays, ashtrays, bowls, plates and vases from numerous pieces of veneer, has indeed received a second wind in the recent decades. Its primary appeal comes from the special visual effect from the different blocks of different woods and the variety of Flora in Kerala makes it easier to accomplish. 

The skills of artisans and woodworkers are essential to many folk arts of Kerala too. The traditional musical instruments, mainly various types of drums and masks used in Kathakali performances are wooden. Jackfruit and teak wood is usually used for the musical instruments and the masks and various accessories used in the folk arts.  As for the decorative animal models, of which the elephant seems to be the favorite in Kerala, Rosewood is used.  Toys like dolls, are on the other hand, made from the readily available and cheaper wood from mango trees.

Apart from the excellent pieces of furniture, both fancy and conventional, the artistic legacy of woodworking in Kerala is particularly visible in its generous and fine applications in the old and new churches and temples. The most commonly used wood is that of the Bamboo, Teak, Rosewood, White Cedar and Sandalwood. Different timber is suited for different purposes as their distinct qualities enhance a distinct expression. For instance, dark shades of Rosewood are serious or formal, while the light countenance of the Cedar is more informal and lively, whereas Teak is heavy and resilient; Sandalwood is soft and has a sacred fragrance.  Symbols of the legendary elephants of Thissur temple (from the processions), is carved into the Rosewood ceremonial ‘Howdah’ and umbrella of their festival while carved in the dark Kumbli wood are wonderful female forms.


Related Image

Wood 1
Wood 2
Wood 3
Wood 4
Wood 5
Wood 6

Also Browse Following Under This Section

Related Topics

Handicrafts in Kerala

The state of Kerala in the southern tropics of India has been a thriving civilization, with a formidable heritage of indigenous....

Bamboo Reed Painting

Decorative articles created from bamboo have been a part of traditional industries of Kerala. Bamboo is a versatile....


South India is famous since ancient...


The screw-pine industry in Kerala has a...