Culture Intricately Carved Into Wood

Posted: June 21, 2011 in Colors of Culture and Heritage, The NamoLeague Times
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Gujarat – a land of lots of told and untold stories. It’s a place where everyone, everything has an expression! It’s a place whose history is magnificently carved into books and buildings. Often the documentation is made on historical buildings that have an edge over the others. The question is what makes these buildings so extraordinary? Well, the credit goes to the minute detailing that the craftsmen of Gujarat did, through expression of their personal feelings and understanding of the world around them. Detailing not only means the construction technology but the effort of the craftsmen to discover and express the spirit of the material as he sees it.

Wood carvings in Gujarat enjoy a unique quality and that is due to the blend of two cultures: Islam and Hinduism. The nuances of the carving are exceptional in Gujarat as the craftsmen have accepted ideas from both the cultures and heightened the expression in the details of the wood carving. Wood carving here is not limited to the public architecture but is visible in the Havelis and private houses of the ancient times. Not only architecture, but Gujarat specializes in wooden toys, swings, furniture and a lot many things made out of wood. This lets one peep into the minute celebrations of life that the people of Gujarat engage into.
Wood carving is like transcending back in time while enquiring upon roots of cultural and historical aesthetics of Gujarat. It was done by the masters of the past who thoroughly understood the fundamental principles within their surroundings and nature, and transformed them into a ‘physical reality’ – a reverential mirror reflecting the plethora of customs, mysterious rituals, deep-rooted dogmas and the ever-present belief-systems of the society. This was accomplished by the process of creating indigenous art and architectural forms – conceived in totality and in coherence with the cultural ethos.

Interestingly, wood was never a locally available material and was always imported into Gujarat from different timber producing regions. It was used as a structural material as early as 12th century and the Gujarati craftsmen transformed the various components of the building-the columns, ceilings, struts, doors, windows, balconies, and beam ends into veritable works of art.

The traditional art of wood carving of Gujarat encompassed in itself – the historical profiles, cultural varieties, mythological fables, religious beliefs, social sensitivities, inherited tradition, proficient techniques, man’s interpretation and expression of nature and much more. The wood carvers defied the phenomenon of individuality, and were driven by the intangible forces of culture.

Nawab’s Palace in Palanpur and intricate jharokhas (windows) carved out of wood or Havelis (mansions) in Vaso with their wealth of wooden architectural details are some of the examples of wood carving tradition in Gujarat.

The wood-carver community of Gujarat is known as the Mewara Mistris, who work in rural and urban areas. Gujarat is among the only three regions of India where precious wood-work has still survived. These three regions are the Himalayan region particularly Nepal, parts of South India and Gujarat. The wood-work of Gujarat both in quality and quantity is very rich. Almost ancient Indian architecture is found in wood. The Buddhists used wood-work extensively in their architecture and it influenced western India including Gujarat. In the sheer magnificence of its wood carving, Gujarat is probably unique in the world

Be it the cantilevered balconies of palaces in Palanpur and Bhuj, the majestic doors of traditional houses or Havelis, the images of the Goddess Lakshmi or the elephant deity Ganesh carved in the central portion of the archway or simply furniture, all are artistic master pieces of Gujarat. Large-sized boxes called ‘Pataras’, are made from wood and beautifully carved mainly at Bhavnagar in Saurashtra. The Patara is a part of the bridal trousseau, fashioned to hold bed rolls, jewellery, documents, oil and grain. Soothing colors and designs in the tin foil style are used in making furniture in Sankheda which is noted for its low seats, tables, stools and swings. Junagadh and Dhoraji in Rajkot district are famous for cradles with stands, cupboards with cubicles and jhula or swings which are typical of Gujarat. Wood inlay work of Surat is also famous and involves placing of pieces of ivory, plastic, horn, bone, metal, and fine wires into carved surfaces. The wood on which inlay work is done include teak rose wood, or sandalwood. Mahuva and Idar are known for their lacquer work

Wooden blocks for printing in textiles are also made in Gujarat. The design is first stenciled on the wood and then the intervening spaces are chipped out.

Wood carving is an art, craft and technology that Gujarat can boast of. Moreover, it connects to the daily life and living of the people. It lends spirituality to our present day lives, leads us to a dynamic life mingled with heritage and culture. Also, this prized possession helps us create homes out of our houses and shelters.

Wood carving requires skill, but it’s in our hands to intricately carve the skill of maintaining and valuing this heritage that the masters of the past have left for us to admire!

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