Posts Tagged ‘Wood Carving’


Gujarat is a land where hundreds of different tribes have come and established themselves with their culture and lifestyle. As a famous Gujarati saying goes, these tribes have settled here just like the sugar settles within a bowl of milk! It has always been interesting to know more about different people, their cultures and traditions. The anthropologists who have studied various tribes of Gujarat, say that the tribe named ‘Kokna’ is worth to make a note of, among others. Also known by alternative names like Kokni, Kukni or Kukna, the tribe is considered a scheduled one.


Most of the tribes that have settled in Gujarat, just like the Kokna, belong to the Neolithic era. It is believed that the hermitic people of Egypt were the ancestors of the Kokna tribe and the stories of their existence date back to the prehistoric times. Kokna used a square stone pillar with half moon shaped top for capital punishment, resembling a pillar in the Egyptian pyramids. This practice confirms the belief.

However, the name Kokna is derived from the word ‘Kankan’, that is an armlet worn by the tribe. Some people, on the other hand, believe that the name comes as they migrated to Gujarat from some part of Konkan in the olden times, which is the western coastal belt of Maharashtra. The area between the coastal line and the Sahyadris was the original abode of the Kokna tribal community.


In Gujarat, the Kokna tribe is concentrated at Dharampur, Vansda, Valsad and the Dangs.

Some researchers mention that it is from the ancestral, ancient speeches of the Kokna that the origin of the contemporary Kokni language has actually taken shape. This is their native language, a dialect of Marathi. But they also speak Hindi and Gujarati.

The Kokna community is divided into ‘kuls’ or clans. Monogamous, they have a strong sense of united families and community. However, with the modernization and occupational mobility, the concept of nuclear families is fast moving into all the tribes. But, when outside their village, they move in groups.


Kokna tribe can easily be distinguished from other Gujarati tribes. It has an unique attire. The women of this community wear saree and ‘fadki’. They cut the saree into two halves. The upper half is called fadki and the lower part of the body is covered by the saree. Sometimes they also use blouse or lehenga along with the fadki. The males get into a Khadi headdress, jacket, coat and langot with gold rings in the ears. The langot is an essential sign of their culture.

The Kokna women are very fond of ornaments made of white metal, lead and iron or silver. They use the traditional necklaces and other ornaments even today. They also wear flowers and tattoos.

Another major attraction of the Kokna tribe is their houses. The walls are built with mud and whitewashed. The roof comprises of thatched grass and the houses have no windows. Pucca houses are rare.


The most splendid part of the Kokna tribe is that they celebrate all the major festivals of the Indian Territory, only after adding their own fervor and ritualistic elements. They enjoy Shivratri, Dushera, Navratri and Diwali. But the most exciting among the others is the ‘Bhavada’. This is celebrated at the completion of the harvesting season. The Kokna tribes worship Goddess Kali and before harvesting, worship of Gram Devi is celebrated with festivity and jubilance.

The tribe is considered very religious and worships animals like crocodile and tiger.


Bhavada is more special because of its artistic zeal and acumen. The Kokna tribe shapes up masks for this festival which houses the Bhavada Dance. The mask dance is held across a number of villages and only at nights in the summer. Each village has a different set of masks, and sometimes masks are even loaned to villages if they can’t afford to have their own.

The masks are carved out of single pieces of soft wood and then decorated with bamboo strips and colored papers. Bright red, yellow and green in color, they depict Gods and Goddesses like Panch Pandava, Ravana, Ganesh and tribal deities like Kaloba, Mhasoba and Rangatai. Facial expressions, eyebrows, moustaches, cheeks, nose etc. are nicely emphasized in these woodcarvings. Particular families are privileged to do a particular kind of mask. The male members of the family are expected to paint and decorate the mask. Masks may also be made out of cow dung, clay, rice-husks and paper. Every dancer enacts steps typical of the character whose mask he wears, as he dances to the tune of musical instruments like the Sur, Kahali and Sambal.

The art of mimic along with tribal dances still survives in Gujarat. During Holi, Kokna dramatic groups, sometimes using masks, perform in villages with young boys playing female roles laced with wit and humor. Songs of Mahabharata and Ramayana epics are sung to music.

Apart from masks, Kokna tribes are known for their artistic wooden tobacco containers. They are either carved out of wood or made by joining pieces of wood together. A thick coat of lead is applied over the container and then beautiful designs are carved on it. Sometimes, these containers are made into animal shapes like peacock, peahen etc. Apart from wood, these are also made from tough-skinned fruits or seeds.


Gujarat is rich, truly vibrant – be it in terms of economy, development or heritage. All we need to do is move forward in the direction of inclusive growth. Let us look behind the masks, remove our mask of perceptions and grow hand-in-hand!

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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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