The Art, Science And Tradition Of Wood Carving In India

When it comes to craft in India, wood carvings occupy a prominent place. Since the Palaeolithic period, man has been cutting, carving and shaping wood for various purposes, right from transportation using wood logs across water bodies to sustenance- using firewood to cook, and even using the same wood for creating furniture for houses and workplaces alike.

With time, wood carving has kept improving and stunning outputs have been making their way into the market. Some of this can be attributed to the more precise cuts obtained using machinery. However, there is no denying the fact that handmade wood carvings have a charm of their own.

Different types of wood have been experimented with of which Beech-Wood, Teak-Wood, Neem-Wood, Cedar, Fir, Pine, Rose-Wood and Sandal-Wood have become an artisan’s favourite, both because they serve as stable media, and also because they have textures and colours that add a new dimension to the work done.

It is said that an artisan uses not his hands, but his very soul, to make each work of art special, and every time we observe an artisan at work on a natural medium like wood, we begin to believe this a bit more.

Relief Carvings

Of all the different types of wood carvings, relief style is the most famous. Here is a sneak peek into what goes into the making of those beautiful pieces of pure art.

Relief carving, as a project, can be summed up into an eightfold, detailed process which starts with designing a layout of how the craftsman wants the craft to look.

This process challenges the creative mind and aesthetics of an artisan or a designer where he or she makes use of different patterns, motifs, figurines, etc. to come up with a design out of which beautiful results can be expected.

Once a design is finalised and fine-tuned, an artisan then prepares a panel out of a piece of wood by cutting it in the desired shape, levelling and cleaning it and making it ready to work on.

The design made on paper is then copied onto the panel of wood using a carbon paper as a medium for tracing.

Once the pattern is neatly traced on the panel, various implements such as gauges, chisels, carving knifes, chopping saws and so on come into use, for this is where carving starts. Areas around the traced pattern are chipped off to bring out the design.

Next step involves modelling the highlighted pattern and making it more prominent, finished and smoothened after which details are carved on it.

 Once the artisan is satisfied with the results, he or she goes on to clean around the pattern and tidy the background.

This completes the carving part of this craft. The final step then is to finish it off by applying colours, varnishes, paints, etc. to bring out shadows and add a sense of dimension.

Art And Its Cultural Significance

India is a land of enchanting stories. Every work of art that follows the traditional method often has a powerful story that explains its sanctity.

Although decorating one’s home with wood carvings and craft dates back to the period of the Indus Valley Civilization, it is just as relevant today. The durability and artistic appeal of wood make it possible for us to convert it into various items such as wall plates, wall hangings, sculptures, pen and candle holders, jewellery boxes, decorative baskets and plates, figurines and frames, to name a few.

Apart from decoration, wood based carvings and sculptures also hold great religious importance. One of the best examples is the Jagannath temple in Puri, Odissa.

Once every 12 years, when the month of Ashadha sees two full moons, wooden idols of the four deities at Jagannaath temple are recreated to symbolise “renewal”. This ceremony is called “Nabakalebara”. It is originated from two Odia words- Naba meaning new and Kalebara meaning body.

One specific variety of Neem wood called Daru Brahma is used to make these idols and the process involves carving new idols and cremating the older ones. It is said that just as we throw away old clothes, ornaments, etc. and move on to new ones, the soul too leaves its previous body to accept a new one. Read more about the stories and rituals of Jagannath here:

With such prominence and spiritual significance, our artisans understand that needs and wants differ from individual to individual. We therefore cater to all our customers’ demands and resize, remake and redesign each work of art according to your requirements.

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