Carved masterpieces that lull...

cradle

The journey of human life starts first at the cradle. It is inevitable that any family during the birth of a baby would hunt for a cradle as an essential requirement until the baby reaches three years of age. In the Hindu households, a ritual is practised, where traditionally a baby is put into a wooden cradle decorated with flowers and colourful balloons. Now there are a variety of cradles: made of steel, plastic, etc., sold in the market.

Kalaghatagi, a small town in Dharwad district, is known for its artistic wooden cradles. These cradles are popular not just in the state but also in other parts of the country. Its fame is spread far and wide that people from other countries also come searching for cradles manufactured at this place.

Recently, the Kalaghatagi cradle was in the news, when the legendary Kannada star the late Ambarish donated a cradle for the Yash-Radhika couple when they were expecting a baby. The cradle manufactured in Kalagatagi is popular for several decades. 

The cradle is popular because of the exquisite artwork around the body of the cradle. The main reason being the quality of the wood. Another exotic aspect of the cradles are the impressive paintings of the sequences from mythological texts such as the coronation of Srirama, childhood pranks of Krishna, the assembly of Dharmaraya, Mecca, Madina, Jerusalem and the Vatican city. The cradle is painted with colours prepared from plants and herbs. Unlike synthetic colours, the colours used to paint the cradles do not fade even after several decades.

A mixture of wax and lac is boiled at a particular temperature and colour powder is added to the mixture. Slender sticks are used to paint the cradle and palm leaf is used for drawings. It is a tiresome and time-consuming art.

More than six generations of artisans are meticulously practising this art of manufacturing cradles. A few families are in this profession for several decades and generations. Apart from cradles, they also manufacture tables, teapoys and sofa sets. From commoners to celebrities, many make a beeline to this place to purchase these artistic cradles.

Lakshman Sahukar, an artist in this profession, says that they inherited this art from their ancestor, Piraji Sahukar, and affirms that the skill is being practised with the same dedication and devotion.

Continuing a tradition

He claims that the family has not broken the tradition and does not compromise on the quality. Even if the family toils throughout the year, they will be able to manufacture only 25 to 30 cradles as the process is complex and laborious. It takes at least a month to make a cradle. They procure teak wood from the Dandeli forest area. He also says that as they use natural colours, they ensure no harm to the baby in the cradle when it takes a chance to lick the paint on the wood. 

The price of these cradles varies from Rs 20,000 to about Rs 1 lakh. The visitors see it not just as a cradle but as a work of fine art. Now, they have learnt to install a bearing to make the job of rocking the cradle easier. Once the cradle is given a swing, it continues to swing for half an hour at a steady pace.

As its price deters people from buying a cradle, the artistic worth gets undermined. Interestingly, the demand for cradles is more in other states such as Maharashtra. The superior quality of teak wood from the Dandeli forest and the paintings have sustained the demand for this cradle. But now as the price deters people from buying, there is a decline in demand for cradles and that has forced artisans to migrate to the nearby cities in search of other jobs. Some families stare at a bleak future as they do not find sufficient work to sustain themselves. The state government should come to the rescue of these artisan families to save this traditional art from becoming extinct.

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