Keeping alive an art legacy

Keeping alive an art legacy
“Kinnal art is no longer the main source of livelihood for us. But the passion for the art endures.” Senior artisan Ekappa Ramachandra Chitragar’s words reflect the present condition of Kinnal art, an art form unique to Kinnal village of Koppal district.

It is a meticulous and elaborate wood-based craft, which manifests itself in different forms and designs. The village, which is known for weaving and handicrafts, is about 20 km away from Koppal. Hereditary artisans who are specialised in  Kinnal art are known as chitragars. Their ancestors were patronised by the Kings of Vijayanagar to begin with and later by the Nawabs of Koppal and the Desais of Kinnal.

Art and craft

Besides idols of gods and animal toys, the chitragars also make headgears, masks and painted wood panels. The sculptures vary in size from a few inches to several metres while motifs are both decorative and divine. Kinnal art has crossed its traditional territories to decorate various temples of the state.

Elaborate and intricate Kinnal paintings that decorate numerous temples of Karnataka stand as testimony to the state’s unending love for the art. The famous mural paintings of the Pampapateshwara temple and the intricate work on the wooden chariot at Hampi are considered to be the works of the Kinnal artisans. Over generations, these artisans have developed it into a folk art with classical traits. Geographical Indication Registry acknowledged Kinnal art’s rich heritage and uniqueness by granting it the status of Geographical Indication (GI).

About 60 families of chitragars live in the village now and six to eight of them have taken it up as a profession. Some have migrated to Bengaluru and are employed by organisations that are working for the cause of the art. Some have taken up related jobs like idol-making. Others have opted for completely different professions like teaching, but continue to be associated with the art. These artisans do multitudinous tasks of sourcing the raw material, sculpting the artefact, designing and decorating it. In the beginning, they make a line drawing of the design. For each part of the craft piece, a wooden core is prepared.

Softwoods like hebbevu (Melia dubia) and drumstick wood are used in the making of these toys. Once the components of the figure are prepared they are placed on a wooden plank and assembled.

Kitta, the tamarind seed paste with some other ingredients is used for joining the various parts of the toy. Then a mixture of pebble powder paste and liquid tamarind paste is applied to the entire artefact. This forms the base for the application of paint. Earlier they used to prepare natural colours made from herbs and coloured stones. Present-day artisans  use chemical colours bought from the market. They also use watercolour, acrylic and foil paper to enrich the look of the artefact.

While yellow is used as the primary colour, shades of red, green, blue and rose are applied depending on the requirement of the figure. Black colour is used to draw fine lines to indicate eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Brushes made of hair of squirrel's tail are used for delicate painting. After they complete design and painting,locally-made oil is applied on the figure. This increases the brightness of the artefact while enhancing its durability. Women of the family give the final touch to the art piece through embellishments like embroidery work. They even make small art works.

Chitragars are also specialised in making village deities (gramadevata) that are worshipped in villages during annual jatra festival. Ornamental boxes, furniture and cradles are some other specialisations of these artisans. Art works on these entities draw inspiration from nature with themes of birds, animals, creepers, flowers, fruits, and even mythology. In old times toys depicting people involved in various occupations were popular. Preferences have changed over time and now people opt for figures of animals, birds, fruits and other contemporary depictions. The styling of these figures is realistic while designing and chiselling have a master touch.

Uncertain future

Despite the onslaught of technology, this art has remained, adapting itself to changing times. But, situations have changed in recent years. Many believe that continuing with the art may not be economically rewarding. As a result, only a few want their children to stay in the profession. Others encourage children to pursue education and settle down in life with good jobs.

“Kinnal art has been the primary source of our livelihood for generations. In spite of its illustrious heritage, it is losing its attraction in  recent years. Hence, many families have stopped making artefacts and do menial jobs. Some take it as part-time jobs.

Government or other enthusiastic agencies should come forward and design programmes to promote this traditional art form,” opines senior artist Narayanappa Chitragar. The process of making an artefact is strenuous and takes a minimum of four days, as they do both carpentry and art work. Showpieces are usually charged at Rs 400 while two-feet structures sell at Rs 6,000. But Narayannappa’s son Nagaraj Chitragar sees a good future for the art. “There was a time when Kinnal art had reached its low. People are again showing interest in the art and there is always a good demand for quality
artefacts,” he feels. 

Ekappa Ramachandra Chitragar gives a different account of the situation, “The art has still retained its significance and there is a good demand for the artefacts. But we are not in a position to utilise it, owing to the lack of unity among artisans.” Recent developments provide evidence to this viewpoint. Older generation feels that  some artisans have figured out easy and faster ways of making an artefact, thus affecting the quality and
popularity of the art.

A training school and a procurement centre set up by the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Limited worked successfully for some years before getting closed down a few years ago. Along with procuring artefacts, it had also helped to improve the living conditions of the community by extending support to build houses with necessary infrastructure. Though the artisan community has formed an association it is not active. Lack of vision, structured effort and able leadership has left this illustrious art at a crossroads.

(Translated by Anitha Pailoor)

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