The Artisans Village, nestled in the Western Ghats at Pilikula on the outskirts of Mangalore, has been drawing hundreds of urbanites from last four years.
Those interested in seeing arts and crafts of yesteryear and buying products upgraded to contemporary designs come here. Yet, those who run the place admit that they walk a tight rope, balancing between showcasing the bygone skills while trying to make it a profitable business.
The village showcases nine crafts namely cane furniture, pottery, stone, wood, carpentry, handlooms, blacksmith , an old method of making beaten rice (‘avalakki'), and a traditional method of making edible oil. Of these, pottery, cane furniture making, terracotta articles, and even preserving the traditional way of making beaten rice were posing tough challenges, said Parameshwara Adiga, Project Officer of Artisans Village.
Take, for instance, genuine cane furniture, which lasts a century. Thick cane that bends when heated is expensive in Mangalore (a 12-foot long cane costs Rs. 37 including taxes) and buying it is highly restricted. It is scarce, sold only by the Forest Department and directly to cane furniture makers.
Another variety of cane of one-rupee coin size is required to make furniture. Thinner ‘pencil cane' (4-mm diameter) and rope-like cane required in furniture is imported from Malaysia.
Clay craftsmen find it difficult to procure good clay, which is brought from Gurupura. Another problem is getting firewood for the kiln. There is an additional problem of off-season rains so the pottery does not dry in time. In carpentry, wood is hard to get and stone carvers find it tough to create idols as it requires scarce, soft black Krishna Shile, available only in a place called Nellikaru in Karkala.
The job of a blacksmith is laborious and youngsters are unwilling to take up such crafts. “If the Government increases the stipend, then students may come,”” said Mr. Adiga.
Every year, the village loses Rs. 60,000 in showcasing the traditional method of making hand-pounded rice. “We do not exceed 5 kg a day to prevent further losses,” said Mr. Adiga. No one was interested in traditional crafts, he said. This year, only three students joined the village despite being offered Rs. 2,000 a month, free accommodation, electricity, water and firewood, he said.
Until now, the village has trained 1,249 craftsmen over three years from Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. It was started under the Special Swarna Jayanti Swarozgar Yojana of the Centre and the State (75-25 partnership) with Rs. 3 crore with the aim of becoming sustainable after three years. Now, 21 artisans live in the village. However, the issues have not daunted them.
Mr. Adiga said: “I am confident we can create and sell these goods profitably as finding a market is not a problem. Our products get snapped at events such as Karavali Utsav and at exhibitions in corporate locations such as Infosys.”