R. Krishna Kumar

Legal cover for Mysore traditional paintings, wood inlay work

MYSORE: A slice of history with equal measure of geography has combined to create handicrafts unique in their artistry.

Mysore kings have bestowed lavish patronage for art and culture bequeathing a legacy that is distinctive to the region.

Proximity to forests and exposure to wild beauty and festivals enhanced the imagination of artists who reflected the culture and ambience of the province in their work. Thus crafts with wood as medium and traditional painting using subdued colours became part of heritage of Mysore.

In 2005, the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation, Bangalore, acquired the stamp of Geographical Indication (GI) that conferred legal protection to wood inlay works and Mysore traditional paintings, according to S.C. Devaramani, Assistant Director, Handicrafts Marketing and Service Extension Centre, Ministry of Textiles.

Inlay is the medium of art in which a rosewood surface is decorated by setting pieces of other materials like ebony, ivory, and different shades of wood in it and the ornamentation consists of geometrical patterns, floral designs and so on.

But in Mysore, the artisans have evolved themes that reflect life and traditions of the region such as the Dasara procession, elephants and tigers in the wild, horse in motion, khedda operations and trays and dining tables with modern designs.

Persian connection

The genesis of the craft is traced to Muslim artisans who migrated from Persia and settled here during the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.

They used to carve using deer horn. The wooden doors of Srirangapatana and the Amba Vilas Palace in Mysore are examples of this.

Later, the artisans migrated to Mysore and the first firm Yusuf Ali and Sons was established in 1870 and their photo frames and caskets exhibited during the British rule received gold medal for artistic work in 1914.

When the craft was languishing, the Elephant Brand Cigarette Company placed a large order for the inlay works to popularise their brand of cigarette. Thus, wild animals and elephants appeared for the first time in the craft.

But the turning point was in 1913 when Alderson, the then Superintendent of the Chamarajendra Technical Institute, experimented with inserting inlay and wood-carver Parameshwara introduced mythological and Persian motifs.

Mir Showkat Ali replaced old concepts with floral designs with complex themes such as scenes from the countryside all of which enhanced their sale.

In the 1940s, there were only two production units and their number increased to 45 in 1960 and today there are over 300 units and 2,000 artisans engaged in the production of wood inlay works. Decline of ivory was a threat but has been offset by using substitute materials of different colours for relief.

Traditional painting

Among the tradition whose origins are traced to the Vijayanagar era but followed to this day include the Dasara and the traditional Mysore school of painting.

After the fall of the Vijayanagar empire, the Wadiyars patronised art and culture and during the 17th and 18th Century, the traditional artists produced paintings for temples and palaces. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar was its greatest patron.

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