Horn, Bone, Ivory Carving of Kerala

Horn as a raw material that is available almost everywhere. Craftspersons use the grain of the material and the variations in colour to great advantage. Buffalo horn carving is carried out in Trivandrum, Trichur, Kasaragod, Ernakulam, and Cochin.The horn which is hard softens and becomes pliable when it heated and oiled. Common products include models of birds and animals, toy furniture, and miniature snake boats. Utilitarian items like paper weights, vases, buttons, trays, little boxes, pen stands, lamps, cigarette cases, and ashtrays are also made. Kerala cranes are particularly famous as are animals like elephants and tigers.

Till the ban on ivory Kerala was reputed for its ivory carving and Trivandrum was the most important centre. Earlier the products made were images of deities and sacred animals. The ivory carvers have now shifted to bone and wood. They continue to carving mythological figures and natural objects. The more common representations are of Shivga as Nataraja, Shiva-Parvati, Ganesh, Subrahmanya, Vishnu Saraswathi, and Lakshmi. Carving is done with a chisel very gently to avoid damage. Apart from carving, designs are also etched on to the surface. Floral or geometrical patterns, birds, animals, and jungle scenes are carved in bass relief. Another speciality of Kerala is a set of over 100 miniature elephants sealed in a small shell with a diameter of 0.5 cm.

Kerala also had a rich tradition of ivory painting. The area to be painted was smoothened with sandpaper and the outline of the picture was sketched on it in pencil. It was pierced with a needle and water colours applied on the surface with a pointed brush so that the colour penetrated the little holes.