Coconut Shell, Fiber, Coir & Stem Craft of Kerala

Coconut Shell, Fiber, Coir & Stem Craft of Kerala

Gandhi ji's three Monkeys who 'See No Evil, Speak no Evil and Hear no Evil' have found many forms and in Tiruvanathapuram they find form in coconuts. Each carved from a single un-joined coconut these sculptures are a rather incredible artistic feat. And they've got a shelf life of over a hundred years as coconut is an extremely resilient organic material, resistant to damage by termites and other insects.

We were in conversation with Mr. Babu Raju at the Crafts Museum where he was displaying his skill and his wares. From S.P.S. Handicraft in Rajaji Nagar Tiruvanathapuram he was in Delhi with his master Mr. Prathap who was given the National award for an eagle he carved from single coconut husk piece in 1994.

The process of making monkeys from coconut goes through five different stages of cutting, shaping & polishing. The first step is the selection of the coconut as not all coconuts are good for carving. They must be flawless and have no surface ruptures to be suited for image making.

After the initial carving of the surface is completed it is left in sun till its colour turns to a typical monkey brown. Then the edible portion of the coconut is removed. The hardest task is shaping the face as it need careful attention to give the monkey the desired expression. Though seemingly simple, there is great skill and attention required to carve the monkey to the right measurements because if the proportions get distorted the coconut must be discarded. There is no scope for rectification.

The entire process is done with a chisel, mallet, sickle and foreign cutting blades. The tools are prepared to the craftsman's own fashion & design. Sandpaper is used for the final touch. Ears and eyes and the foot are made from coconut nut shell. It is the hard wall protecting the edible portion which is tough to cut the determines the size of the monkey.

The objects made from coconuts are quirky curios, commonly used for decoration. Though the focus here is the monkey trio other items include flower vases, pen stands, wall hangings, elephants and coconut trees. But the possibilities are limitless for these skilled craftsmen who see endless objects in the innocuous coconut.

As it is both time consuming and requires precise attention through the entire sculpting process, what is charged for the article is the workmanship. Coconut is a widely available raw material under no threat of extinction; it is not a precious mineral or metal. This crafts testifies to the fact that beauty lies not in the material but in the artistic realization of an innovative mind. And that though we bemoan the languishing crafts, we must also pay heed to the crafts that are thriving and through the introduction of new designs creating a market for themselves.

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