Kerala is a treasure trove of some of the most exquisite works of handicraft consisting of art and craft items of decorative and utility value. These pieces of artwork desired by domestic and foreign tourists are all made indigenously by local craftsmen who are skilled in the trade that is carried forward through generations. Shopping for handicrafts is inevitably included in the itinerary of any tourist visiting the state.
The handicrafts of Kerala are the flag bearers of the glorious cultural heritage that is practiced and passed on in this land. The carvings of the numerous gods and goddesses reflect the deeply religious sentiments and beliefs of the people. Idols carved out of rosewood, sandalwood, teakwood, ivory, bell metal, copper, brass and other materials are coveted gifts and souvenirs sought after by the tourists. Kathakali face masks representing different characters from the dance-drama, models of snake boat races with the oarsmen rowing in unison, dummy elephants in royal paraphernalia and accessories etc are also popular art pieces.
Coir makes for an important cottage industry in Kerala and items made out of coir such as mats, wall hangings, curios, baskets, pen stands etc are some of the more common shopping items. Jute fibre also lends itself to be transformed into art and craft pieces used as wall decorations and door mats. Cane is also converted to innovatively designed furniture and showcase items by the artisans. Items made of coconut shell and husk offer another variety. These eco-friendly pieces are much sought after and bought as gifts and souvenirs by the visiting tourists. Showpieces carved out of ivory, buffalo horn and varieties of wood are also cherished as mementoes.
The fragrant sandalwood carved into candle stands, human and animal figurines, ash trays, decorated boxes, pens etc are popular. Manufacturing wooden toys and curios forms yet another traditional art practiced in the villages of Kerala. Metal and woodcraft are integrated to create the exquisite lacquer ware used in ornamentation. Carvings are made on rose and sandalwood and given a lacquer finish which is then embellished with metal ware.
The hand/machine-woven ‘set sari’ and two-piece ‘set mundu’of Kerala are hugely popular even among the foreign tourists who buy them in bulk to gift their loved ones back home. Besides, the metal art is another flourishing industry in the state. Bell metal which is an alloy of brass, tin and copper is another trademark material of Kerala, and is used to make lamps of various sizes and shapes, as well as household utensils. The unique Aranmula mirror made from polished metal is one more marvel the making of which is still claimed to be a closely guarded secret within a specific community of artisans.