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Enchanting Kerala


ISSUE: 240


Kumbham - a resurrection in clay

Kumbham - a resurrection in clay

This is an exciting survival story from a little hamlet in Kerala, where a community of traditional artisans recaptured their long lost craft. Aruvacode a small hamlet near Nilambur in Malapuram (a northern district of Kerala) was known for its heritage in pottery; one of the oldest human vocations. The potteries and other clayware designed by the indigenous hands of this place were much sought after. As the ruthless tornado of modernity hit the markets, these home-grown products were replaced by their plastic and fibre counterparts. The potters of this place became jobless and deprived of livelihood. 

The story gets a twist here in the form of K. B. Jinan, a designer from the National Institute of Design, who after his passionate sojourns in Nagaland, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka finally decided to settle down at Aruvancode to understand the intricate interface of culture and aesthetics. There, Jinan sowed the seeds of a new movement called Kumbham. It commenced as a joint exploration of the traditional artisans and Jinan, which ushered in the communion of traditional skill and contemporary concepts. The movement helped the artisans vivify their latent creativity at a time when things were slipping to its decline. 

They used terracotta in modern contexts and reluctantly removed the traditional potter’s wheel from their workplace. They softened and shaped terracotta with their bare hands to create artifacts worthy to meet the requirements of the modern day. Landscaping products, murals, reliefs, and tiles are some of the common terracotta products made here. No artificial colour is used and the hues are obtained simply by heating. 

At present more than 80 artisans are affiliated to Kumbham. The centre has more than 500 exclusive designs to its credit, ranging from kitchen utensils to interior décor accessories. Jinan and the artisans of Kumbham also undertake outdoor works, a perfect piece of which is the huge tree mural at Shilpa Kalavedika, a convention centre located in the south Indian city of Hyderabad. This huge terracotta mural spreads over 60 feet and is considered one of the largest in the world. Today, reliefs and tiles crafted at Kumbham adorn the interiors of many corporate houses and eco tourism resorts across the country. 

Getting there:

Nearest railway station: Nilambur Railway Station, about 7 km.
Nearest airport: Calicut International Airport, about 41 km.

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