Wood Carving in India

Woodcarving has a long tradition in India. Most religious and domestic architecture in India, from its very inception, was wood-based. The craft of woodcarving has flourished in the subtropical regions of India, which for centuries have been rich in a vast forest resource and a variety of timbers. The three most important types of trees that provide timber suitable for fine carving and architectural work are Saal (Shorea robusta), Teak (Tectona grandis), and Shisham or Rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo).

In most of India, carpenters are known as ‘suthar' or ‘sutar', from the Sanskrit ‘sutradhar', literally meaning ‘holder of the string', denoting those who use strings to ascertain straight lines. In southern India, ‘kammalan', an umbrella term for artisans, are used for both carpenters and stone carvers. From the past Mughal period, the word ‘badhai' is used in North India to mean a carpenter.

Most of the Indian woodwork artists still work with indigenous hand-held saws, hammers, adzes, drills, files, chisels, mallets, lathes, etc. They make architectural woodwork that includes planking, columns, brackets, doors, windows; objects of domestic use, such as tables, chairs, cradles, chowkis, cabinets, bowls and plates; and also various items like bullock carts, weaver's loom, print blocks, boats, for commercial uses. A deft artisan skilled in surface ornamentation carves intricate figurative or decorative pattern in shallow relief on architectural elements and furniture with a series of chisels, ranging from fine to broad.

Manual or power-driven lathes are also used for lac-turnery, a technique in which the craftsman presses pieces of colored shellac, one after the other, against the finished piece, on a moving lathe. This process lets the shellac melt and thereby stain the object, forming beautiful patterns. Other techniques of surface decoration and ornamentation include inlaying with other woods of contrasting colors (called parquetry) or with ivory or metal wire, as well as painting and latticework.

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