Ghumr Shakuntala’s primary passion is discovering the stories of Indian handicrafts. Hence her travels take her to nooks and corners of India to meet the master craftsmen of India. She loves to soak in the place, its people, craft and indomitable spirit that makes it integral part of Bharat! Last year, she extensively traveled in Southern India to explore its hidden crafts and talent. She visited Mysore in Karnataka leading to villages of Kerala culminating her journey in Mahabalipuram and interiors of Tamil Nadu. Starting her Southern Stories of Handicrafts series with Mysore and hoping all Ghumrs enjoy it and get inspired!
We kicked off our Southern India journey with Mysore. It was indeed a wise decision, because the crafts of the beautiful city of palaces truly blew our mind and gave us just the right start! Mysore was ruled for years by the erstwhile Wodeyar dynasty. A progressive and pro-people kingdom the rule was marked by innovations in the arts, culture and architecture of the region. Today, Mysore has a reputation of being a leading craft hub and contributes heavily to the Indian handicraft bouquet through its unique and patented silk, wood carvings, wood inlay work and a variety of sandalwood products. However our journey revealed that what sets Mysore apart is not just the richness of its offering but the warmness of its people and the simplicity and grace only a seasoned artist community can have. That is what caught our fancy!
We started our journey from Bangalore one sunny morning and gobbled some delectable Kannadiga breakfast on the winding highway to reach Mysore. Our first guide was Rizwan. An artisan, from a family of artisans, Rizwan bhai as we called him owns a store that houses some of Mysore’s best offerings. He walked us through panels of inlay work, the most intricate of carved pieces in white, rose and sandal wood and laid in front of us a riot of colors in the form of silk saris, scarves and shawls. The one common thing about the different offerings from Mysore is the air of class. Every single piece of wood inlay frame, every carved wood piece and every length of silk from the region has a touch of royalty, a stamp of uniqueness!
The next morning we headed out in search of the masters. We visited the KSIC (Karnataka Silk Corporation) known world over for their patented crepe-quality silk. We saw expert and nimble weavers boil, cook, dry, soak, wind, double and twist. As uninitiated to the world of silk as we were, we gradually walked through the large workshops to learn that the words above are steps that makes a woolly cocoon yield threads of shiny raw silk which are then woven into grand and delectable garment and accessory pieces.
The process is magical for sure but what also held our fancy was the quiet and humble weavers who greeted us with a smile each time and answered even the most basic of our questions with such unnerving patience. Our silk expert was the erstwhile V P Ganagi,a 30 year veteran in the Mysore silk factories who with his easy charm and ever smiling face gave us a tour around the T Narsipur cocoon processing plant and made sure that we knew everything of the silk making process that is to be known.
Our next pit-stop was a small wood carving studio in a busy by-lane of the old Mysore Market place. Here we met the other Rizwan who showed us how the absolute finesse of original inlay frame is achieved. He took us through the tracing, designing, chipping, fitting and finishing processes and told us with a philosopher’s grin that even we could become a master of the art with about 6 months under his tutelage!
There is something in the air of Mysore. The whole two days of endless walks, meeting artists, visiting markets could not sap out an iota of energy that we had when we started. Here, there is always something to look forward too; something new always awaits you in one disguised corner. As we walked through the gates of the Mysore palace and suddenly the entire area was lit up as a part of the weekly ritual we felt the same exuberance of grandeur and joy in our hearts. Mysore had not disappointed us, it had in fact infused in us a certain confidence, a confidence that we were on the right track and it felt that the palace lit up against the dark sky was only a symbol of the knowledge and success that was just waiting to be lit up inside our hearts as well. Someday, in this journey, just like that we would feel enlightened too! Just like that….