Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Traditional pottery of India

Creating ceramics, India
photo courtesy Biswarup Sarkar

According to Indian mythology the first earthen vessel was made in a hurry by Viswakarma, the God of arts and crafts, when after the churning of the ocean a pot for keeping the nectar was urgently needed. And since that time clay craft has become one of the most popular handicrafts in India and earthenware has been an essential part of a daily life. Clay pots are used for storing water and grain, for churning butter or setting milk to make curds. A pot filled with water is a symbol of good omen and so it is often used in traditional ceremonies.For worship if no image of a deity is available, a water pot does the duty. A variety of earthen objects are used in rituals like lamps, drums, flower vases, musical instruments. Tiny earthen lamps are also kept near new-born babies for 12 days. Many objects are specially produced for festive occasions like lamps for Diwali or toys for Dusserah.

Traditional masks of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka traditional tovil mask
Sri Lankan tovil mask.  National Museum Scotland

In Sri Lanka traditional masks are not just show-pieces or curios to decorate apartments. Here they still have meaningful existence in rituals and performances. Masks worn during so called demon dances are called tovil masks. During a tovil ceremony the dancer has to impersonate the demon and to converse freely with the exorcist. So many of the masks worn in these ceremonies are only half-cut masks and do not cover the entire face and head. They are light and easy to talk through.
There is a specialized group of tovil masks called sanni masks. Many Sri Lankans believe that diseases are results of demonic activity and 18 demons that cause sicknesses are represented by the sanni masks. Among the 18 deseases are following: delirium, abdominal pain, blindness, lameness, dumbness, deafness and insomnia, paralysis, cold shivers, disease of the stomach, fainting, high fever.

Made for maharajas: ceremonial weapons

Shiels (Dhal), Lucknow, first half 19th century. Silver gilt, brass, enamel and diamonds. Photo The Royal Collection Trust 

There are hardly any portraits of Indian maharajahs that do not show them carrying their ceremonial swords. For them arms were more than mere weapons, they symbolized honour, justice, courage, manhood, pride, and freedom. Arms were believed to possess sacred power. They were worshiped on special festivals such as Dussera. And they were beautiful works of art, decorated with gold, enamel and precious stones. Some weapons were ornamented with the images or symbols of divinities, are then they were more than just a symbol of power and social standing, but also a symbol of personal devotion to a deity. The image of the deity would of course also serve as a blessing on the weapon and he who wore it, invoking the power of the deity to protect and justify the actions of the owner of the weapon.Some superbly jeweled Indian arms are on display in museums around the world. Displayed at the Baroda Palace Armoury is a sword whose hilt is studded with two hundred and seventy-five diamonds and an emerald. One of the most beautiful jewelled daggers is in the Wallace Collection, London. Its hilt has been thickly overlaid with plates of gold, enamelled a striking crimson and encrusted with rose diamonds, cabochon rubies and emeralds. Such pieces were handed down from father to son. At the time of coronation the ruler was ceremoniously handed the sword and shield of his father by the family priest.

Traditional Thai flower arrangements

Thai flower garlands
Thai flower garlands, photo courtesy edna astronomia-estrada

Thai floral decoration is an art that has been in practice since the early times of history. It makes use not only of flowers but also leaves and branches and some additional materials such as incense sticks or candles. The most common of all the country's floral creations are garlands known as malai. They are made by stringing together various flower combinations that depend on seasonal blooms and the creator's imagination. The mixture, however, will always include one or more fragrant flowers, usually jasmine buds and roses. Garlands range from simple to highly complex and are placed as offerings on shrines, presented to honoured guests and used on many other special occasions.

Traditional woodcarving of Nepal

Woodcarving of Nepal, decorative detail
Wood carved decoration of the Kumari house, Basantapur

One of the things that Nepal can really be proud about is its traditional art of woodcarving. You can stumble upon beautiful pieces of wood-carved art literally at any corner of Kathmandu. Struts, pillars and beams of the temples, doors and windows of the common houses and office buildings, photo- and mirror frames, furniture - everything that is wooden is decorated either with finely carved figures or with intricate patterns.
The tradition of woodcarving in Nepal goes back to the 12 century. Since then, the carvers have achieved great skill by passing secrets from generation to generation and acquiring and sharing new techniques. In the Newar community, to which wood carvers mostly belong to, medieval texts are still kept - instructions and rules for wood carving, which are used in practice until now. For example, the masters still do not use any nails or glue to create their works.