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5 Souvenirs To Carry Back From Kerala
Kerala is one the most exotic locales in the world. Among its many other virtues, is its treasure trove of beautiful handicrafts. Artisans in Kerala specialize in a host of art forms, including weaving, textiles, painting, woodwork, metalwork, coconut art and mask making. Here is a list of the top 5 souvenirs you should look out for, to take home from your Kerala vacation.
Coconut Shell / Coir Products
Coconut trees grow all over Kerala, and coconuts are used in their entirety. Coconut shells are a really hard medium. Consequently, a high degree of skill is required for carving coconut shell items. The Coconut shells are used in the making of cups, flower vases, snuff boxes, sugar and nut bowls, powder boxes and spoons. Hookas and large vases are made by combining coconut shells with brass bindings. Coconut fibres are cleaned and smoothened and used in the making of various dolls and toys along with beads and coloured threads. Coconut craft is mostly concentrated in the city of Calicut.
Raw Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world. In Kerala, it is used in the making of a wide range of artefacts. Popular artefacts include ashtrays, decorated boxes, candle stands, wooden toys, elephant figures, rhinoceros, Kathakali dance postures and so on. Carvings of Lord Krishna, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesh and the enigmatic Nataraj (in dance pose) in Sandalwood as well as Rose wood are also immensely popular and available all over. Models of Kerala's famous snake boat races are also coveted souvenirs. Aside from its use in carving, Sandalwood is also used as a rich beauty treatment. The paste of the Sandal bark is great for the complexion. Sandalwood oil is also used as a perfume or an additive to one's Bath water. This industry is primarily concentrated in the towns of Trivandrum, Trichur, Ernakulam and Cochin.
Bell-metal casting is a traditional industrial art in Kerala. It involves mainly two kinds of creations: idol making (of deities) in copper, bronze and brass, and lamp making. Other artefacts crafted from bell-metal include cosmetic boxes, incense-burners and small storage boxes. The Aranmula 'metal mirror' is another shining example of the skills of the craftsmen here. The metal is crafted in a way that it gets shiny enough to resemble the surface of a mirror.
Hand Painted Masks
The cultural life of the people of Kerala can be revealed in the wide variety of masks that are made, displayed, used and sold here. The masks may be human face masks, animal masks, God and Goddess masks or dance form masks. Masks are traditionally used as totem symbols outside homes, as part of elaborate costumes in dance performances, and as traditional headgear. The painting of facial masks is based on the position of six facial features - the eyes, eye-brows, nose, lips, cheeks and chin. The expressions shown by these masks are based on the special prominence given to each feature. Natural extracts and artificial colours are used in the making of these masks which may be made of wood, metal or paper mache. Apart from synthetic glazing materials, the sap extracted from the bark of the pine tree is also used for laminating the painted masks.
Traditional White and Gold Kerala Saris
The Keralan 'Kasavu' Sari is an ethnic cotton handloom sari, which is generally white or creamy-white in colour, with simple or elaborate gold border work on its pallu (the part that drapes over the shoulder). Kasavu saris are weaved in traditional hand operated looms. The Kasavu or gold border is made of thread dipped in real gold and then interwoven to form simple or intricate borders as well as animal or geometric motifs on various parts of the sari. The price of an original Kasavu Sari can start anywhere from Rs.900/- for a very basic sari, and go up to into multiples of ten thousands for the more elaborate, gold heavy designs. The good thing about these saris is that they are sturdy and don't tear or disintegrate over time. Every woman from Kerala owns at least one such sari as this style is considered the most basic element of a woman's wardrobe.