It is no understatement to say that India is a country that reeks of artistic heritage and cultural traditions which literally exist in its nooks and corners. Villages and towns that are seemingly non-descript are home to traditional art and craft forms that more often than not date back centuries. Kinnal village that is situated in Karnataka’s Koppal district and located close to Hampi is one such interesting village. Known for a unique variety of wood craft, Kinnal is famous for its handcrafted toys and religious idols.

Kinnal (also spelt Kinhal) toys date back to the 15th and 16th century during which time it was patronized by the rich kings of the Vijayanagara empire and then later by the nawab of Koppal. The exquisite carvings on the Hampi chariot as well as the famous mural paintings in the Pampapateshwara Temple are all believed to be the artwork of Kinhal craftsmen. Passed down from generations and having survived several centuries, the wooden toys of Kinnal have been accorded a GI (Geographical Indication) considering the fact that the craft is exclusive and native to this part of the state.

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Making of Kinnal Toys – Photograph: Rashmi Gopal Rao

 

There are close to 25 families in Kinnal today who are into this handicraft and are actively involved in making these idols. The artisans remain quite busy during the Dasara season as well as during the times the nearby villages host local festivals.

Kinnal idols known for their bright paint and vibrant colours are usually in the form of Gods, animals, wooden panels, murals and even masks. Among the Gods, the idols of Lord Ganesha, Shiva-Parvati, Hanuman and Garuda are quite popular. The paintings done on murals and temple panels bear a distinct folk influence and the themes range from being decorative to divine. The paintings can also be seen on pieces of furniture like stools, cradles etc. The paints used are mainly water colours and oil paints but the latter is more popular as they are water proof and last longer.

The idols are handmade and the entire process is elaborate and quite a laborious task. The wood used in making the idols is of a tree locally known as “Ponki marra” that grows in and around Kinnal. The characteristic feature of this wood is that it is soft and light weight and hence amenable to sculpting. The wood from the tree is cut into pieces of workable size and then dried thoroughly. The first step involves drawing a full sketch of the idol required which is generally done on the walls using charcoal. The sketch is then roughly drawn on wood which is chiselled to bring out an initial model. Once the model is ready, a mixture of liquid tamarind and pebble paste is applied to the entire idol and the same is left to dry. The idol is then further refined and features like the face are carved out and finally bought to shape.

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Kinnal Toy – Photograph: Rashmi Gopal Rao

 

If the size of the idol is very large, different components like the limbs and head are made separately and are joined together by a paste that is made from boiling a mixture of ground tamarind seeds, wood powder and thin jute strands, This paste is locally prepared by the artists in their houses and is used extensively as most of the idols made are for temples and religious festivals. Pebble powder paste is mixed with liquid gum and this adhesive is used for embossing patterns including jewellery on the idol.

Once the idol is complete, it is covered in white paint which is mainly made from chalk powder after which the final colours are applied. While the commonly used colours are red, green, blue and yellow, Kinhal toys also have a signature gold and silver colour. Artists use a special technique called “Lajawara” method to achieve this colour that is obtained from melting pieces of metal.

Lack of financial support, adequate training and economic viability are just some of the issues faced by Kinnal artisans. It is due to these reasons that the next generation of most existing artists are unwilling to take this on as a full-time profession. Most artists opine that they need more attractive schemes and incentives from the Government if the craft has to survive and flourish in the future.