Thursday, May 06, 2010

Kondapalli Figures

If you thought these handmade Kondapalli figures from Andhra Pradesh look similar to the ones you see in Rajasthan, you would be absolutely right. 

Kondapalli is a village that is 250 kilometres from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh’s state capital. It is home to the eponymous craft of painted wooden figures that is believed to have been introduced to the region when migrants from faraway Rajasthan moved here many years ago.

There is a rustic simplicity to Kondapalli craft. Sathyanarayana, a second generation craftsman says, “We use a locally available wood that we call 'Tella Poniki'. However, we use only the branches and not the entire tree. We first dry the wood in the sun and only then proceed further. The body of the figure is carved and then various parts are attached using an adhesive. The main colours are painted in with natural dyes and intricate details are added to complete the figure.”

Hindu gods form the most popular subjects in Kondapalli figures. Ganesha, Hanuman, Rama-Sita, and Radha-Krishna are popular. Even the Bhagavad Gita, where God Krishna is depicted as the charioteer for Arjuna in the Mahabharata, is captured in a vibrant composition.

Among Kondapalli figures, the Dashavatara is much sought after. The Kondapalli Dashavatara is a set of 10 figures each depicting an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. A set of these in the smallest size, of two inch height, takes an entire day to make. Other subjects include tableaus of village life, caparisoned elephants and peacocks displaying their plumage. The craftspersons also receive orders for figures like royal elephants and bullock carts in sizes as large as five feet.

“The men create the figures and the women colour them.” Says Sathyanarayana. “About fifty families carry on this tradition. We even have our own residential quarters called Toys Colony in Kondapalli where our housing is provided by the government.”

These figures from Kondapalli are often confused with similar decorative craft called 'Thanjavur Bommai' from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Although the two look similar at first glance, the difference is that the craft from Thanjavur is made of Plaster of Paris and the material lends itself to a smoother finish.

The Kondapalli figure is colloquially referred in the local language, Telugu, as Kondapalli Bomma’. When literally translated to English, it means figure as well as doll or toy. However, these are not toys in the conventional sense of a child’s plaything. They are used purely as decorative craft and form part of the decorative display called ‘kolu’ in South Indian homes during the nine-day Navaratri festival. 

Kondapalli figures are available at most handicraft outlets in South India, especially the Andhra Pradesh crafts outlets called Lepakshi.

(An edited version appeared in Culturama's May 2010 Issue. Pics by author. Figures courtesy Mother Earth.)

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