Unique Kerala Crafts Village Mirrors Art Heritage of India

What was originally an endeavour to revive and showcase Kerala’s arts and crafts has widened its scope and aesthetics. In just four years, Sargaalaya has grown to become a microcosm of the rural heritage of the whole of India.

What’s more, the pioneering enterprise by Kerala Tourism being managed by an eight-decade-old construction society is bracing up to run a handicrafts training academy in its 20-acre campus in upstate Malabar. For now, it is particularly busy with organizing a grand fortnight-long national festival that will start this year-end.
Welcome to Kerala government’s only initiative that facilitates the visitor with the exclusive privilege of learning a lesson or two on crafts-making while buying a product fashioned by traditional artisans. The sprawling ‘Sargaalaya’ premises in Kozhikode district currently has not just Malayali artistes who form the chunk in a total of close to 90; the 27 huts dotting the venue at Iringal village near Vadakara churn up 61 varieties of crafts from across the country.

“The idea is to strengthen the critical link between tourism and handicrafts,” notes P P Bhaskaran, Chief Executive Officer of Sargaalaya, which has an annual turnover of Rs 1 crore. “While India has 3.85 million people making a living from tourism, as many as 7 million people work in the field of handicrafts. In fact, the current five year plan (2012-17) envisages employment to 6 million craftspeople in the country.”
A top Kerala Tourism official points out that the 2011-founded Sargaalaya, with its wide range of products made from raw materials ranging from less expensive natural options such as banana fibre, coir, bamboo, sand, coconut-shells, husks, palm leaves, coconut leaves and screw-pine to modern alloys, is another example of Responsible Tourism that the state has been carrying out successfully, even having won a United Nations award earlier last year.

The Uralungal labour Contract Co-operative Society Ltd (ULCCS), which has been entrusted with the management of Sargaalaya, notes that Iringal was an obscure village till it built up the novel endeavour. “Today, we are there to assist Sargaalaya in each of its development activity,” notes P Ramesan, president of 1925-incepted ULCCS headquartered in Madappally, not far from Vadakara.Sargaalaya1

With its tastefully lined up huts dotting alongside corridors — all of them conceived by architect R K Ramesan — Sargaalaya is now on a rapid growth to progress. “We will be opening a handicrafts training academy next year,” reveals Bhaskaran. “Initially, it will be a certificate course — affiliated to IICD (Indian Institute of Craft and Design based in Jaipur).”

Also, there is a Sargaalaya-Iringal International Crafts festival coming up during this December 20 and January 5, 2016. “It will be the 5th edition of our annual Crafts Expo, but a much glorious version of it. There will be 356 artisans — mostly national and state award winners from across the country — participating in it, besides our permanent artisans,” an official says.

STA_1770There are also plans afoot to set up a handicraft park besides a musical fountain, given that the campus still retains the water body from the residual pond left after granite rocks in the area was quarried before the inception of Sargaalaya. Says Rajesh T K, general manager: “We are also aiming for a light-and-sound show. It would involve an investment of Rs 2.7 crore.”

Rajesh is eloquent about an artwork on Sachin Tendulkar that Sargaalaya came up with on a momentous occasion of the cricketing great’s career. It was a framed 170-sqft mural that five artists of the village worked on for 50 days (depicting team-members joyously carrying Tendulkar) before exhibiting it at Wankhade Stadium in Mumbai where the batting maestro retired from international cricket in November 2013.

“The painting is a testimony to the improvisation skills of Sargaalaya artistes,” notes the general manager, walking along the campus which also sports vegetable and flower gardens in abundance.STA_1767

Substantiating the statement, the village has its artistes working with adherence to tradition as well as updating it with new-age tastes and requirements.

For instance, Sivadasan K K works on clay but his products these days include necklace, beads, tiny boats and toys. “I don’t paint them,” the young Malayali alumnus from IICD says, pointing out to the objects that have different colours. “I use clays of brown, red, black, etc.”STA_1763

If Arun, who hails from a potters’ family off Nilambur in neighbouring Malappuram district had his higher studies in Rajasthan, a fellow artist of his at Sargaalaya comes from the other end of India. Biswajit Roy is from West Bengal and works on bamboo canes, making mostly sofa sets.

From the Northeast is a couple. Chandra Deb and his wife are experts in making decorative items from dry flowers that are seen commonly in their hill-state of Nagaland.
Not far is a stall on Patachitra, Orissa’s traditional cloth-based art. The eastern-Indian art has a practitioner from the country’s west, as Jaipur’s Babbu Khan rolls out the textile showing paintings of mythological theme and sings the story behind the scenes.


Then there is aged C N Ayyappan, who makes mat from kora-variety grass. “Mine is a rare artwork; not many know it back in my native Killimangalam village (in the north of Thrissur district),” says the diminutive septuagenarian, wearing a lungi round his waist. “Here I have found a couple of pupils. The future of the art should now be safe.”STB_1769

Mundorpoyil Rajamma is a tribeswoman from Wayanad. She makes baskets out of canes. “You have to be patient to complete each work. You also need to be innovative,” adds the lady from a village near Kalpetta in the rugged district.

Northern Bihar’s Injila Devi, an artist in her fifties, till recently conjured up with the one art she knows best: Madhubani paintings.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and media consultant based in Delhi)

Getting there:
By road from Kozhikode town: 42 km.
Nearest railway station: Iringal (1.5 km).
Nearest airport: Calicut International Airport, about 23 km from Kozhikode town.

Visiting hours: 10 am to 6 pm