Kinnal Crafts – Finesse and detail exemplified

By Team Total Karnataka | Sep 24, 2016

In our mission to enable small, medium and rural enterprises to offer their products online, we visited Kinnal, a small village near Koppal in Northern Karnataka. The visit was organized by SIRDS (Sarvodaya Integrated Rural Development Society) that is working with the rural artisans of Kinnal village to form a skill group and promote their craft. Our intention to open a ‘window to the world’ for their craft work through, e-commerce market place for specialty products of Karnataka was highly appreciated by the society volunteers as well as the artisans.

Kinnal is a small village, 315km from Bengaluru and about 12km from Koppal town, the district headquarters of Koppal district in Karnataka.( more accurate map to reach kinnal can be seen from website › Karnataka › Koppal ) There are hardly about 15 houses left with the traditional artisans who practice Kinnal art and craft. We went from house to house on foot and visited about 5 houses and 15 artisans to see first-hand the process of making the craft and understand its significance. To appreciate Kinnal craft and value it, one needs to understand the history and process of making it. It was our objective to obtain it first hand in the process of enabling their products to be made available on line.

Kinnal Crafts:

Kinnal craft is basically wooden carvings prepared through an elaborate process and painted with organic colours in its original form.  The idols for worship as temple deities and decoration, photo frames with intricate carvings and paintings,  stools for placing the idols, fruit bowls, birds, cradles for children and variety of toys. The process of making Kinnal Craft is very delicate and time consuming. Crafted object on wooden base on which a fine paste is applied, polished and lastly painted. The level of detail needs to be understood to know why it is special and exclusive to possess. More details about Kinnal Craft can be obtained on

Typical Kinnal arts are large wooden idols and murals for temples. The idols were originally made for the royalty who were very wealthy. Hence the no. 1 priority was finesse and detail instead of time efficiency. This allowed the incorporation of fine details usually seen in paintings which is why the preparation of the surface of the wood is very similar to the process used for paintings of the wooden balls.  Of course, there have been other influences including regional arts, techniques and customs.

Process of making Kinnal Craft:

In order to truly appreciate the skills and time put into each of the Kinnal Craft, the process craftsmen use needs to be explained. Each piece has a wooden core consisting of several components. This core consists of Polky wood that is a very light and low quality timber. In fact it is only used for Kinnal craft. Even as firewood, it is unsuitable as it produces too much smoke.

The trees are felled 8 days before full moon to prevent insects from affecting the wood.  These woods are cut into appropriate sized planks. Craftsmen are often so experienced that they do not need to prepare a full size drawings for the same. They have their own templates for each component. Assuming we are making a figure, the body is split into different components such as body, hands, limbs etc., which are fitted together for which each part has been shaped.  One reason for this is ease of accessibility and efficient use of timber.

In fact all of the cuts are collected for usage into smaller pieces and saw dust is swept together for re-use along with the tamarind paste. The pieces are cut and shaped using knife, chisel and file. In true Indian style, craftsmen sit on the floor cross legged and use their limbs to stabilize the work piece. Once the parts are ready, they can be assembled using pins, nails and glue.  After the parts are tied the tamarind paste is applied to the joints where the shape needs to be carved. This process requires first coating the sticky tamarind gum to the surface, then the coarse base. It consists of the same gum and saw dust. Once the layer is dried, it is polished and the final tamarind paste made from the finer saw dust can be applied in a similar manner to build up the details such as chin and cheek. These are iterative processes and it takes several refinements to create a perfect shape.

Finesse and Detail:

Once satisfied, then fine sandpaper is used to give the carved object a smooth surface. A layer of cloth is put to prevent any crack from appearing later. Pulling and stretching the cloth with the tamarind paste to prevent wrinkles is important.

To prepare the surface for painting, it is given a first coat of pure tamarind glue and then two coats of fine chalk and tamarind wash. After this is dried, the surface is finally sanded and made ready for painting. To provide finer details and embossing effect, thicker version of chalk powder paste is applied. First the whole model is painted with white primer and any gold or metallic details are covered with aluminium foil which appears as shiny silver.  Now the colours can be added. The choice of colour is based on tradition. Skin tones are usually blue, yellow and orange. A great level of detail is put into shading decorative pieces. The final finishing touch is to paint silver, gold and black lines to detail all the features.

The brushes for most miniature paintings are self-made by the craftsmen using bamboo sticks, thread and squirrel tail. At the end, piece will be varnished and placed to dry.

Traditional varieties:

Typical pictures used for making the craft traditionally are Kaamarupi, 10 incarnations of Vishnu, Scenes from the Ramayana and other ancient texts.  Local deities like Maaramma, Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, Kaamadhenu, the cow who grants wishes and now many other objects such as birds and busts are made and sold into domestic markets. These secular non-religious objects revolve around cradles for children, or the ones used for religious purpose, the chatras, which is a decorative umbrella, also used in religious processions, the chowkis, the 4/6 legged stools used for placing the idols on.  The animals and birds are toys as well as decorative pieces, picture frames, fruit and vegetable trays often used in prayers.

All objects reflect great details and finesse. These are now often painted with synthetic paints giving glossy look.

The colour pallet is dedicated to the locally available material. Few examples of 200 year old work are painted with vegetable and mineral colours. The most commonly seen pictures are flowers, creepers used to decorate borders and corners, geometric patterns like basic stripes, checks, diamonds and dots are used to details representation of tables.

Few years ago Kinnal Craft was showcased in the Republic Day parade of India, in New Delhi to popularise the craft and prevent its extinction. Numerous workshops also have been conducted to showcase the craftsmanship. The Kinnal Craft Book describes it’s process and documents the In an unique workshop  in which six locals and six Scottish students were trained to learn and develop the craft, the process of making was documented as “Kinnal Craft Book” parts of which is used above to describe the process. In spite of all the effort the availability of the craft in the market has been rare and large pieces are only made to order by the highly specialized, nationally recognized artisans and sold through word of mouth.

Total Karnataka ( )   offers Kinnal Crafts made by rural artisans of Kinnal Village in Karnataka, through its effort to online the un-onlined small, medium and rural enterprises. Every purchase made through “Total Karnataka – Onlined” platform benefits in some way a community of artisans who thrive on the craft that they know off through generations and fighting for its continuity.



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