Nila Births Craftila
Along Kerala’s river Nila, brand Craftila targets lifting ingenious rural artisans above extinction.
By Sujata Devadas, January 20, 2018
Alerted by folk songs
Arangottukara village youth’s Vayali club made the effort to organise ‘Naadan Paattu
Sangams’ or folk music shows close to their homes. 9 musicians from the village
asked bell metal worker Sivanarayanan and bamboo craft artisans to make specific
musical instruments for them to play at these events. Attired in regional costumes,
these shows became so vibrant, invitations poured in from the rest of India to
perform in another city, another town.
Jump-starting a resolution
But Vayali hid a sorrow. Their amazingly skilled traditional artisans led destitute lives.
Determined to lift them out of poverty, Vayali set up an eco-bazaar division to devise ways of
helping artisans along the Bharathapuzha or ‘Nila' river to veer away from extinction.
Its pilot project took up bell metal, bamboo, pottery, Muthanga grass (Cyperus
rotundus), coconut shell, palm leaves, khadi weaving crafts. The benefits touched
- Coconut shell craftsmen,
- Gopalan and his pottery,
- Padmavati's Kora (Muthanga) grass mat weavers cooperative society,
- Moosari Sivanarayanan, bell metal worker,
- women weavers from a Khadi Production Centre
- bamboo craft homes, several family members.
living in Arangottukara and the neighbouring villages of Cheruthuruthy, Deshamangalam and Killimangalam.
The bottom rung
In an unremarkable building in a neighbouring village, 13 women weave khadi cloth
everyday from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Throughout Kerala, such weaving centres employ
women who stopped school education in their teens to begin earning, because of
stringent circumstances at home.
Vayali brings tourists to this Khadi Production Centre. Curiosity impels some visitors
to try weaving themselves. Enchanting but laborious, it requires both arms and both
legs to coordinate. If the thread breaks, frustration is expressed quite graphically.
Because rethreading the loom to resume weaving takes roughly 15 minutes. When
they leave, visitors sometimes tip the weavers out of admiration or buy a khadi
souvenir. No bargaining, no haggling. Prices are fixed by a central khadi board.
Ironically, this Khadi Centre’s manager, Subhash, knows nothing about weaving. His
office is elsewhere. He is not available or qualified to fix any problem. If a loom fails,
60-year-old Vasantha banks on her 35 years weaving experience to fix the loom or
any other work-related problem.
The dying Moosari craft
Idols, figurines, vessels, crockery, jewellery… in Deshamangalam village, 9 families
rested their hope on bell metal work to live. Today, Sivanarayanan is the only
‘Moosari’ (bell metal worker) in Deshamangalam. While others left this occupation
to pursue a better income, he is adamant about the craft and value of bell metal
First a mould of river clay, then wax is poured over, followed by a third mould of river clay. The wax creates the gap in the desired form. When it is melted and poured out, the
wax is replaced with liquid bell metal, the hard metal alloy. 78% copper combined
with 22% tin and traces of white lead, bell metal solidifies inside the cast. The clay
casts are broken to reveal the finished bell metal item. These casts, naturally, cannot
be used again. Each item takes days of diligent work. Bell metal objects do not
Over a century, Moosaris were acclaimed artisans in Kerala. Yet, today this state has
no legislation allowing Moosaris to use river clay, hitting right at the occupation’s
foundation, crippling its survival.
Moosari Sivanarayanan freelances, making objects to order. “It is illogical to infer
‘new’ means better quality.” he says. “Yoghurt stored in an aluminium vessel brings a
light blue coat to the surface, unhealthy to consume. This lining does not surface in
vessels made by Moosari craftsmen.”
“Bell metal work is my singular talent, my one source of income.” he continues,
“People need to understand how the capitalistic market works. Earlier, I used to take
my bell metal creations to shops for sale. Even before I leave, the shop salesman
adds about Rs.1000/- or so to my specified cost to make their profit before
displaying these objects for sale. It becomes funny when customers ask for the price
of the same item at my workplace. If I state the shop’s cost, they turn away, stating
confidently, they will get it cheaper ‘in a shop’. Mistaken views, customers who delay
payment or fail to pick up their specified order, are a grim portent for the Moosari’s
Invisible, despite support
To generate local employment for artisans and raise their economic calibre, Kerala State Artisans Corporation has industrial offices in each district with sub-centres in each block.
Until Vayali brought it up in conversation, Nila artisans did not know about Kerala Tourism’s ‘Craft village’ at Iringol (near Kozhikode) set up to exhibit traditional craftsmanship to tourists; nor did they know about several other exhibitions and
workshops held by this department spotlighting local craft throughout the year.
A total lack of connectivity with design institutes, slim financial resources,
haphazard marketing skills, confusion about filling forms and submitting
documents make traditional artisans’ invisible.
Brand name and strategies
Craftila superseded Vayali’s eco-bazaar division this year. “The distinctive brand name ‘Craftila’, short for ‘Crafts of Nila’, is a better profile of the artisans working with us” says the head of Vayali’s Craftila wing, Krishnadas.
Craftila has a database of Nila artisans “making it easier to involve them in
various schemes and promotional ventures. We are also building an e-commerce
database of government & private online marketing sites for Craftila products so
that benefits reach our artisans.” says Krishnadas.
'Naattu Chanda', the village bazaar
Craftila is looking for options to collaborate with art & design schools. Vayali borrowed Naattu Chanda (the village bazaar) from Kerala’s past rural way of life twice - in December 2016 and February 2017 - to offer a platform for public-private partnership meetings. It was attended by Craftila products’ buyers and sellers, micro-finance agents like Muthoot, ESAF and SRI, exporters, marketing executives from reputed e-commerce portals like and itshandmade.com to exchange economically sustainable ideas.
One hundred young Vayali members help their own rural community under the able leadership of Vayali's Executive Director, Vinod Nambiar. It has magnetised many to contribute their efforts to this winning way of pushing for success.
Craftila bamboo souvenir