Nirmal craft draws its name from one of the most famous rulers of the 17th century namely Nimma Naidu who was a great patron of arts. Seeing the exquisite detailing and craftsmanship of the toys, He encouraged the art of toy-making that thrived during his reign and brought fame to the town of Nirmal in the present state of Telangana.
Nirmal craft dates back to the Kakatiya era and recorded history says that the softwood toys, attractive paintings and furniture is a 400-year-old specialized traditional art. The foundries established here supplied must needed ammunition (war cannons for example) to the army of the Nizam of erstwhile Hyderabad state while the Naqqash craftsmen contributed their unique skill in the form of wooden toys. The patronage of the Hyderabad’s Nizam is believed to be one of the many reasons for this art to gain popularity. The town of Nirmal is very strategically located connecting North and Central parts of India with the South thus helping it gain a significant position in handicrafts in India and abroad.
Legend has it that the Naqqash families of Rajasthan who migrated to this region during the 17th century brought this art. The three main ingredients that go into the making of these toys are wood, colour, and lye. The Naqqash artisans use the locally sourced softwood poniki or white sander (wood is more pliable and flexible compared to the wood from other conventional trees giving the artisans an advantage of making a range of toys from this lightweight wood) to produce these toys.
The wood piece is cut into different sizes and shapes and stuck together by a specially prepared glue and coated with chinta lappam – prepared from sawdust and boiled tamarind seeds. White clay is then used as a coating which smoothens out any ridges and depressions. The toys are then dried and coloured.
These toys are painted with a herbal extract that lends a stunning golden sheen. These are also coated with exclusively rich oil colours. The shine also given to these toys is from the usage of Duco colours though some toys are also painted in enamel these days rendering a unique tone to them. The lye is made of tamarind seeds (chintha ginjallu), which are soaked in water until they become soft. These are then ground to a paste.
The wall plaques and paintings are made a little differently as teak wood is usually used in this case. The teak wood undergoes a process which involves lacquering the wood surface to get a clear black background which is then sprayed with colours (Duco colours) to get the desired background colour. The artist then paints the design which has been chosen on the wood. Only local indigenously prepared dyes are used for colouring paintings.
The motifs used in Nirmal craft are generally inspired from floral designs and frescoes found in Ajanta and Ellora, Kangra and from Mughal miniature art. The Nirmal paintings have been considered to be extraordinarily detailed and the Mughal miniature painting on wood is a must have for most art collectors. Nirmal toys and crafts received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2009.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)