Handcrafted heirlooms from Karnataka

Karnataka is the state with the maximum number of products listed under the GI (Geographical Indication) tag in India. The tag is a way of proving that a certain product corresponds to a specific region, like a town or state. So, in case you want to purchase the original product, chances are you might want to take a trip to the region.

Listed below are handicrafts from Karnataka that have been awarded the GI tag. The next time you visit the state, try and get your hands on at least a few of these gems.

Mysuru Silk

Karnataka produces 9,000 metric tons of mulberry silk, contributing to nearly 45% of the country’s total mulberry silk. In Karnataka, silk is mainly produced in the Mysore district. It is a patent registered product under KSIC, an owner of the Mysore Silk brand.

The growth of the silk industry in the Kingdom of Mysore was first initiated during the reign of Tipu Sultan nearly 1780-1790 AC. Later it was hit by a global depression and competition from imported silk and rayon. In the second half of the 20th century, there was a revival, after which the Mysore State became the top multivoltine silk producer in India. Mysore Silk factory located in the heart of Mysore is spread across acres of land and is mainly responsible for silk weaving and distribution of silk products.


Bidriware is a metal handicraft from Bidar. It was developed in the 14th century C.E. during the rule of the Bahamani Sultans. The term “bidriware” originates from the township of Bidar, which is still the chief centre for the manufacture of this unique metalware. Due to its striking inlay artwork, bidriware is an important export handicraft of India and is prized as a symbol of wealth. The metal used is a blackened alloy of zinc and copper inlaid with thin sheets of pure silver. Bidriware techniques and style are influenced by Persian art.

Channapatna Toys and Dolls

Channapatna town is popular for the cute and impeccable craftsmanship depicted in these toys. The toys are made with wood, mainly ivory wood which gives a polished look to the toys.

On the streets of the Channapatana, one can witness the numerous wooden toys displayed all along the roadside shops. The woodwork is colored using vegetable dyes and the wood used is the Doodhi Wood (Milkwood) which is white in color and facilitates the ease of carving. For the glazing of the toys, the polishing is done with high abrasive property grass. Hence the toys are completely environment-friendly. The Channapatna toys do not just consist of dolls and horses, but also ones that involve mathematical games and puzzles.

Mysore Rosewood Inlay

Mysore Rosewood Inlay covers a range of techniques used by artisans in and around the area of Mysore in sculpture, furniture and decorative items for inserting pieces of contrasting, often coloured materials like ivory shells, mother-of-pearl, horn and sandalwood into depressions in a rosewood object to form an ornament or pictures that normally are flush with the matrix.

Kasuti Embroidery

Kasuti is a traditional form of folk embroidery practised in the state of Karnataka, India. Kasuti work which is very intricate sometimes involves putting up to 5,000 stitches by hand and is seen on dresswear like Ilkal sarees, traditional jackets, coats or kurtas.

The history of Kasuti dates back to the Chalukya period. The name Kasuti is derived from the words Kai (meaning hand) and Suti (meaning cotton), indicating an activity that is done using cotton and hands. The women courtiers in the Mysore Kingdom in the 17th century were expected to be adept in 64 arts, with Kasuti being one of them. The Kasuti embroidery features folk designs influenced by rangoli patterns of Karnataka, mirror work embroidery and gold & silver thread embroidery.

In Karnataka sarees embroidered with Kasuti were expected to be a part of the bridal trousseau. Kasuti work involves embroidering very intricate patterns like gopura, chariot, palanquin, lamps and conch shells. The work is laborious and involves counting each thread on the cloth. The patterns are stitched without using knots to ensure that both sides of the cloth look alike. Different varieties of stitches are employed to obtain the desired pattern.

Mysore Traditional Paintings

It is an important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in and around the town of Mysore in Karnataka encouraged and nurtured by the Mysore rulers. Painting in Karnataka has a long and illustrious history, tracing its origins back to the Ajanta times (2nd century B.C. to 7th century A.D.) The distinct school of Mysore painting evolved from the paintings of Vijayanagar times (1336-1565 AD). With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire after the Battle of Talikota the artists who were till then under royal patronage migrated to various other places like Mysore, Tanjore, Surpur, etc. Absorbing the local artistic traditions and customs, the erstwhile Vijayanagar School of Painting gradually evolved into the many styles of painting in South India, including the Mysore and Tanjore schools of painting.

Mysore paintings are known for their elegance, muted colours, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu gods and goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. The murals detailing the Battle of Pollilur and other painted work at the Daria Daulat Bagh, palace of Tipu Sultan in Ganjam, Srirangapatna are prime examples of the Mysore school of painting. Most of the traditional paintings of the Mysore School, which have survived until today, belong to the reign of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. On the walls of Jagan Mohan Palace, Mysore (Karnataka), the fascinating range of paintings which flourished under Krishnaraja Wodeyar can be seen: from portraits of the Mysore rulers, their family members and important personages in Indian history, through self-portraits of the artists themselves which Krishnaraja Wodeyar coaxed them to paint, to murals depicting the Hindu pantheon and Puranic and mythological scenes.

Ilkal Sarees

Ilkal saree is a traditional form of saree which is a common feminine wear in India. Ilkal saree takes its name from the town of Ilkal in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka state. They are woven using cotton warp on the body and art silk warp for the border pallu portion. In some cases instead of art silk, pure silk is also used.

Ilkal was an ancient weaving centre dating back to the 8th century AD. The growth of these sarees is attributed to the patronage provided by the local chieftains in and around the town of Bellary. The availability of local raw materials helped in the growth of this saree. The uniqueness of the saree is the joining of the body warp with pallu warp using a series of loops locally called Tope Teni technique. If anyone requires an Ilkal saree one must prepare a warp for every saree. Warp threads for the body and pallu are prepared separately.

Another distinctive feature of Ilkal sarees is the use of a form of embroidery called Kasuti. These sarees are usually 9 yards in length and the pallu of the Ilkal saree (the part worn over the shoulder) carries designs of temple towers made out of red silk with white patterns. The end region of the pallu is made up of patterns of different shapes like hanige (comb), koti kamli (fort ramparts), toputenne (jowar) and rampa (mountain range). The colors traditionally used are pomegranate red, brilliant peacock green and parrot green. The sarees for the bride are made of a particular colour called Giri Kumkum which is associated with the sindhoor worn by the wives of the priests in this region.

Ganjifa Cards of Mysore

Ganjifa cards are circular or rectangular, and hand-painted by artisans. The game became popular at the Mughal court, and lavish sets were made, from materials such as precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell (darbar kalam). The game later spread to the general public, whereupon cheaper sets (bazâr kalam) would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard. Typically Ganjifa cards have coloured backgrounds, with each suit having a different colour. Different types exist, and the designs, number of suits, and physical size of the cards can vary considerably. With the exception of Mamluk Kanjifa and the Chads of Mysore, each suit contains ten pip cards and two court cards, the king and the vizier or minister. The backs of the cards are typically a uniform colour, without patterning. The earliest origins of the cards remain uncertain, but Ganjifa cards as they are known today are believed to have originated in Persia.

Navalgund Durries

Nuvulgund durrigullu, also known as “jumkhaanaa” gullu in Kannada language, were initially made by a group of weavers of Bijapur who used to live in the Jumkhaan Gulli during the reign of Ali Adil Shah. As a result of the war between the Adil Shahs and the Vijayanagar empire, the Jumkhaan weavers sought a safe place to pursue their trade, and so migrated to Nuvulgund, initially to trade in pearls but later settled down in the town, established looms and wove durrigullu. These durrigullu are made exclusively by the women of the community, operating the looms at home. At one time, there were 75 women working on this handicraft, but due to lack of facilities and poor returns, now only some 35 women are engaged in the weaving of the rugs.

This craft became their exclusive culture and a means at home to make a living for traditional Muslim women of the Sheikh Sayeed community who were confined to their homes. This type of durrie is not made at any other place. The artisans are quite secretive about their art of weaving these durries, and the skill is taught only to their daughters–in-law (not to their daughters as after marriage they would go away to another family).

Karnataka Bronzeware

Traditional bronzeware metalcraft is carried out using the cire perdue, lost wax method. The temples have an attractive display of this art and it speaks volume of the creativity of the artists. In the south of India, there is a strong belief that bronze exudes the energy of the divine and this is the reason why the idols are made of bronze. Bronze items can be preserved for a longer time when they are maintained and are not breakable. Karnataka produces traditional lamps made out of bell metal and brass. They are available in all possible sizes.

Bidar in Karnataka is famous for bidriware-a craft done on a metal plate of zinc, copper, tin, and lead. Bidri articles include ornamental jugs, bowls, plates, pen holders, candlesticks, and even paper knives. The temple town of Udupi is famous for its small images and ritual objects, while Karkala, an ancient Jain center, is well known for its Jain icons.

Mangalore in the west coast boasts of domestic articles made of bell metal while Nagamangala near Mysore is celebrated as a center for bronze casting. The bronze makers of Nagamangala have for centuries displayed delicate and graceful workmanship especially in delineating, in the most charming manner, the anatomy of the human body.

Kinhal Toys

It is a traditional wooden craft local to the town of Kinhal, or Kinnal, in Koppal District, North Karnataka. Kinhal was once a flourishing centre for crafts, the most well-known being carvings in wood. The famous mural paintings in the Pampapateshwara Temple, and the intricate work on the wooden chariot at Hampi, are said to be the work of the ancestors of the Kinhal artisans of today.

The artisans are called chitragar. Lightweight wood is used for the toys. The paste used for joining the various parts is made of tamarind seeds and pebbles. Jute rags, soaked, slivered into pieces, dried, powdered, and mixed with sawdust and tamarind seed paste is made into kitta. A mixture of pebble powder paste with liquid gum is used for embossing the ornamentation and jewellery on the body of the figure. Once the components of the figure are assembled, kitta is applied by hand all over, and small pieces of cotton are stuck on it with the tamarind paste. Over this is applied the pebble paste which forms the base for the application of paint.

Previously, toys depicting people involved in various occupations were popular; now the preference is for figures, animals, and birds. Garuda, the epic bird, has 12 components while Lord Ganesha on a throne has 22 components. The styling is realistic and the designing and chiselling has a master touch. In the festival season, clay toys and images are made, often out of cow dung and sawdust as well.

Kolhapuri Chappal

Kolhapuri chappals are Indian hand-crafted leather slippers that are locally tanned using vegetable dyes. Kolhapuri Chappals or Kolhapuris as they are commonly referred to are a style of open-toed, T-strap sandal. These chappals were first made in Kolhapur and hence there is a wrong perception that only artisans from Maharashtra are involved in making these chappals. Artisans from Karnataka have been involved in making Kolhapuri chappals for centuries. Districts such as Bagalkot, Belagavi, Dharwad and Bijapur of Karnataka as well as Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Solapur districts of Maharashtra carry the tag of “Kolhapuri chappal”. The designs have moved from the ethnic to ones with more utilitarian value and materials from primal hard materials to softer and more comfortable to wear materials. Kolhapuri chappals are known to last a lifetime if maintained well and not used in rainy seasons.

Molakalmuru Sarees

Molakalmuru Saree is the traditional silk saree that is woven in the Molakalmuru, Chitradurga district, Karnataka. These sarees are usually produced in silk and showcase a number of motifs and patterns, usually inspired by nature. The most popular motif amongst weavers of the Molakalmuru Saree is the temple motif. Inspired by the grand architecture of temples in this region, these motifs are usually incorporated along the thick border of the saree. Their pleasing geometric shape and interlocking symmetry add a lot of beauty to the garment. The fabric of the saree is silk in keeping with Karnataka’s textile heritage, which centers on silk more than any other material.