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Ivory Carving In Ancient Kerala

In ancient times elephants abounded in the forests of Kerala and larger Hindu temples and rich landlords maintained elephants. Therefore ivory carving was practiced in ancient Kerala. When elephants die their tusks are used for artistic carving of several kinds. While a whole tusk is sometimes used for carving grand sights like a temple procession, the tusk generally cut into short cylindrical pieces and then cut vertically to form flat pieces on which are executed fine carvings of deities. Ivory carving was a lucrative profession carried on in temple towns.

Examples of the rich history of ivory carving are the ivory palanquin in the Mattancherry palace and the 18th century ivory throne of the Travancore family in the Ranga Vilasam palace at Travancore.

Etching on ivory, too, was practiced in ancient Kerala, where thin slabs of polished ivory were covered with a coating of a wax. On this the design was cut by a pointed instrument and then bitten into the ivory by the acid essence of lime fruit. Black pigment was rubbed in and when this hardened, the wax was removed.