While the stylised colourful paintings executed on a black background on a block of wood sold at craft fairs across India have made it to the homes of many handicraft lovers, not all are aware of their place of origin, a small town in northern Telangana, named Nirmal, the headquarters of the district with the same name. In fact, the art developed here also goes by the name of Nirmal. The artists are known as &lsquonakkash&rsquo. It is said that the local chieftain after whom the town is named had brought these artists from Rajasthan. However, the origin of Nirmal&rsquos artist community and the art form is lost in antiquity.
Many say that Nirmal art originated under the Kakatiya dynasty (who ruled between 12th and 14th centuries) and became widely popular following patronisation by the Nizams of Hyderabad. Traditionally, the colour used in the paintings were prepared from extractions of herbs and stones, even mud. The artists would paint the walls of houses as well as furniture with tales from mythologies and folk lore floral and other motifs were also common. Under the Nizams, they would also make stylised furniture. Apparently, these were used as part of the dowry during marriages.
Gradually, they started making square paintings using their specialised art. The artists would prepare the frame and flat blocks of wood to be used as canvas from the Tella Ponniki tree and apply a base of black colour. Then they would paint the drawings already traced on the block of wood with solid colours. It is said that the artists drew inspiration from Rajasthani miniature paintings, Mughal paintings, even the Ajanta art. Apart from the traditional themes, divine forms and human figurines were also part of the painting repertoire. However, the artists now find it difficult to stick to the Ponniki wood and organic colours and many have been using other durable wood, synthetic colours, varnishes, etc. The finished painting is given a touch of gold, which is considered as one of the ways which differentiates Nirmal paintings from other paintings.
Nirmal is also known for its handcrafted wooden toys. In 2009, these brightly painted toys got the Geographical Indication (GI) tag under an application from the Nirmal Toys & Arts Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd. Also made from ponniki wood, the toys &ndash usually animal forms &ndash go through several stages, involving preparation of the wood, strengthening the joints, preparation of organic colours and their application, and finally the varnishing. Over the years, to cater to the change in customer choice, the craftspeople have also started making utility goods and modern wooden furniture and covering them with Nirmal painting.
Getting there Nirmal town is the headquarters of the district of the same name that has been carved from the former Adilabad district. Nirmal is about 220km by road from Hyderabad, the nearest airport. The place can be visited round the year but winter months are pleasant. With limited accommodation available in Nirmal, one may stay at Basara (70km away) town known for its Sri Gnana Saraswathi Temple.