Likhai – The intricate craft work of Uttarakhand | Kumaoni tradition

“Likhai “is the kumaoni word for wood carving. This is a traditional art & craft form that can be seen across the state of Uttarakhand but is especially dominant in the Kumaon region.

In your travel to this region (or perhaps in images), you would recall the houses with white exteriors and intricate woodwork being done on the outside in blue colour. These structures are typical of this region, built by using locally available material.

What does a typical (and traditional) Kumaoni house consist of?

  • A single or double storied building made of stones with mud paste done on the exteriors and interiors (the wall is usually white in colour on the outside)
  • Doors and Windows are hand carved (Likhai) usually done in blue colour (or sometimes in Green)
  • There’s always a courtyard in the front and it is paved by stone slabs (locally called as “Paathar”)
  • The roofing is done using slate stones

The word carvings are done by skilled craftsmen (Shilpkars) and they use only axes and chisels to do their work. For a long-lasting door/window, it is important to select the right wood. Sal, Walnut and Toona (or Tun) are the most preferred ones however we can find houses which even use pine wood these days (as it is available in abundance in this region).

The design work is very intricate. The border of these wood works usually have patterns consisting of flowers, swans, creepers, or even geometrical designs.  Sometimes one can even find Hindu Gods and Goddesses in the design work.

Why Blue is the dominant color of these wood Carvings?

According to a research article by Naveen Joshi and Gopal Rawat (Published in 2019) ,  the reason for choosing blue color is largely psychological in nature. Blue indicates purity and calmness, gives a soothing effect and releases stress. It also invokes a feeling of confidence, success, and reliability. Lastly, it is colour that signifies authority.

You can access their detailed methodology using this link.

Where have these craftsmen gone now?

With the advancement in technology, hand work has given way to machine tools and many of us, in our houses, use one or the other branded products built using machines.

To compete with these brands and machine is an impossible task for these craftsmen and therefore they are fading away and becoming invisible. The next generation of craftsmen are not getting into this profession as there is hardly any work left in the villages (high rate of outward migration from the hills) and the amount of physical labour involved makes it even more unattractive for the youth.



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