Carving a world out of coconut shells

Creating beautiful artefacts out of coconut shells has brought Vijaydatta Lotlikar many accolades
The art and the artist Vijaydatta Lotlikar in one frame.
The art and the artist Vijaydatta Lotlikar in one frame.Pic courtesy : Dhiraj Harmalkar

What would come to mind on seeing an ordinary coconut shell? Most would find a practical use for it like burning it in a traditional chullah and others would simply dispose of it without a second thought. Vijaydatta Lotlikar, however, can carve wonders out of the lowly coconut shell.

This ace craftsman and resident of Parra, Bardez, can produce the most beautiful artefacts, ranging from intricately crafted earrings to unique furniture, all of which have garnered him fame and awards as a master craftsman within Goa as well as in other states.

The art and the artist Vijaydatta Lotlikar in one frame.
Go nuts over coconut shell art by Goa's Vijaydatta Lotlikar

Vijaydatta is one of the many exceptional artists Goa has given to the world. This ingenious artist is trying his best to promote the art of coconut shell carving in Goa and abroad so that the state becomes a hub for this unusual craft.

For more than three decades, he has been innovatively exploring the craft, using interactive experiences with people in his art and pondering over various ideas that could be carved into reality.

Born in the family of a goldsmith, Vijaydatta initially took up the traditional business of making jewellery. Later he found it tedious to keep account of the gold used in fashioning jewellery. One day his friend gave him a large tender coconut. It was a life-changing moment for Vijaydatta as an idea struck him like a thunderbolt.

He recalls that he made a jar using his skills on that coconut. His accomplishment was appreciated by his friends, and this incident inspired him to continue experimenting and using his jewellery carving skills on coconut shells.

The variety of utility items displayed here are made of coconut shell.
The variety of utility items displayed here are made of coconut shell.Pic courtesy : Dhiraj Harmalkar

Vijaydatta began receiving requests from friends and acquaintances to make artefacts such as guitars, traditional lamps, coconuts with faces carved on them, etc. In time, when word spread about his art, the local media took cognisance of this art and gave it publicity.

In the early 90s, when the campaign against plastic use began and people started talking about using pollution-free and eco-friendly commodities, Vijaydatta’s ability once again gained prominence. From cutlery to furniture, Vijaydatta would create alternate utility items of coconut shells to reduce the use of polluting plastic.

For many years, Vijaydatta conducted free workshops in various educational institutions all over Goa to create awareness and generate interest in the art of coconut shell carving. Many students took basic lessons in coconut shell carving at these workshops. He would also have exhibitions in various educational institutions, which helped him reach out to students and art lovers.

The art and the artist Vijaydatta Lotlikar in one frame.
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In the late 90s, the Department of Handicraft, Textile and Coir approached Vijaydatta to conduct training sessions at their Aparant workshop, where he trained many people. Later on, he would take on paid workshops. 

On being questioned about the professional and monetary feasibility of this art form by a student at an exhibition, Vijaydatta decided to manufacture a machine which could produce almost 50 cups within a few minutes. He went on to train several individuals in the use of this machinery and other coconut shell craft-related work. 

Vijaydatta has a record in the Limca Book of Records for building an 8-foot-tall traditional lamp out of coconut shells. Presently he has over 600 designs of items, of which 95 per cent are utility products, which he carves out of the coconut shells he collects from neighbours, hotels, etc.

Coconut carving goes through a drawn-out process of collecting coconut shells, polishing, cutting, filing and carving. Each individual process is executed with a small handsaw, polishing paper, scissors, cutters, glue, etc. 

Crosses of unique designs carved out of coconut shells.
Crosses of unique designs carved out of coconut shells.Pic courtesy : Dhiraj Harmalkar

Vijaydatta informed Gomantak Times that he will soon start his own production unit and set up his showroom in Socorro shortly. Presently, he and his wife Nilam Lotlikar do all the work of carving, and he gets orders from abroad and from all over India.

Vijaydatta Lotlikar received a national award in 2008 from the Coconut Development Board, Ministry of Agriculture, and many other awards from the state government and institutions. He ardently wants Goa to be known the world over for this art form and feels that the Goa government should take concrete steps to promote the coconut shell craft in Goa.

He opined that the coconut tree is known as Kalpavruksha, with each part being able to be utilised by people. It is this versatile nature of the coconut tree and the coconut that should motivate the promotion of this art.

The art and the artist Vijaydatta Lotlikar in one frame.
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