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Ecofriendly and beautiful: India’s grasswork and handicraft communities

India has a rich and ancient culture of resource optimisation, waste management and sustainable material usage. Here's looking at some craftwork laced with grass, fibre and other waste, originating from diverse Indian landscapes.

Written by Swasti Pachauri | New Delhi |
May 25, 2016 3:12:19 pm
Koodur grass Jootis_759_Arun Sharma, PMRDF Kishtwar J&K Koodur crafts are a part of heritage, livelihoods and sustainability here in the Padder valley of Kishtwar, famously known for ‘Padderi’ kambals (blankets) and Jootis (shoes) for men and women. (Source: Arun Sharma, PMRDF Kishtwar, J&K)

This year, several countries came together on Earth Day (April 22) to ratify the the historic Paris deal on climate change. Efforts to mitigate global warming, a focus on sustainability and the need to coexist with nature are at the centre stage of sustainable production, consumption and lifestyle. From ancient times, the indigenous intellect of people has enabled them to meticulously experiment with techniques of resource optimisation, waste management and sustainable material usage, highlighting co-dependency of nature and daily living.

Consider, for instance, thatched roofs, charpoys, ‘jhadoos’ and ‘moodas’ woven out of grass, natural fibre and forest produce, or construction material made of bamboo. These have been quintessential tools, which humans have given shape and form to, transforming daily utilities into valuable realities of aesthetic significance. In addition, some local communities have devised ways to fight weather anomalies with these natural jewels.

The Khasi community from Meghalaya, for example, has gradually mastered the art of constructing ‘living root bridges’ from aerial roots of banyan trees. Similarly, the genesis of pottery and earthenware dates back to the time of the Indus Valley civilisation (3300–1300 BCE), which was privy to the relationship crafts enjoy with natural wealth.

It is with this homogeneity in mind that we look at some craftwork laced with grass, fibre and other waste, originating from diverse Indian landscapes. These not only add an element of pristine ethic to our daily chores, but also highlight the relevance of ecofriendly consumption, production and the need to restore environmental ethics in the present day order.

Koodur grass Jootis2_759_Arun Sharma, PMRDF, Kishtwar, J&K (Source: Arun Sharma, PMRDF Kishtwar, J&K)

1. Koodur grass ice-resilient jootis
A flute rendition, in the land of sapphire in Kishtwar. Amid serene rivulets and mountains, is the valley of Padder in Kashmir known for its enthralling beauty. Battling a rough terrain, a group of women over local folklore, weave something beautiful and useful with grass, colour, wool and thread.

Koodur crafts are a part of heritage, livelihoods and sustainability here in the Padder valley of Kishtwar, famous for ‘Padderi’ kambals (blankets) and Jootis (shoes) for men and women.

The formidable terrain of snow and ice, concerns of militancy or of climate change don’t deter these women in the valley from this engagement. For they have traditionally devised a collective capital to fight challenges of livelihoods and harsh climate. Says Arun Sharma, part of the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows Scheme, working toward establishing market linkages for these crafts: “The technique that women deploy to weave these ecofriendly, sturdy jootis is unique. These women weave grass reeds in such a way that the nodules act as acupressure points.” Koodur grass, a rigid sturdy jute-like material is found aplenty here, growing by the banks of little streams.
These women groups need market intervention and crafts promotion, so that these eco-friendly, shoes could reach urban wardrobes as well.

Khajoor bangles_759

2. Khajoor grass craft and jewellery
Lal Singh Lalawat, member of a self-help group, specialises in plaiting flowers from date palm or ‘khajoor’ leaves in the holy city of Ujjain. Famously known as unique ‘Khajoor’ crafts, these beautiful artworks from central Indian hinterlands have transcended their shape and form from modest jhadoos (brooms) to beautiful neckpieces, flowers and vases. Made from a combination of corn husks, dry leaves and foliage – dyed in colour, these have a rustic, earthy hue. Mandla, Seoni and Indore are other areas where women self-help groups specialise in making colourful grass jewelry out of waste grass, threads and beads.

grass hyacinth_759

3. Water hyacinth handbags
Locally known as ‘Paanimeteka’ in Assam, water hyacinth weeds have been generating livelihoods. The North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) has been working relentlessly towards creating sustainable livelihoods by enabling locals to produce water hyacinth sustainable crafts. These ecofriendly bags, purses and hats have are made of stem portions of this plant. NEDFi has branded these creations under its initiative, ‘aqua weaves’- an online platform that offers these products at affordable prices.

Moonj and Sabai grasss basketry_759

4. Sikki, Sabai, Moonj grass basketry
Moonj, or Sabai, an invasive form of grass is found along the banks of Yamuna in Allahabad. These grass reeds usually grow on the banks of water bodies and marshy lands. This grass has a ritualistic significance, and is traditionally used during local festivities, weddings and other post-harvest celebrations. Sikki, another name for this form of golden grass, grows in Bihar plains. Baskets and boxes are made of this sturdy fibre with the technique of coiling. Harvested in October, and later dyed, colourful sabai grass is woven into fine baskets, mats and coasters.

Sisal grass dining mats_759

5. Sisal mats
Known as a ‘future fibre’, helpful in controlling soil erosion, sisal plant is found in central Indian terrains especially in the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and other deciduous geographies. Pragati Sashakti Karan Sanghathan, a women-based NGO, in the Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh, trains and hosts at fairs and festivals across states showcasing sisal dining mats, doormats, dolls, bags, purses and wall hangings.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) acknowledges sisal as the ‘fibre of the future’ for the role it plays in absorbing carbon dioxide, much more than the plant releases to the environment. Sisal plantations, therefore, not only generate livelihoods through handicrafts, but also contribute to sustainable solutions to present day climate change adaptations.

Leather crafts_759

6. Leather toys from Mhow
Local grass is also used as an integral raw material in leather craftworks from Mhow, incidentally a WTO-recognised geographical indication from the area. In fact, the entire process of making leather animal figurines, revolves around utilising waste materials such as newspapers, straws and gum made from tamarind seeds.

So, what is the way forward?
Jute, coconut coir and bamboo are more common materials, used in traditional artworks, and chores across India. The government of India in order to ameliorate problems of jute industry, has undertaken efforts in order to revive jute related livelihoods. Similarly, the Ministry of Women and Child recently launched ‘Mahila e haat’, an online platform encouraging women entrepreneurs and poor self-help groups, to showcase their artworks, and demonstrate their talent.

Sustained efforts need to be undertaken so as to promote entrepreneurship among women. But in order to inculcate deeper friendship with ecology and to preserve these jewels from nature, there is an emergent need to introduce a pedagogy around ecological art and craft. Much akin to Mahatma Gandhi’s and Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of creative education amidst nature.

In fact, Gandhi’s idea of Swadeshi and Hind Swaraj created the concept of a village indigenous craft economy, focused on spinning khadi – that promoted not only ecological harmony and self-reliance, but also provided important lessons in sustainability for posterity.

 

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