Uravu Bamboo Workshop, p.o, Thri...
Bamboo is one such abundant and widely used natural fibers in the state of Kerala. In this state, bamboos are found in abundance in home gardens and in forests. Wayanad is considered as one of the major districts in Kerala, in bamboo production.
People make use of bamboo for daily purposes to meet their basic requirements like storage, worship, building material and other items for daily use. As time progressed, with the invention of new technologies the purpose of using bamboo changed. It is said that, after independence, the purpose of bamboo changed drastically. People started using bamboo other than their day-to-day purpose. Bamboo started to be used in household and for fashion purposes too, like in making modern bowls for storage, jewelry and calendar stands and any other such contemporary products.
The artisans of Wayanad in order to attract tourists and to cater to the urban market, have started making such jewelry items, weaving yoga and table bamboo mats and modern designs vessels. At present, there is a high demand for such kinds of contemporary products compared to the traditional products made earlier.
Bamboo craft has always been an integral part of the lifestyle of Kerala. When it comes to hand-crafted bamboo souvenirs and artifacts, this state has opened a new world of possibilities. The bamboo craft of this region is known for their combination of tradition and modern trends. This is the main reason why this craft form is not only popular all over India but worldwide. Products made from bamboo are not just for artistic creation, the craftsmen of this region know it is also a smart way to generate income as well. Apart from Wayanad, there are various other rural places and towns in Kerala, where this handicraft is practiced.
Natural fibers have been traditionally used all over our country by different cultures. People since the olden times, have been making use of various kinds of natural fibers depending on their local availability. Different types of natural fibers are available in abundance in several parts of our country, and hence the scope of crafts based on these is huge. One such craft form is products made out of natural resources- bamboo.
One of the main significant elements of this craft form is using natural resources to make this product right from the procurement of raw materials to the finishing stage of the product. No chemicals and modern machinery are used for making this craft. It can be said that this craft form is completely sustainable and people are now being aware of the benefits of using such sustainable products as it causes no harm to the environment. Hence, due to this, it can be said that the future of this craft form is surely bright.
There is no precise official chronicle of the origin of the bamboo craft in India, but according to many records, it is considered that this craft originated in India around the 2nd century. The significant tribal settlement in various parts of ancient India, helped in flourishing this craft form as a way to cater to home utility items. It is said that, apart from the home utility items, in ancient times, people also made use of bamboo for self-defense purposes.
The highest concentration of bamboo in India with as many as 38 different species are recorded alone in northeastern India, specially in Assam. It is believed that, right after the people in the north-eastern region started making use of bamboo for day-to-day purposes, people from other parts of India too started using bamboo for household purposes. Naturally, the bamboo craft started flourishing in other parts of India after it was well established in the northeastern region. Over the three decades, the studies and surveys across the world have witnessed the important contributions of non-timber forest products towards rural livelihood. The natural resource material, bamboo, plays an important role in the development of rural livelihood by creating opportunities of employment and generating income to local people through creating beautiful craft products from this material.
In the state of Kerala, the history of the bamboo craft industry can be traced back to around the 14th century, when the Arab traveler-Ibn Batuta recorded the use of bamboo mats as sails on the Chinese ships at Kozhikode. In this state, bamboo mat made through the process of weaving is considered as the oldest product made out of this natural material. The major clusters of the craftsmen community in production of this craft are based in Aryanad in Ernakulam, Dedunganda, Angamaly in Thiruvananthapuram and Wayanad district. Although there is no specific community attached in the production of this craft, the weaving and basketry is majorly practiced by the Christian communities. However, it was said that traditionally, the Parayas and Kaatakaras, meaning the forest people of Anapandan, a hilly region near the district of Thrissur undertook first the production of bamboo basketry and weaving by using a plain twill and and occasionally the hexagonal weave.
In earlier times, the thick bamboo locally called mula and the thinner bamboo called eeta were used for making the products. These were made into rough bamboo mats which were traditionally used as wall partitioners, for drying a variety of food items like grains, peppercorns, coconut kernels and fish While softer grass mats were used to sleep on. The rough work baskets are also considered one of the oldest items used mostly for storage. These baskets were made with slim bamboo splits.
At present, this craft form has flourished significantly all over India, creating beautiful products which uniquely describe the region itself. Focusing on Kerala, Wayanad district is considered as the major districts of Kerala which are known for their bamboo forest. It is said that there are 25 different varieties of bamboo found here which are used for production of various forms of which one of them is craft. Bamboo craft in Wayanad is majorly practiced by the women community. Today, these women have taken up the responsibility to involve and include the traditional bamboo management practices into contemporary practices to ensure the continuous supply of the production of this craft as well as towards conserving this age-old craft.
The bamboo crafts of Kerala, have a tradition of creating unique and beautiful items of handicrafts. Among the different hand-made crafts of this state, bamboo crafts are counted as a major draw. Unlike other regions of India, the expertise of craftsmen of this region are totally indigenous in their style of creating products.
Development in design has been noticeable in natural fiber crafts of Kerala especially in bamboo crafts. Different types of products are being made to suit contemporary spaces. While baskets and floor mats have traditionally been made, they are now available in bright colours and combinations. The craftsmen are trying various types of combinations by using different materials to develop a new range of bamboo products. New types of surface finishes are explored to enhance the products like paintings, burning and carving. The motifs used are mostly tribal and indigenous in nature. New patterns in weaving are now currently being explored to create unique and beautiful surfaces.
One of the famous products made out of bamboo is painted mats. These painted mats are generally depictions of attractive scenes, birds, animals, and humans as well that carry the tradition of the state as well as our country. These paintings are done in diverse colours and dimensions with a finishing touch by way of beautiful bamboo reed frames both at the top and the bottom. These painted mats are generally extensively used as decorative items that suit any interior. Apart from these mats, some of the other famous products that are created out of this material in this region are chairs, teapots, TV and calendar stand, fans, tiffin carriers, bamboo bowls, bamboo shades and bamboo reed table and yoga mats.
It is considered that the craftsmen of Wayanad, even crafts the bamboo fibers into an executive piece of art by using simple materials and tools. These fibrous reeds are enlaced to make mats with striking different patterns with an aim to catch the fancy contemporary and modern generations. Different types of other artifacts are also being made like photo frames, room-dividers, planters, and many such more.
The main challenge this craftform faced was during the pandemic the craftsmen community incurred huge loss. There was a shortage of availability of raw materials. No tourists and local people were able to reach out to this craftform. Due to this, the production also was less. At present, no younger generation is interested in continuing this craftform, as they think they will get more income by engaging in tech-based companies.
However, in order to help the current generation of bamboo craftsmen and to accelerate the growth of the bamboo crafts, the Kerala government has established a state owned corporation viz. the Kerala State Bamboo Corporation (KSBC) in 1971. This organization has put up a unit for the manufacture of bamboo ply, a panel product. This unit produces panels out of wooden bamboo mats of finer variety. Additionally, the Kerala State Planning Board has developed a proposal for the overall development of the bamboo sector in Kerala in late October 2000. As a result, the government of Kerala, constituted the state Kerala Bamboo Mission with the aim to organize the scattered resources and to adopt a focused approach to revitalize the sector of bamboo. This has now encouraged promoting value addition by enhancing income generation and alleviating poverty.
Now, with the consideration of the major scope for development of bamboo and cane crafts of Kerala, the production of raw material should also be increased by taking proper cultivation of bamboo. With the aim of developing new designs for innovative products in the handicrafts sector along with new skills development, promotion of bamboo-based modern industries which are supported by technology, the government of Kerala is taking necessary initiatives. In order to aggregate the bamboo crafts of this state, the government has also introduced new mechanized means of primary bamboo processing, imparting training inputs to the craftsmen community and providing the community a platform for marketing their products.
Such policies set by the government will help to aspire the community to promote the bamboo-based industries at cottage, small, medium, and large-scale levels. At present, due to such policies, the bamboo crafts of this region have enhanced the employment opportunity and livelihood security of the bamboo dependents, have also helped in promotion of bamboo sector development as part of the rural development linked with forestry and agroforestry to signify the employment opportunities. The government believes that the participation of prospective entrepreneurs with high investment and even with foreign participation will help the bamboo craft in this region to reach the international market. It is said that, NID and Industrial Design Center (IIT, Bombay) shall soon be involved in imparting training programmes for bamboo craftsmen of Kerala to improve their skills and make new products with contemporary designs. At present, the media is playing an important role in promoting the bamboo craft of this region. The significant bamboo houses increase the trade of tourism of this region.
Besides this, now the government of Kerala is also thinking to register the bamboo craft form as an official small-scale industry and promote and expand its market in India as well as abroad.
There are different processes involved in making different types of bamboo crafts. In Wayanad, mainly bamboo weaving for making curtains and mats, bamboo basketry and calendar stands are the products made in this region. In making these three products, the main process remains the same however, it differs slightly in a few of the steps. Before making any bamboo products, this raw material is first treated with appropriate methods, mentioned below.
The main raw material used for making this craft is bamboo and reed. Bamboo is locally called ‘Mula’ and reed is locally called ‘Ets/Oda’ in Malayalam language. It is considered that there are a total 25 varieties of bamboo found and which are used in the district of Wayanad. There are varieties of reed too, which is said to be only found in Wayanad like for instance- Oclandra scriptoria. These reeds and bamboo are grown in forests, nursery, or homesteads (small areas on the lands of farmers where some bamboo is grown for their own use). These bamboos are grown regularly and stand well as it is an important part of the capital asset. The families of the farmer used most of the harvest and only a minor part was sold to the local market.
The raw material, bamboo, takes up to 5 to 6 years to attain the maturity phase. Though every year new shoots arise from the base, maximum life of this raw material is 30-35 years after which the flowering phase starts. Bamboo cannot be used once they reach the flowering phase. Bamboos are generally bought as poles at a cost of 10-15 Rs. per pole.
The different types of bamboo found in the district of Wayanad are as follows:
Bambusa Vulgaris (yellow), Bambusa Vulgaris (green), Thyrsostachys Siamensis, Dendrocalamus Giganteus, Malocanna Baccifers, Bambusa Var, Wamin Pseudo Oxytenanthera, Angustifolia, Ochlandra Travancorica, Dendrocalamus Asper, Dendrocalamus Longipathus, Bambusa Balcooa, Bambusa Multiplex, Dendrocalamus Brandisii, Ochlandra Scriptoria.
Besides this, various other raw materials used to make bamboo crafts are mentioned below:
The tools used for making and processing bamboo crafts are mainly the ones used for wood. Since, there are no tools assigned for bamboo thus, these machines are not accurate and thus creates a lot of wastage. The silver machine which is generally used to slice the bamboo into 2 parts, is unable to cut the bamboo as per the grain’s direction. Hence, these grains are cut in between and thus it reduces the strength. Due to this reason the bamboo crafts artisans prefer using hand tools for working.
Different types of tools used for making this craft are mentioned below:
Stages for Treating Bamboo:
Each bamboo to be used for the craft goes through a common treatment process through which it helps to prevent any fungal attacks on the bamboo. The first stage starts with cutting, treatment and silvering.
Cutting: Once the bamboo is bought from the market, agencies or farmers, it is cut into a desired shape through the cutting machine. The initial cutting process segregates the bamboo into desired shapes and sizes of 40-70cm. These sizes and shapes depend on the size of the blinds. The cutting process also helps in removal of nodes and removing off the damaged parts.
Treatment: Once the cutting process is done, the poles of bamboo go for treatment in the treatment plant. This process is conducted by both my women and men. It takes place at least one day after which the poles are dried in the sun.
Silvering: Once the bamboos are finally dried, they are further sliced into thin strips according to the requirement of weaving of furniture. The bamboo is cut into thin strips using a silvering machine. It is then further cut using a hand tools. These strips are then kept under sun for drying process. Once this drying process is done, these strips are smoothen further using a small kathi. This step is called as silca removal.
Pressurized Treatment Tank (PTT): This tank is used for treating the bamboo against the borer attacks. This plant can grow up to 20 feet tall. It is filled with bamboo up to 60 poles, and then supplied with steam mixed with 25 boric solution and 2% borax chemicals in water. This whole process takes up to 3 hours. Once the treatment is done, the tank is opened after 2-3 hours so that the temperature inside is cooled down. During this cooling process, the nitrogenous products ooze out which are then wiped out. Due to the steam, the bamboo absorbs the chemicals and hence, becomes borer or termite proof.
It is said that, traditionally, the bamboo artisans performed a complex method to treat the bamboo. These bamboos were soaked in water first for 2 to 3 months, which helped in removing all the glucose content from the bamboo making it thus permanently borer proof. However, this process was time consuming and hence the Pressurized Treatment Plant (PTT) replaced this traditional method.
After the bamboo has undergone the treatment process, the splitting and weaving process starts. The weaving process is considered as an age-old practice practiced by mostly women and sometimes men.
Splitting: The process starts with splitting bamboo into thin strips. These strips are then split into two flat shapes and round to make different kinds of baskets. Further, these strips are then dyed according to the requirements in either natural or chemical colours. There are mainly three parts of the basket: base, side walls and rim. Weaving of baskets starts with first the base. The bamboo strips are arranged in a criss-cross manner to make the base of different shapes mostly circular, square and oval. After making the base flat, the side-walls of the baskets are either made directly or are made using a frame of the desired shape. Various products are developed while weaving the basket. For surface enhancement the artisans use dyed strips of bamboo during weaving to reach the appropriate shape and size. Now, slightly thin and thick broad strips of bamboo are used to make the rim. This rim is pasted on the edges manual by using a fevi-quick. After this, the extra strips are then cut by using a kathi(knife) and the basket is then taken off the frame.
Weaving: Once the culms of the bamboo are treated and split, they are now ready for the weaving process. The thickness of the bamboo depends on the required order. Weaving is carried out either by loom or by hand. The blinds and curtains are usually weaved on frame looms. For weaving the curtains or blinds reeds of longer length are used. The strips are first dyed either in natural or synthetic dyes according to the requirements. After the sticks are dried, they are now ready for the loom. The warp is a plain undyed yarn usually purchased from the market. The yarn is dyed and then it is opened and disentangled on the charkha, wound into small bundles. The next step is warping, which takes place on the warping machine. It is an octagonal cylinder-like frame. The thread rolls are placed on a vertical frame in a predetermined way. When the warping machine is rotated, the treads from the rolls pass through a reed frame and are then wound on the cylinder. Once the required length is achieved the warp threads are then transferred onto a beam on the loom for the weaving. This beam along with the warp thread is placed on one end of the loom while the weaver sits at the other end of the loom with feet placed over the pedals. With the one hand, the weaver takes the hand-shuttle across the warp to fill in the weft yarn. The reed is then inserted through a hole and stretched across the warp yarn with the flat wooden bar. The beater with reed is then drawn with the help of another hand to beat the weft firmly into the warp. These movements are repeated to weave the required product. After the weaving process is done, it is then taken off the loom for further finishing. If a curtain or a blind is weaved, then the chemical colours are used to paint on them to prevent it from sunlight and moisture. The sides of the curtains are then cut and finally stitched with nylon strips. Fixtures for hanging purposes are then added. After finishing, the product is finally checked and then packed. For weaving baskets, once the basket is weaved and finishing is done, the handle and lids are then attached to the basket. This whole process, as it does not require any specialized place, takes place in the homes of the women artisans.
List of craftsmen.
Bamboo and Cane crafts of Kerala (indianetzone.com)