Thirubuvanam, Tamil Nadu, India...
Tokri is a multifunctional container used for a wide spectrum of utilities. Traditionally, ‘Tokris’ were used as a container for storing jewelry, cloth as well as other items offered during weddings. But now they are also used to store flowers and foods such as roti, vegetables and fruits. The stored items remain fresh in these baskets due to the preservative properties inherent in the grass and the gaps left between the woven strands. Many interesting forms based on the functionality have been observed. In the coastal areas, where fishing is an occupation, baskets with pointed reed or bamboo jetting out as tools are made, these are used to kill the fish in the shallow waters as well as store them fresh within. The artisans of Ranidongri make the baskets in a very peculiar fashion too, and take them to be sold at weekly Haats in nearby villages and cities (Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra). These are usually made to function well as food storage for both raw and cooked food.
The life span of the baskets is about one and half to two years. A unique quality of these baskets is their ability to keep the stored items cool and ventilated. It’s circular form and aesthetics is also unique to the ‘Amla’ village. The grass with which the basket is made is not eaten by grazing animals when it grows. They can eat it only when it is wet, which makes it available most of the times. These are cut during winters, dried and then worked on after making them wet.
During festive season, the men of the community flock to nearby villages, singing songs of yore and narrating stories door to door. While women of the community weave baskets which are then sold in nearby villages and cities.
Weaving of baskets is a functional craft and it is as ancient as pottery in India. The ancient nomadic food gatherers wove reeds together to prepare baskets to hold their food or other collectibles. Later, with the advent of different cultures, basketry took shape both for domestic and ritualistic purposes. Pieces of Neolithic Age pottery show that the clay molded around a basket structure. Stone Age pots were often ornamented with basket-work patterns sculpted on stone surfaces.
Although basket-work is of a more perishable nature than pottery, due to the extremely dry atmosphere and the preserving sand, it is chiefly in Egypt that ancient baskets in a good state of preservation have been brought to light after being buried for many centuries. Special patterns evolved according to the local traditions and techniques. Various styles are associated with basketry. The coiled style is the most famous one. The wicker weaving technique comes next in terms of fame. Colours are rarely used in this art, yet if the item has to look impressive, bright colours are generally preferred. Colours that are applied are most of the times are natural dyes. In Betul, this craft was believed to be spread by craftsmen who had migrated from Uttar Pradesh.
The parts of a basket are the base, the side walls, and the rim. A basket may also have a lid, handle or embellishments. A wide variety of patterns may be made by changing the size, color or by placement of a certain style of weave. To achieve a multi-coloured effect, the craftsmen sometimes first dye the twine and then weave the twines together in elaborate patterns.
The particular kind of grass used is found quite far away from the settlement. The craftsmen have to walk almost 10-12 kms to collect the reeds. The difficulty in obtaining grass and its slow depletion has led to less than 100 craftsmen homes carrying on the craft.
Grass: It grows in the rains along the banks of rivers. Kaas, Fara, leaves of the palm tree are a few in use.
Pigments: The artisans procure pigments from local market to color the grass into variety of colors.
Chaku: These are knives used to cut the grass and are available in various sizes.
Dhrathi: This is a splicing tool.
The craftsmen sort off the reeds or grass, plucked from river banks and dried, sitting in their verandahs. They then weave their circular baskets or Tokris, sometimes dyeing a few reeds to pattern the baskets. It takes one person an entire day to weave one basket.
The grass is harvested in winter and the peel of the stalks are left out in the dew for about 3 days for the color to lighten. Some splits are dyed brightly to pattern the baskets; these give the Ranidongri baskets their characteristic touch.
To make the baskets, the reed is first split and shaved. The grass splits are then made wet with water for ease of use and effective fit. A helical spiral is made from grass splits and pointed palm leaves are then coiled over the length of the grass spiral. The subsequent pitches of helix are also stitched together with the help of palm leaves, which results in a semi-spherical shape of the basket. No thread or other material is used for the construction of baskets. While coiling with palm leaves, the artisans place dyed leaves at regular interval to create the characteristic pattern in their baskets.
List of craftsmen.
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