The art of basket making is a quite old tradition practiced by Indians for numerous purposes. India is one of the oldest cradles of mankind and crafts. Nature has given almost everything to us in abundance and the people of our country have excelled in adapting with it. The art of basketry was very well prevalent in the north-eastern India but it was scattered in almost every suburban region. Uttar Pradesh is the state that resides a population close to a European country or maybe more than that. It has given birth to various handicrafts that are sold all across the world. The art of basketry is used for both special and daily uses. This craft, Moonj basketry is basically been in the limelight for its massive involvement of the rural women. The purpose of making these baskets is basically to be used in the kitchen for storing food. In some parts of Uttar Pradesh, the baskets are made by mothers during the wedding time of their daughters as a gift.
Nowadays, this art is reaching the urban homes on a very large scale. Allahabad serves the center of this form of weaving in Uttar Pradesh. The tribal areas of the Tharus, one of the dominant tribes of the state also practice this form of weaving but their motifs are normally more animal like or gigantic. The women of Allahabad and Gorakhpur normally make geometrical figures and the baskets are circular in shape. The brides takes some with her filled with wedding sweets and gifts. These motifs are made by adding some coloured grass in between.
Location and history
The city of Allahabad is famous for the Sangam of the two holy rivers of Ganga and Yamuna. The land also is extremely fertile which helps to grow a variety of weeds and plants. Bamboo is also obtained here in abundance. Naini is a small village situated near the banks of Yamuna River in Allahabad situated in Uttar Pradesh state. The village Naini is the major producer of Moonj-wild grass products. Moonj and Kaasa are the types of wild grass that richly grows near the banks of the river in and around vast areas of Allahabad. Apart from the basket weaving, bamboo or cane products are also sold in abundance here.
The whole stem of cane and bamboo is cut with a hacksaw and split longitudinally into various sizes by a billhook. The cane is heated on a slow fire, generally with a kerosene lamp for flexibility. The objects can be made in two different forms: coiling for baskets; and weaving of mats. In coiled basketry, foundation of the basket is built first by coiling a cane round a central core. It is built up spirally and gradually the width is increased until desired height is attained. The coils are joined together by sewing strips which can be attached in two ways: each stitch passed over the new portion of the foundation coil. Figure of eight is made i.e., the stitch passes behind up, over and under the preceding coil and right over the new coil. Thus coil material is sewn with the strips and a basket is made. The ornamentation of the baskets can be done with attaining lace, paper and shells and grass that is basically dried and then soaked in cold water.
Moonj basketry is found in modern day Prayagraj in almost every of its local markets and is always in demand by the locals as well as the tourists. Moonj and Rara are types of wild grass which grow near the banks of the rivers around Allahabad. Moonj is outer layer of the grass which is peeled and knotted. Originally it is the ‘’ Sarpat’’ grass that is quite thick and green. These grass or weeds are plucked and skin is torn out from then and knotted. These are then called ‘’balla of the moonj’’ in the local language. These balla or coiled grass are to be dried in the sun but closely monitored because if dried too much they won’t be able to be bend while weaving. Some of the coiled grass is dyed into different colors with boiling water for making patterns. Dyeing is done to color the grass. Kaccha rang-raw colors are used to dye the grass. Water is boiled at high temperature in aluminum container and the color powder is added to it. The dried off-white Moonj grass is immersed in the boiling solution to absorb the color. During the dyeing process salt is added to the boiling solution as it helps to sustain the color for a longer period. The grass is removed once it attains color and allowed to dry under shade. This coil after being dried is dipped in cold water and then the weaving begins. Coils are made through twists twigs often colored for patterns and the baskets are prepared. Softer grass or the kaasa grass is used in the end for retouching. The end products are jars, vessels, trays and baskets that can hold an adequate amount of weight and are strong, durable.
Uttar Pradesh has a variety of crafts and the basket making art is as old as the art of pottery making. Often exporters take double the amount that they give to the worker and the art starts vanishing due to the poverty stricken communities. Although the government has made precisions for the thriving of these local arts in the state but it stands amidst questionable auras. In the context of potential of export growth of Indian handicrafts, a new bold vision will help to develop clarity for a concerted action plan.
The state needs to lead the country’s craft sector in breaking new grounds towards a higher growth. What is necessary is maximizing unit value realization by means of quality upgradation, improvements in packaging and presentation, value addition in terms of information regarding the characteristics of the craft and the workers as well as ideas for maintenance and upkeep of the product. While the most popular products include baskets, tablemats and containers, new designs include earrings, fruit baskets and hand purses. They are priced between Rs. 500-3,000. It’s a one-piece craft. Once a certain type of design is made, it can’t be exactly replicated which becomes difficult in case of bulk orders. Thus the art of basketry gives the workers a living wage but with the right amount of help it can lead to the country’s growth in field of exported handicrafts.
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Keywords: Basketry craft, Moonj Basketry, Sikki craft, Allahabad