BLOG BY : Srejonee Admin 1st February 2023
Bengal Grass Crafts of Midnapore
One of the most important handicraft of Bengal is Grass Craft or Madurkathi mats, or Madur. These are mats woven in West Bengal from a reed called madur kotti, or madurkathi, a sedge of the family Cyperaceae. Madur or mat-making by Grass Craft is a long-standing traditional craft, centered on the Medinipur district, and is an important part of the rural economy. The mats are woven mainly by weavers of the Mahishya caste, and predominantly done by women. This cottage industry contributes significantly to village household income.
In Bengal, the word madur is used as a generic term for floor mats made of grass, although it designates mats woven from a specific type of reed. Mats are an integral part of the social fabric of rural Bengal, and Madurkathi mats are popularly used to sit on and as bedding. The mats are non-conductive and sweat-absorbing, making them an essential household item in West Bengal’s hot and humid climate. These mats are also used for religious purposes.
On March 28, 2018, Indian Patent Office granted the Government of West Bengal a Geographical Indication (GI) Tag for madurkathi, under registration no. 567 in respect of handicrafts. The application for registration of madurkathi was filed by the Government’s West Bengal Khadi & Village Industry Board.
Mat-weaving in India dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Its socio-cultural relevance is evident by references in ancient literature, including the Atharva Veda, the Shatapatha Brahmana, and the Mahabharata. Its historical significance is also reflected in Indian folklore, in which the saints were offered grass mats to sit on.
Records from the Medieval Period provide the first information about mat-weaving in the region of Bengal, with both ordinary and fine quality mats being produced.
The finest quality of mat, the masland, derives its name from the Persian word masnad, which means throne. Masland mats originated in the Muslim period, when the finest mats were produced in Medinipur with a silk weft, under the patronage of the royal community of that time. The Medinipur district village of Maslandpur, located close to Tamluk subdivision, probably takes its name from the masland mat.
Mats were collected as revenue under the jaigirdari system. In 1744, Nawab Alibardi Khan issued a charter to the jaigirdars in this regard. As a result, it was obligatory to supply masland mats for use in the collectorate. Permanent markets for mats were established in Medinipur. Kasijora and Narajol were the two most important centers of fine masland mat-weaving during this period. Ordinary mats were also produced. Government officials in the British period observed that a large number of masland mats were manufactured in Medinipur. According to a census report of 1872, there were 618 skilled workers engagedin mat-making in the district of Medinipur, where mats were one of the principal articles of trade. 448,300 mats were reportedly manufactured in 1907-1908. Records of the British Raj shows that, at the beginning of the 20th century, the price of masland mats was 100 Indian rupees (INR) or more. The finest quality mats at that time were made at Raghunathbari, Kasijora, and Narajol in Medinipur.
The raw material used to make madur mats is a sedge of the genus Cyprus: Cyprus pangorei (formerly Cyprus tegetum). Known locally as madurkathi, it grows on marshy land, thriving in southern and eastern India including in the area of Medinipur.
The frequent flooding around Medinipur makes many areas unsuitable for crop cultivation. Grass, sedges and reeds provide a viable alternative for the region’s farmers. As a result, cultivation of madurkathi grass and the weaving of Madur mats has become an important part of the local household economy.
Process of making:
Step by step:
Since it is widely used, grass cutting, transporting and sun-drying provide employment to a large number of people in the regions where it grows. Prepping the grass and then fashioning it into products for sale is fairly easy. After the grass it is harvested, it is dried in the sun, sorted based on its length and quality, and then packed into bundles.
To Make Ropes: the grass is hand-twisted and then a cycle wheel’s ring is used to tighten these twists. The next step is to remove the rough edges of these twists. Once twisted, the long ropes are arranged into bundles. The grass is sometimes braided.
To Weaving Mat: The ekh-rokha madur is the simplest of the three types of mats (ekh-rokha, do-rokha, and masland). It is produced on a simple bamboo-frame loom, using cotton thread as the warp and single reeds as the weft. The du-rokha is more complex, with a double-reed weft, and requires greater skill to produce. Masland mats are the finest products, requiring the greatest accuracy and experience to weave.
Masland mats are made with superior quality madurkathi. At least two people are required to weave these mats. One person places the reeds from left to right, alternately laying one thread on top and the next underneath. The second person repeats this from right to left. When they reach the edge, the threads are turned and the process is continued. The masland mat weaving process is very similar to the technique used to weave saris.
Popular masland mat designs include flowers, honeycomb patterns (mouchak), rhomboidal motifs (barfi), and jharna.
In the same way other product bag, mattress, hat etc.
At the civil jail of Baripada in Odisha, prisoners are trained by NGOs in Sabai craft and some claim they are pioneers in making sofa sets and other items of furniture from this natural material. With the involvement of various NGOs, the industry has been able to employ a large number of people. Home decor products such as wall-hangings, coasters, baskets and boxes are popular.
The natural colouring of the reeds is used to weave geometric designs, creating a subtle pattern in the finished mat. Madurs are traditionally made using vegetable dyes only. Naturally sourced maroon or black vegetable dyes may be used for further decoration on mat borders.
Black dye is produced using haritaki
Reddish dye is made from the seeds of the Achiote, or annatto tree (Bixa orellana), native to Latin America but introduced to India by trade in the 16th and 17th centuries and cultivated mainly as a source of dye. In West Bengal, the tree is known as rang gach.
Before dying, mat sticks are tightly bound with palm leaves at the places where natural colour will be retained. The bundles are placed in containers filled with dye powder and cold water, which are then boiled. Boiling time differs according to the colour: 10 hours for black, and 24 hours for the reddish dye. The dyed mat sticks are sun-dried before being used for weaving.
This craft in other state:
Grass crafts are various handicrafts that are made from a special kind of grass known as sikki found in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India. The art of making items from sikki grass is an ancient one in the province of Bihar. Tharu women in the southern plains of Nepal, have been weaving traditional baskets from sikki grass for centuries. Nowadays, many Tharu women are engaged in producing sikki handicrafts through collaborative networks
In this region, tribal community of Gop carries on a tradition of basket making which is quite distinct from sikki baskets. Tharus baskets have a bolder form and are decorated with human and animal figures on it. Kulas are the winnowing baskets of Bengal painted with auspicious symbols. Similarly in south, Mysore is famous for its Cane basketry. Tamil Nadu is famous for the Chettinad baskets. They make intricate patterns with the help of date -palm leaves. These patterns are as fine as embroidery and are the specialty of the Chattiar community of the area. The North-Eastern region of India has the finest examples of cane and bamboo basketry work. In fact, one could say that their lives depend on this material. One can very easily see it everywhere in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa and Tripura.