The Tripura government is trying to revive the dying art of fine bamboo weaving that can perk up employment in the State

It was at the Agartala Central Jail that Krishna Das Pal learnt the craft of ‘fine bamboo weaving’. As a ‘jail police’, as local craftsmen refer to him, he fine-tuned the craft to such an extent that he has become a legendary name in the field. The Central Government also recognised his talent and honoured him with the President’s Medal.

However, this fine art of bamboo weaving is on its way out. In just four decades, the art form developed, flourished, waned and is now dying. The reason for this is that the children of such weavers are taking to other modern-day professions, and for others too it holds little promise.

“There are just three practitioners of this art form. Apart from my elder brother Krishna Das, my nephew Shukesh Pal has also learnt it,” said Moti Babu, who is a Master Craftsman with the Tripura government.

In this form, bamboo is shaved real fine and a die is cast of the structure to be made – usually these are masks or idols of deities like Ganesh and Durga. Then the mask is woven around the dye through the fine bamboo, said Mr Babu.

In these images, cane is also used for weaving the structure and for providing the background. The face is made of fine bamboo shavings, which give it a natural smooth, flowing and glossy texture.

“It was in 1976 that I started working on this art form. All three of us hail from Masterpara, about four kilometres from Agartala. Our village got its name due to the large presence of teachers who taught at a nearby school.”

Today, Moti Babu is trying hard to keep the tradition of fine bamboo weaving alive. “In our village of over 5,000 people, there are just eight engaged in bamboo weaving. About seven-eight persons help us, but they have not picked up the skill to the extent we would have liked,” he lamented.

The work is painstaking, time-consuming but not so paying. “A normal mask takes about a week to prepare and making it costs Rs 700 to 800. It is sold by the artisan for around Rs 2,500 and further retailed for around Rs 3,800. The five-feet tall statues sell for around Rs 45,000 in the market.”

Interacting with the media during a familiarisation tour of the North East organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the North Eastern Council (NEC), and the Ministry of DoNER, recently, Moti Babu insisted that there are about 2,200 artisans now gainfully employed in bamboo work in and around Agartala.

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