Unique crafts from `land of seven sisters'

Cane baskets and handbags are most sought after items from the North East States.-- Photos: C.V. Subrahmanyam.

Cane baskets and handbags are most sought after items from the North East States.-- Photos: C.V. Subrahmanyam.  

The ongoing Crafts Fair 2003 at the Ramnagar Lions Community Hall brings us some of the finest handicrafts and handlooms from the seven States of the North-East.

The region abounds in nature's oldest and most valuable building material— bamboo and cane. From time immemorial, the daily life of the people, their culture, crafts and tradition in these States have revolved around the natural wealth that, in turn, has yielded a fine heritage of handicrafts and a rich tapestry of handloom products. Village folk, artisans and craftspeople have put these materials to use for making articles of utility, baskets and decorative items of exquisite design. The North-East Handicrafts and Handloom Development Corporation, under the Union Ministry of Textiles, has reached out to the crafts clusters to stimulate production and bring us these unique products, all rich in content and distinct in form, through such fairs.

Works from the region are in a class by themselves. While aesthetically fine, they are nevertheless essentially articles of utility. They bear the stamp of the area, with both the old and the new blended with subtle ingenuity, often creating a new style that is a delight to the senses.

Mat-making and basketry are among the most ancient of crafts, because of the very nature of their composition and use. Like clayware, they have been an indispensable and integral part of the household. These were, however, gradually made into beautiful works of art while maintaining their utility. The raw material can be cane or reeds or bamboo, and in basketry it may either be woven or coiled. In the woven variety, the pattern is made of strands of the warp in a more or less fixed position, while the weft crosses and re-crosses. Into this simple process, a good deal of beauty is introduced through various designs. In coiled basketry, the foundation is first laid by coiling the cane round a central core at the base and built up spirally, gradually widening the diameter of each until the desired height and form are attained.

The works vary in size and delicacy depending on their use. They could be used for grain, fruits and vegetables while the finer varieties are used for flowers and sweets, in the kitchen and at the table, and at times as caskets even for jewels. Bamboo is one of the most luxuriant and decorative of nature's gifts to the craftsperson. It serves a variety of functions, adds beauty, provides coolness and shade to the ground. Its uses are many, from thatching a roof and covering the floor, to fashionable handbags, bowls, mugs and furniture.

On view and up for sale from Manipur are the mats (known in local parlance as kouna mat) and square cushions for sofa sets made from water reed. Light and reasonably priced, these are quite irresistible. Described by Nehru as the `Jewel of the East', Manipur is recognised as a fountainhead for the arts and crafts, its strong traditions having yielded a fine heritage of crafts-basketry in cane and bamboo and kouna crafts.

There are cane sofa sets made in several States in the region. They are light, long lasting and involve less maintenance. Once washed and re-varnished, they give a new look. The fully knitted `chair set of five' from Nagaland is distinctive. Also from this State are the popular Naga warrior spears used during dancing and the smaller varieties meant for wall decoration. The picnic and laundry baskets and the woven cane oval tray are the utility items.

A Youth from one of the States displaying table lamps made of bamboo canes.

A Youth from one of the States displaying table lamps made of bamboo canes.  

Tripura has a very rich tradition of crafts mostly in cane, bamboo and wood. Its bamboo baskets, bouquet holders, rolling mats and lanterns are worth picking up as are the bamboo screens, used for both windows and doors.

A plethora of works on display from Assam like the miniature decorative fishing items, woven flower vases, cane planters, the wooden one-horned rhino, magazine and letter holders, knitted sofa sets, baskets, trays and table mat sets made of bamboo, woven modas for men and women, a cane phone stand, mats and a bamboo and cane flower vase.

Meghalaya, referred to as the `Scotland of the East', is famous for its skills in weaving exquisite basketry from mostly bamboo, mat weaving from cane and furniture and handicrafts from both these materials. The light green coloured tray sets and tiffin boxes made from bamboo as well as the pen stand (luta) are particularly impressive.

On display from Arunachal Pradesh are the wooden tray and cane sofa sets. The Mizo cap for kids made from date leaf and bamboo is very chic. The dry flowers from Meghalaya and Mizoram in various forms are very eye-catching.

Apart from these products from the North-East, the fair also has stalls from several States showcasing shawls, churidhars and leather jackets from Kashmir and precious and semi-precious ornamental works and the Jaipur and quilts from Rajasthan. There are brass figures of Hanuman, Ganesha and Nataraj, the laughing Buddha, nut crackers and bottles openers with a touch of the antique, finely carved figures of a Chinese king and queen made from elephant bone and `singing bells' (Om bells) made of five metals.

The fair is open till December 17 and is a must see for crafts lovers.


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