Content research by Shivanki and Written by Ananya Maahir

In Mithila, an ancient city of Northern Bihar which is now known as Madhubani, nearly all women are experts in one or the other popular crafts of the region, namely – painting which has now become famous as Madhubani / Mithila painting, embroidery, papermache craft and Sikki grass work. Products made in these five crafts by a girl raise her popularity in the family. Such is the importance of craft in the region. Sikki craft is one of the most practiced craft form in the region.

Image source: http://www.umsas.org.in/en/bihar-arts-crafts/sikki-craft/

The Sikki grass craft has been in existence since hundreds of years. It is difficult to ascertain the exact age of this craft. However, as a craft used for commercial use is a more recent phenomenon, over the last couple of decades. Crafting products, mainly various forms of utilities, divine figures, and toys, using Sikki grass are an integral part of the living of the women of the part of Northern Bihar.

Image source: http://www.umsas.org.in/en/bihar-arts-crafts/sikki-craft

Generally, munj is used for coiling purpose due to its abundance in Mithila region of Bihar. It is completely coiled over and covered with sikki in such manner that it’s not visible.  Takua, the main tool is a six-inch long needle-shaped iron object with a rounded head which is used to grip the needle. Usually, the takua is used by the right hand and the product is held accordingly by the left hand. To make sikki grass more pliable it is dabbed with water. No threads or cords are used.

Even though sikki is a golden colored grass, various colors are added to it to make attractive products from it. Purple, deep blue, bright yellow, magenta, green and red all combined with the natural golden color of sikki grass are popularly used. The coloring is achieved by boiling sikki in different colors until the desired shade is reached.

Image source: http://www.umsas.org.in/en/bihar-arts-crafts/sikki-craft

SIKKI PRODUCTS

  • Jhappa- Big containers with caps to store food
  • Mauni- Trays for fresh fruits, betel leaf and nuts, flowers, etc.
  • Pauti- Beautiful small boxes with caps to keep jewellery, Dry fruits, and other costly items.
  • Gumla- Bowl like containers for various uses
  • Saji- Flower Baskets
  • Idols
  • Baskets
  • Ornaments
  • Toys

 Due to the invasion of television and other forms of entertainments women have found new ways of spending their time. This has decreased the popularity of this craft form. Industries in the area have decreased the availability of Sikki grass. But still, some women practice this craft form, mainly in Madhubani, Darbhanga and Sitamarhi regions of Bihar.

 These days new products like mobile cases, toys, paper weights, pen stand and other products are made besides the traditional products. Coiling without using munj is done by some artisans. Also a new art form has emerged using Sikki grass inspired from the Madhubani paintings wherein sikki grass is stuck on patterns of Madhubani paintings.

  


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Ayesha Ibrahim
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A selection of traditional Baluchi dresses. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan is home to many amazing handiworks but the Balochi embroidery deserves a special mention. According to different sources the Balochi embroidery is regarded as an ancient handicraft that passes from one generation of women to the succeeding. The craft is native to the barren lands of Balochistan celebrating nomadic lifestyle.

Shezad Baloch, a journalist at the Express Tribune quotes Faheem Baloch, a lecturer at the University of Balochistan in a 2012 article, ‘most of the motifs and designs of Balochi embroidery have been inspired by nature, some of the patterns take inspiration from the pottery of the Mehrgarh civilization, one of the oldest civilizations of the world, which once existed in the Bolan district of Balochistan’.

This increases the importance that the craft holds as it points towards an intact cultural practice.

A traditional Balochi shalwar kameez. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A traditional Balochi shalwar kameez. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The craft basically belongs to women as artisans and also as a wearer. It is said that Balochi women practice the embroidery every day to keep their skills polished. Although machine embroidery is also now available but handcrafted and customized shirts (kameez) hold more value.

The embroidery covers the front of the kameez, along-with the cuffs of the sleeves and shalwar (open trousers). Bright-colored threads, tiny mirrors, and stitching are part and parcel of the final product.

Different regions of Balochistan have their own distinct designs indicating relevance to a particular tribe. For instance, the Kalat district is known for its kalati embroidery, whereas, periwal, jalar, kapuk and naal are a product of Mekran division. Different types of stitches are used in the embroidery which are geometrically organized related to a location or may even relate to a woman’s current situation.

‘A mother who has lost her only son might refrain from using certain stitches in her embroidery, while a widow will be identified by the use of simple threads.’ (Humsheri.org, in a 2015 article). Common motifs used are arrows, chicken feet, diamonds and flowers.

Hand embroidery is not only famous nationally, but is revered in the Gulf countries. The most extravagant dresses are made for the brides; which can sell for as much as Rs 70,000 and could take several months to a year to complete. Simple everyday wear is quiet affordable to the extent that many believe the women responsible for producing such work of art are not being given their due share for the hard work.

References:

  • Baloch, S. (2012). Balochi ensembles: the threads of time. The Express Tribune, http://tribune.com.pk/story/354506/balochi-ensembles-the-threads-of-time/ retrieved 29th October 2016, 3:00pm.
  • Hum Shehri. 2015. Pashk. http://humshehri.org/culture/pashk/ retrieved 29th October 2016, 3:00pm.
  • Embroidery. Asia InCH Encylopedia. The Craft Revival Trust. UNESCO. http://www.craftrevival.org/CraftArtDetails.asp?CountryCode=Pakistan&CraftCode=003468  retrieved 29th October 2016, 3:00pm.

Content Research by Prateek

Not just a tribe, The Halakki are more than that. They are women who stand distinctively to sing their 400 year old story history.

A Halakki Women

Deep in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka are a caste group called Halakki Vokkaliga. Living in the foot of Western Ghats they chose to live a very simple life with the belief that if they take care of mother earth, she will in return take care of them. The word “Halakki” literally means milk (Haalu) and rice (Akki) in Kannada. Like many indigenous of tribal communities that have no documented literarure of their past, the Halakkis have stories and songs of how they were named-

Parvati trips and falls spilling rice and milk on the mud while carrying food for her husband Shiva, who is ploughing the field. Disappointed with this, she makes a male and female doll out of the wet mud and returns home. Shiva, searching for his wife finds these dolls that come to life upon his first touch. Then he tells them that they could work in the field with him and since they were born out of rice and milk, they would be called Halakki.

This is the story the women of this group believe. When we talk about Halakki, we talk about the women. The women of this group are the glue who have been holding this 400 year old ancient tradition alive. Halakki women are hardworking they make paddy fields and sing along their songs when going through the hills and forests. They drape their sarees in a distinctively beautiful way, their naked necks and shoulders are covered with the layers or beaded necklaces they wear. This attire is their identity and makes it comfortable for them to go through hard work in the fields.

halakki women Halakki women in paddy fields

The Halakki has a musical history which they have been carrying till date. Over so many years nothing else but the harvest and the songs associated with harvest makes these vibrant women so happy! The women truly believes that music can change people, so they chase this belief and sing their songs as often as possible to remind their people of their roots and sing them so that the world could never forget them.

Tragically, today there are only 4 women left in the tribe who sing. Only 4 women who remind the world of their 400 year old history. The younger generation moved out to urban areas to pursue their modern dreams but these 4 old women stay back to where they belong and they sing. They sing about fantasises, about daily lives, marriages, protest, about yesterday and about the days to come.

I read an interview where one asks Sukri Ajji (leader and one of the 4 women who sing in the tribe) that what would she speak to a large number of people from cities and other places?

Sukri Ajji replies “Come to our village. Lets sing together!”