Greetings from Ziveli! Here is another blog from our Natural Fibre Series. Hope you find it interesting.
Moonj Grass and Sikki Grass are wild grasses used in basketry from Uttar Pradesh.
Moonj, Sikki, and Kaasa grass grow widely on the river banks.
The Basketry technique used is called coiling.
The grasses are harvested and made into small knots; these knots are locally referred to as ‘Balla’. These bundles of knotted ‘Balla’ are left to dry completely on the roof tops of houses before they are weaved.
Before weaving the Balla, if it is to be coloured, it is boiled in vats of coloured water.
Interestingly, these grasses are measured and sold on a fistful basis. A customer can grab as much as s/he can with his/her fist.
Sikki is considered auspicious by the natives and is involved in a daily practice of weaving it into ornaments and objects of utility by women, expressing their creative instincts.
The grasses serve as a vital raw material in making a variety of products since ancient times. And there is hardly a ritual where it is not taken into account. Figures of deities and votive offerings are woven during festivals. Young women weave baskets known as ‘pauthi’ which are used to exchange gifts during weddings. Household items such as boxes, toys, jewellery, and murals are also crafted out of these grasses.
Sailesh puja, the only festival of the Moosahar tribe, involves a wide range of sikki products for ritualistic use.
The grasses are harvested during the rainy season. A native tribe known as ‘Amas’ have inherited the task of harvesting the grasses and processing them for sale.
Each sikki product starts with a base frame of Munj/Moonj as per the design. Then the sikki strands with a six inch long needle – shaped tool called takua are woven around it. Takua has a round head or handle for a comfortable grip, which is usually made of wood or lacquer. To split sikki strands, a very fine knife caller ‘choori’ or a pair of scissors called ‘kaichi’ are used.
Water is used to moisten the grass, which makes it more pliable to turn it around the moonj structure. The coiling is done so finely that the moonj base is not visible at all. Hands constantly play with multi coloured sikki laces till the artist is satisfied with the emerging pattern and its finish.
The craft of sikki weaving has its roots in traditional beliefs of the Indian value system, yet it is a perfect example of sustainability.