Vanessa Horig 1
BAMBOO BASKET WEAVING
BA MB O O BASKET W EAVING
Craft documentation Burud Ali, Pune Vanessa Horig Furniture & Interior Design
TOOLS & PROCESSES
THE C IT Y
une is known to have existed as a town since 847 AD. It was the first capital of the Maratha Empire under Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhosale. In the 18th century, Pune became the political centre of Indian subcontinent, as the seat of Maratha Peshwas. The town flourished under their rule, until they were overthrown by the British in 1817. Pune is often called the Cultural Capital of Maharashtra as it truly carries the heritage of Maharashtra along with modernization. It epitomises Marathi culture, which lays emphasis on education, arts and crafts, music, and theatre. Along with the development of modern infrastructure and industries like IT and automobile, the city conserves its proud Maratha heritage and culture. Festivals, especially Ganesh Chaturthi are celebrated with enthusiasm and pomp. The
Fig. [Alongside] : Bamboo baskets on sale in Burud Ali, Pune.
city comes alive at these festive times. Much of the Maharshtrian pride and legacy is visible during these festivities. Geographically, Pune lies on the western margin of the Deccan plateau, approximately 160 kms east of Mumbai. It is located at the confluence of the Mula and Mutha rivers. Pune has a hot semi-arid climate with average temperatures ranging between 20 to 28 째C. As per the 2011 Census of India estimate, the population of the Pune urban agglomeration is 6,049,968. Marathi is the official and most widely spoken language, while Hindi and English are understood and spoken widely. Like most of the cities, Pune is also one of the cities in India having majority of Hindu population . The city has proportionately large number of students and young professional populations than Metros or any other city in India.
Pune is often called the Cultural Capital of Maharashtra as it truly personifies the heritage of Maharashtra along with modernization.
The main industries in Pune are the IT industry and various automobile and engineering firms like Tata, Volkswagen and Bharat Forge. This has resulted in a large amount of foreign investment in the city. Pune is blooming and blossoming briskly as an important metropolis in the country. As the time passes, Pune history, too, will get more and more enriched.
Pune Maval Region
Karnataka Bay of Bengal
eths’, a Marathi term for locality, were mostly established during Maratha and Peshwa rule in the 17th-19th century AD in Pune. Up to seventeen peths are located in central Pune, and Seven of them are named after the days of the week in Marathi: traders and craftsmen in a given locality mainly conducted business only on that day of the week. Today the peths form the heart of Pune city, and are referred to as the old city, or simply city. They are considered to be the cultural heart of Pune. Pune’s Peths tell the story of the Maratha empire, and its growth under Shivaji and the Peshwas. The area is primarily Hindu, dotted with several temples and wadas (large traditional homes) of historical significance. The old traditions are still strong here; the pace of life is still slow and beautiful. The same neighbourhoods also
Fig. [Alongside] : Pune’s position in relation to India & Maharashtra.
have noisy and colourful mandais (markets) with shops selling everything under the sun – fruits, vegetables, betel leaves, baskets, costume jewellery, bags and utensils. People throng to the markets, bargaining for items of everyday use. They also stop at the temples to offer prayers. Burud Ali located near the Mandai, or market in Pune’s Ganesh peth, is where all the Bamboo and Cane work happens. Here the craftsmen set up small makeshift stalls in front of their homes, inviting passers-by to buy their goods. One can find various products like finely-woven baskets of various sizes, sturdy ladders, mats and blinds, tiny kulfi sticks and shoots of bamboo, lamp shades and brooms. Very often the craftsmen sit and make these artefacts in front of their homes and attend to customers as and when they come.
Burud Ali, located in Pune’s Ganesh peth, is where all the bamboo and cane handicrafts are made.
TH E PEOPL E
eople native to Maharashtra are known as Marathas. Historically, the term describes the kingdom and its people founded by Shivaji in the seventeenth century and continued by his successors. The Marathas were the primary force responsible for weakening and eventually ending the Mughal domination of India. Marathas were known for their valour and courage during the Maratha - Mughal wars as well as during the British regime of India. They are a proud people who take great pride in their culture and heritage. They are great scholars as well as culture conscious, and many famous personalities in sectors such as dance, music and literature come from Maharashtra. Maharshtrians largely pride themselves on their heritage and history. Amongst notable people are
Fig. [Alongside] : An old woman in Burud Ali, Pune
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Bhosale, the first ruler of the Maratha empire. He is greatly revered in the whole of Maharashtra. Others include Pu La Deshpande, famous writer and humorist, Bhimsen Joshi, Hindustani Classical vocalist and Sanjay Kirloskar, Industrialist. The bamboo basket weavers in Maharashtra are a tradition that dates back to the era before the Peshwas. Their ancestors, who belonged to the Maratha Burud Samaj, originally came from a small village of bamboo craftsmen in the Junnar district. They had been making and supplying the people of Pune with their cane products even before the Peshwas. In those days, the whole family was occupied in the bamboo crafts. Out of those in Pune, there are 5-6 generations who have been working with bamboo for the past 100-150 years.
The bamboo basket weavers in Maharashtra are a tradition that dates back to the era before the Peshwas.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Bhosale, the king of the Marathas.
1 : Ganukaka does not say much. He has dedicated his life to making bamboo baskets. 2 : Ranitai is unhappy that the demand for bamboo products is decreasing. 3 : Kavitakaku has been making baskets for the family business since she got married about 35 yrs ago.
4 : 14 yr old Sonali does not want to live a life of bamboo basket weaving. She still helps her mother after school. 5 : Savitakaku making a topli. 6 : Kailash Vartule has been making bamboo screens and products all his life.
TH E MATER IAL
he bamboo used by the artisans is sourced from the Konkan region where it is grown on a large scale, mainly in Bhor, Ratnagiri and Panshet districts along the coast. According to what the use and purpose of the bamboo is, different varieties or ‘jati’ are used. Meshi jati is used for ladders and longer structures since it is stronger. Dhupil jati is a variety that is known to bend and not grow straight. It is therefore used to weave baskets and make smaller products. Depending on the length and quality, a single bamboo pole can cost between Rs 150 - 200. When larger godowns need to store these bamboo poles for
Fig. [Alongside] : A bamboo godown; a craftsman cutting bamboo to make construction supplies.
longer durations, they are stored at a height, usually on bricks since bamboo starts rotting if it comes in contact with the ground. The bamboo slowly starts drying as it kept in storage. In some cases, if the bamboo is too wet to work with, it is cut into the necessary splits and pieces, and these dry within a day in the sun. The dried bamboo is stronger and it is easier to work with. It becomes stiffer and does not bend so easily. In the case of bamboo basket weaving, the wetter bamboo is preferred. The waste that is generated after the product is made is used at home as firewood to cook and boil water by the craftsmen.
According to the use and purpose of the bamboo different varieties or ‘jati’ are used.
TO OL S & PRO C ESSES
amboo basket weaving is a craft that is undertaken entirely by hand. The craftsmen often refer to it as ‘hastakala’ literally meaning the art of the hands or craft. All processes from cutting the bamboo, to splitting it, bending it are done by hand. For this various tools have been developed by the craftsmen themselves. These are called ‘hathyaar’ or weapons by them. These tools are rudimentary ones that are produced by local blacksmith. Their purpose ranges from cutting to splitting to pushing into cavities, etc. There are different tools for each process. A simple hacksaw or ‘karvat’ is used initially to cut the bamboo to the desired length.
Fig. [Alongside] : A craftsman and his tools.
Since Bamboo is actually a grass, it is made up of a number of strands. It can therefore be easily split lengthwise with little strength or skill. A ‘sattur’ is used to do this. It is just placed on the bamboo to be split and the entire piece is hit against the ground. This forces the tool into the bamboo and it splits open. A smaller, more pointed tool called ‘chaku’ or ‘suri’ meaning knife, is used for more precise work like pulling thin ribbons of bamboo or for pushing loose ends into gaps while weaving baskets. Sometimes wood working tools like chisels are used to carve holes. However, instead of a mallet, another piece of bamboo is used to hit the chisel.
The tools called ‘hathyaar’ meaning weapon, are rudimentary ones that are produced by local blacksmith.
1 : A woman using a ‘karvat’ to cut bamboo poles into smaller sections. 2 : A ‘chakku’ being used to create space to insert a strip of bamboo into a basket. 3 : Holes like in the case of this ladder are carved out using a chisel; a bamboo piece functions as a mallet.
4 : Again a ‘chakku’ is used to insert a bamboo strip into the weave of a basket. 5 : Thin ribbons are stripped from the bamboo pole using a ‘chakku’. 6 : This woman is using a ‘sattur’ to split the bamboo into kulfi sticks.
BASKET W EAVING
he basket weavers of Burud Ali make a number of baskets or ‘topli’s of different shapes and sizes. This is achieved by using various kinds of weaving patterns. Depending on the pattern in which a basket is woven, it will take a particular shape. Later on elements like handles or stands are added to the basket to give it a definite purpose. The 2 main kinds of baskets are the round basket and the square basket. Most of the others are derivatives of these 2 kinds. This shape is mainly dependent on how the base weave is placed. The circular baskets have a weave that intersects at the centre. Square baskets have a grid-like base weave.
Fig. [Alongside] : A woman weaving a large ‘topli’.
As kids, the craftsmen’s children learn how to weave smaller baskets. As they grow older, and their skill develops, they start weaving larger baskets. A certain amount of skill and dexterity is required to be able to make a strong and neat basket. Practiced craftsmen can weave a large basket within 15 minutes. The most amount of time is spent in preparing the material beforehand. The bamboo needs to be cut to size, split and cleaned before one can begin weaving the basket. Different sized sections are used within the same basket. The main structure could be made from thicker slices and smaller strips are used to weave the body of the basket.
Practiced craftsmen can weave a large basket within 15 minutes.
Weaving a square ‘topli’.
hen weaving a square ‘topli’, the base structure is a grid of bamboo strips that are woven with each other. All the strips are first laid out in one direction keeping an equal distance between them. The more the number of strips, the larger the basket becomes. The strips in the perpendicular direction are then interwoven with these to form a grid-like weave. Once this is done, smaller strips of bamboo are woven around it to lock this weave. The thicker strips are then bent upward and more strips are interwoven between this frame work. Once this is done, the loose ends that remain are folded downward and tucked back into the weave of the basket, giving the top of the basket a finished look and locking the cross strips in place.
Weaving a round ‘topli’.
he main difference in weaving a round ‘topli’ is the base weave. Unlike in the square basket, here the base weave is placed intersecting at a common point, much like a wheel’s spokes. Once this is ready, smaller strips are used to interweave the framework. These strips are pulled tight, causing the framework to start curving upward. Like in the square ‘topli’, once the interweaving is done, the tops are bent downward and tucked back into the weave. Many variations can be made to this simple design. One can add a base or a handle to change the main function. One can also weave a lid so that food items can be stored in it.
PRODU C T S
part from baskets in different sizes and shapes, the craftsmen of Burud Ali make a number of products for the home. Winnows, brooms, flower arrangement baskets, sturdy ladders, mats and blinds, kulfi sticks, and lamp shades are some of the other products. They even make dividers and fences to be used in the garden. Construction material like small planks for workers to sit on and ladders up to 25 feet are also crafted from bamboo. Some craftsmen have even ventured into the field of bamboo furniture. Very often products like mats and bamboo curtains are made as per the requirements of the customer. Some products are seasonal. A craftswoman I spoke
Fig. [Alongside] : Different kinds of baskets and winnows on display in one of the larger shops.
to at length explained how in the summer the demand for kulfi sticks is high, while in the winter agarbatti sticks are bought on a large scale. In this way, they can supplement the basket weaving with other smaller sources of income too. Diwali and Dashera are busy times for them as they make sweet hampers and dry fruit baskets for customers to fill up and gift friends and relatives. They also make lamps and ornaments that can be hung up during the festivities. Some of the bamboo strips are stained in pink and blue to add contrast in the weave. The bamboo can be painted with oil colours or water soluble colours to lengthen its life. Sometimes, varnish is also applied to the finished products.
Many products are crafted seasonally like kulfi sticks in the summer, agarbatti sticks in the winter and gift hampers during Diwali.
Many craftsmen have realised a need for modernization of the products and have started making modern looking lamp shades and bowls for the home. Many of these are also imported from the North East of India, where bamboo and cane crafts are still practised at large.
1 : Flower arrangement baskets on sale. 2 : Ladders of various heights on display outside a craftsmanâ€™s home. 3 : Fancier designs like these are imported from the North East of India.
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4 : Two women make kulfi sticks outside their home. 5 : Baskets of different sizes and shapes. 6 : A craftsman making a custom fence for a garden.
THE FU TURE
lthough bamboo and cane crafts are more eco-friendly than their counterparts in plastic, their popularity has not grown as much as it should have. The demand for such products is still relatively low and is depleting every year. With the growth of the industrial revolution, fate has changed for most traditional craftsmen in India. Business was good 25-30 years ago, but it has been deteriorating since. Plastic goods are preferred over bamboo and cane goods. There has been a 50-60 % drop in the demand for Bamboo and cane goods. This is apparent in the decline in sales. I saw this as I spent time with the craftsmen. Hardly any customers came to make a purchase.
Fig. [Alongside] : Roadside stalls in Burud Ali lack customers.
The new generation of cane craftsmen are studying to take up more lucrative professions. With lesser people turning to bamboo and cane crafts to make a living, the colony that once housed more than four hundred craftsmen, now has less than half the number of people working in this trade. The future of these craftsmen looks bleak. I realised that there was a huge potential for bamboo as a material in design, and a little bit of direction could help them a lot. Market research would give them a huge insight into what the modern customers actually want and need. They would probably also have to learn new techniques, but I feel like it was a small price to pay for keeping up the craft.
There has been a 50-60 % drop in the demand for Bamboo and cane goods.
BI BL IO G R APH Y
For References on Pune city & Maharashtra :
For References on Bamboo & Cane: