Darbha Grass Mats – Weaving Hope & Health! Real People, Real Lives in Rural East!

Darbha grass floor mats in vibrant hues

Have you ever been on the hunt for the perfect mat for your indoors and outdoors, that solves a multitude of purpose?  I feel like I always am.

A look at my latest hand woven darba grass yoga cum beach mat spread out in front of me and I find myself reflecting on its character and what went into this age-old craft that bears the skills and pieces of natural earth with hand-touched elements!

Life is happening all around us, but most of the times we get caught up in the routine and stop looking for answers. This got me deeply intrigued and as soon as I finished my practice I quickly looked up on the internet and found myself directed to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmostachya_bipinnata

And now I know why I felt so connected with my inner being. Handloom – woven using indigenous natural fiber ‘Darba (Desmotachya bipinnata)’.

Raw straw for weaving the grass mats

(The inbred and ingrained darba grass)

According to early Buddhist accounts, it was the same material used by The Buddha for his meditation seat when he attained enlightenment.

(Yoga for the Soul! All thanks to my wonderful mat!)

I quickly called Souvnear’s procurement team and spoke over the phone with manager Mr. Anil Yadav. As luck may have it, he had headed the initial team who had gone to West Midnapur, West Bengal for order fulfillment. We fixed a meeting for the following day.

Next morning I reached the office and quickly met him. He had lots to share. Pictures, videos and yes most importantly his narrative account of an experience still fresh and vivid.

As I listened carefully, I observed that more than a visual appeal it brought to my mind reflections of women outfitted with wicker baskets making their way across dirt roads in a quaint village of West Midnapur, West Bengal, India to reach local grasslands for the darba harvest.Their coy demeanor cleverly shields their earnest resolve to contribute financially to their household income.

Sitting in the office now and recounting his trip, Anil jokingly admitted that had he known his trip would turn to a tale he would have ensured to capture more artistic photographs 🙂 .

I differed, coz I have always been a fan of the amateur shots. It’s like a hidden treasure you chance upon.

Here; have a look and decide yourself!

To reach the village, Anil pointed out, one requires a sturdy vehicle and a good sense of adventure.

In grass mat weaver artisan land

It took him to brave the dirt roads, surrounded by the agricultural land and dubious potholes to arrive at his destination.

The fields of the grass mat artisans

This used to be a quite village with no major road on the horizon. However handloom weaving has acted as a powerful change which now encompasses livelihood generation & self-sustenance for these independent weavers.

Handloom weaving is like a family heirloom in this village, Anil says, as informed by his guide Mr Sapnil. Driven by the mission to reduce migration to big cities, he works with the rural weavers. Sapnil further informed Anil: “They own the instruments of production, and produce mats with family or household labor, and then sell the products in the local market or to the traders”.

He now started explaining the process of hand looms to Anil and also the trade of this small village which had spread its wings to cross Indian sub-continent boundaries to advance to absolutely global standards.

Back in office; Anil made me a sketch. I could feel the elation and flurry in his voice to make me understand the technique. Every grass strand is torn along the entire length, end-to-end to create multiple strands. Finer the strand, finer is the finished product.

Weaving is a process of interlacement of vertical ‘Wrap’ with horizontal ‘Weft’ as depicted in the figure.

Grass mat warp and weft structure

The warp threads are held under tension by the loom, thus paving way for the weaver to interweave the weft threads. The major components of the loom are the warp beam, heddles, harnesses or shafts, shuttle, reed and take up roll. The principal motion of the hand loom includes shedding, picking, battening and taking-up operations.

The grass mat weaving loom

The actual loom – LOOMING LARGE!

The noise: clickety clack, ching-ching of the looms is absolutely music to the ears recounts Anil.

Hand loom weavers are mostly men – due to the strength needed to batten. The women of the house spin the thread they need and also attend to finishing. Simple wooden handloom with intricate weaving processes, where the weaver uses both his hands and legs.

It’s unbelievable that no electricity is used in any part of the weaving. A shaded veranda is all, but the premise of this ingenious craft. The symmetry and the idiosyncrasies of the handmade mats! It made me savor the feeling that, sometimes you just want to get away from the straight line precision of technology, and resort to simple, elementary and organic forms of handicraft treasures .

This was yet another inspiring and admirable story of triumph that beautifully blends the ancient chronicles with the modern.

Mats create such a cozy environment in the home, and the colors and patterns on them speak volumes for this small creative community in one of India’s eastern region, who made these individual pieces of art accessible to all. The most appealing characteristic of woven products is their tactile nature; especially when the material is organic – such as natural grass – the item boasts more than a pleasing texture!

There’s an honesty and simplicity in each piece hewn from earth whose sole decoration is the unique natural grain!

It’s almost like Weaving chose these people! And their art has found home in our spaces!

Although the practice of weaving fast-growing, readily available materials is shared by cultures the world over. It’s an aesthetic that creates employment and generates income for these men and women in these rural communities!

These traditions continue, and keep on evolving, as age-old skills are exposed to new techniques and ideas, creating beautiful, modern designs that are relevant to the way we live now.

A community of people who enjoy working with their hands, making things themselves and thrive on the deep sense of satisfaction it offers!

Relaxing on a floor grass mat in the park!

(Good friend Seerat and Renuka find the mat I gifted them indispensible for their fun outdoor outings!)

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