Sikki Grass Craft: The Story…
The Sikki Art can be traced to the Vedic period, practised among nomadic tribes and primarily dominant in Bihar. It started with the Tharu women of Nepal, before being adopted by Mithila women in Bihar. To date, the craft is predominantly practised and associated with women of Bihar. Sikki grass craft is made from Sikki grass found predominantly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Sikki grass, for usage, is dried and the flower head is cut off for ease and agility, they are mostly used to make toys or baskets (dolchi). The golden hue of grass was soon to be associated with divinity and transcended in being used to make idols, especially god idols associated with the Sun God. Sikki craft has many other various religious and cultural connotations to it, like – The jewellery box made of it was an auspicious symbol in marriage ceremonies and the toys were associated with a local festival called Sama Chakeva.
The Eco-Friendly Approach & Adaptation of Craft…
In a world that is drowning in waste, and struggling to breathe in a space that produces and consumes plastic and plastic blends on various levels, we need more than just sustainable, we need natural, raw materials and elements that will dissolve back into the ground without leaving a harmful imprint on the earth. This craft utilises what is available in its immediate environment, using grass-grown there to weave baskets, boxes and essential tools and vessels. having been produced with nothing but natural materials, it easily dissolved back into the ground, creating a perfectly environmentally friendly product. These baskets and other essential items can easily replace the plastic bags and items in houses, creating an eco-friendly and green environment. The bags usually sold as cotton in shops are also cotton blends with plastics, or often polyester; though still reusable, in the long run, are practically indisposable. These baskets (and other items), since are made using natural materials – like leaves, natural dyes etc., are easily dispensable in nature.
The industrial revolution, mass production and cheap harmful material replaced products made using Sikki grass and weaving in consumer markets, leaving the craft to grapple at its straws for survival. To accommodate the change in needs of people and to keep up with the rest of the market, Sikki shifted from basic essentials and toys, fancy products that substitute for home decor. Sikki grass craft adapts to making wall decor and art pieces – further integrating artistry in their craft. The beautiful golden hue of the leaves is often contrasted with black to weave beautiful patterns on paper made of all-natural raw materials. Often seen themes, in these paintings, are of nature and murals that are seen daily, becoming a beautiful addition to one’s home decor.
Like many crafts of India, this one has become part of cultural preservation and narration of history and mythology. Some of the common themes weaved and presented as paintings are rooted in mythology and cultural/mythological stories narrated to children in the form of oral history. Since it becomes part of the preservation of such cultures, it can also be highly reflective of society, even their own communities and practices. One of the art (seen below, left) represents a reflection of Sikki grass craft itself: A craft representing the making process of that very craft form – It shows a woman representing Sikki grass craft in a Sikki grass craft wall decor. On the other hand, the painting on the right represents a popular myth: the story of Radha & Krishna, and their rendezvous. It immortalises these reflections of society through art.
The community of women who make these and have kept the craft alive remind us of the pristine ethic of sustainable consumption and is a continual reminder of how green economy & consumption don’t erase the aesthetic appeal of art, rather just amplifies the talent. The continual production of this craft portrays the resilience of these women and the community in its preservation.
The Age of Old Tale of Demise and Survival…
While the internet brims with sustainability and eco-friendly markets, making sustainability a new trend; it, like most corporations, overlooks the sustainable culture that has been brimming in India’s craft heritage. Sikki craft faces a similar situation of disparity and grapples with survival and to compete in the dominant market space. The story of Sikki isn’t new, it isn’t unique, it is embedded in the same collective amnesia of India’s ancient arts and crafts. In the new age of collective consciousness that aims to eradicate products and companies that abuse the environment, it is time to shine a light on crafts that have been doing so for centuries and let them establish their rightful place in the new blooming sustainable market. Do support and buy the craft, for its survival and people who depend on it for their survival.
AUTHOR: Arpita Sk
3rd-year student studying in Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, majoring in Literary Studies and Sociology. Summer Intern at Kala Chaupal Trust.