Face Behind the Craft: Radha Kumari

Women and Sikki Grass Craft….

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. 

This craft for centuries was dominant only among women, having started by Tharu women and then moving onto Mithila women, products of this craft were auspicious in marriage. As part of dowry, women often inherited many items made of Sikki grass, especially the jewellery boxes. With the inability of the craft to fight for a place in a blooming commercial market and inability to compete with Madhubani, which originates from Bihar too and attracts more market, the craft experienced a steady decline. This was before Upendra Maharathi and the Craft Research Institute established by him in Patna had played an instrumental role in trying to encourage the women of these villages in Madhubani to make products of this craft commercially for the local market as well as in other cities across India. In this craft, Runa Khatun and Sudha Devi of Sarisab Pahi village were among the first women to take a commercial order. The commercialisation of this craft started with women and has transcended into a familial heritage and source of income.

The Artisan: Radha Kumari…

12 years in the trade, Radha Kumari is on her way to be a significant figure in the survival of the Sikki grass craft. An artisan from rural Bihar, Madhubani district, she practices the ancient craft made by weaving dried out Sikki grass found locally in Bihar. In a place that is dominated by the Madhubani art style, she reverts to something that is not so popularly known and creates beautiful jewellery, home decor products and baskets. Like many artisans that are grappling to survive in the world of fast production and industrial products, she fights for the survival of Sikki craft form and herself grapples for survival. The pandemic has unfairly hit a certain class of people and has hit artists and craftsmen the hardest, restricted by mobility and somewhat invisibility, the pandemic adds to these pre-existing issues. Like many artisans of her kind, Radha struggles to make a living out of this craft while also trying to fight for the survival and upliftment of said craft. 

Like most crafts of India, Sikki is a generational craft form, and both of Radha’s parents practice the same, and as she mentioned to us, they are both the recipients of Governer’s Award, or Rajya Puraskar. The village she lives in has many other craftsmen who are recognised by the government and recipients of this award, being around a community that harbours a passion for this craft. As mentioned earlier, the pandemic has hit hard, especially on families like Radha’s that depend on the sale of these crafts to make money. She attests that in two years of the pandemic the sales have dropped, they receive lesser orders, they are running out of savings and are in dire need of money. Even before the pandemic, the craft had suffered, resulting in adaptation in what is being made and by whom. As seen the craft is now no longer exclusively being made by women, transcending into men as well. 

To keep up with trends, they make jewellery boxes and jewellery that can easily compliment daily ethnic wear, etc. They even adapted to making home decor and clutches. This craft form, like many others, requires an unlimited amount of patience and skill and adapting it from making simple jewellery boxes and baskets to making a various range of products, just for commercialisation and survival, shows infinite amounts of resilience from the community and Radha and her family, who despite everything, continue to make this craft. 

To commend the resilience of this community, Artisan Radha and many others who are fighting for survival in times of global crisis, please buy their products: Do support Radha and her family by buying her products from www.shopchaupal.com

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.

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