Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weave your own basket from kans and sikki grasses

The sikki grass (vetiver grass - Chrysopogon zizanioides), once found in abundance near water sources, has been vanishing and with it is declining the art of basket weaving from the golden splinters. And due to the easily available plastic containers, the basket weaving out of kans grass (Saccharum spontaneum) is also on the decline.

Vetiver grass (c) Forest and Kim Starr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Sunset through Kaash (Kans Grass) by Flickr user Abhijit Kar Gupta. (CC BY 2.0)

Whenever I travel to my home in the southern plains of Nepal, the kans baskets (they call it dhama in the Tharu language) hanging by the roof always haunt me. All these baskets were woven by grandmother who passed away recently. Since we have been lowering our involvement in agriculture and storing the food items in sacks and drums, these beautiful baskets have been left useless. And the only thing I can do is, stare at them!

Kans baskets hanging by the roof in my house.

Tharu and Maithil women from the southern plains of Nepal have been weaving baskets of all shapes and sizes from the kans grass since ages and the art has been passed from one generation to another. The mothers and grandmothers have been teaching the young ones to weave baskets out of kans, considered useless and sikki, regarded pure.

So, how do they weave these baskets?

Once I sat with my grandmother and she showed me the basics of this craft. Let me share it with you.

First, all you need to do is collect the kans stems before they flower (they call it gabaha in the Tharu language). Take out the flowery filaments and leave the stems to dry. Since the stem is hollow now, it can be wound into any shape and size.

Kharhi, the base material for weaving basket.

Now trim the upper and lower parts of the stem. They can be used as the base material to wound the kans stem around. Also make sure to collect the kans grass from an earlier stage, before they start bearing flower inside. The stalks are usually hard at this stage and can be used as the base material for the baskets. People also use fistful of kans grass from this stage as a broom.

Soak the gabaha in water so that it becomes flexible. A rudimentary tool you’ll need besides the grass is a takuwa – a needle like equipment with a rounded end to hold on while weaving a basket.

Takuwa - a needle like equipment used to weave the basket.

Take a fistful of the kans grass and coil the gabaha around it. Then swirl it to give a round shape binding the framework with gabaha. And take the help of takuwa to make holes in the structure and put the gabaha inside the holes till it takes the shape a conical basket like the one in the below picture. Later you can add the base to this basket.

A basket without a base.

Keep on weaving and you’ll get a basket like the ones hanging by the roof in my house.

Now you must be curious how Tharus weave so beautiful baskets (called pauti and dhakiya) that are displayed during the Tharu festivals like the ones on the heads of these women from Sunsari district.

Tharu women holding sikki baskets (c) Madan Chaudhary/

It’s simple like weaving the basket from gabaha. First, you need to collect the sikki stems and tear them apart into two equal splinters and leave them to dry. Once dried, you can apply colours of your choice to them.

Now repeat the process of weaving a basket from kans grass. Soak the coloured sikki splinters in water and take a fistful of kans grass as base material. Then with the help of a takuwa wind the colourful sikki splinters around them. Slowly, your basket starts taking shape. To create the beautiful colourful patterns on the basket, you’ll need to coil the coloured sikki splinters on the basket with the help of a takuwa. But you’ll need to practice a lot to create those beautiful patterns.

Good luck with the weaving!

Read: A basket of nostalgia

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