When you travel into the interiors of West Bengal during the monsoons, you pass through the most stunning landscapes – vast expanses of green stretching out into the distance; pulsating with life, washed afresh in the abundant rains. The clouds hover grey and black over the horizon. And you look mesmerised, at the visual spectacle that only Nature can orchestrate.
Paddy fields in Medinipur, West Bengal
Our journey today takes us to Medinipur, a district on the southern fringes of West Bengal. As in most of Bengal, the principal crop which grows here is rice. Paddy fields line both sides of the narrow winding village roads.
Madur Kathi – Natural Fibre
Apart from farming, the other important source of income for the villagers of this region is Madur Kathi weaving. Madur Kathi (Cyperus Corymbosus) is a natural fibre which grows here in abundant quantities. The photograph below, is of a field of Madur Kathi reeds which is being cultivated for weaving. When the reeds reach a height of approximately five feet, they are cut, dried in the sun, split into thinner strips and seasoned to make them strong and durable for weaving.
Traditionally, Madur Kathi was used to make Masland mats, which refer to very fine reed mats woven with silk threads. They were so soft to the touch, that they could pass for fabric. Mention of these luxurious mats can be traced back to the Mahabharata. The artisans would create elaborate patterns on the mats and one fine Masland would take months to weave. But today, there are very few weavers who can weave fine Masland, and there is very little demand for these expensive mats.
Due to the effects of commercialisation of the craft, hand-looms are now used to speed up the process. The mats are woven on the loom using coloured threads. Most of the village women practice the craft which has been in their family for generations, and almost every house will have a loom or two. It forms an important supplement to their meagre family income.
We meet some of the artisans whom we are collaborating with and walk around the little village enjoying the expanse of green fields, dotted with clusters of trees around the occasional pukur (pond). The air is fresh with the smell of the approaching rain and as it gets time to leave, we know that the quiet of that village afternoon, will stay with us long after we have left.