One of the oldest cottage crafts of Kerala, the thazhapaya /screw pine mat is a product of daily use. Over 800 years old, this craft is practiced by women in their homes.
The plant which grows locally along the banks of the rivers and streams of the region and is used after processing to create products of daily use. The fleshy green plant is peeled into thin strips that are dried in the sun and then diagonally plaited to create thazhapaya mats. When the leaves have been cleaned and split but are still green and moist they are wound into a tharamadi, or wheel, in the direction opposite to that of the spine of the leaf. The wheel is later opened and rewound in the opposite direction; this procedure is followed to ensure that on drying, the leaves are flat instead of curving in a specific direction. The quality of the paya is determined by the size of the strips and the closeness of the weaves achieved. Processed leaves are woven, hand embroidered and shaped to make bed mats, carry bags, table mats, boxes, purses, tea coasters, prayer mats, fishing nets, cordage, paintbrushes, Hut coverings, etc. The craftsmen have extended their skills to the making hand bags for ladies; these may be further embellished with carefully detailed embroidery.
The two ply screw pine mat is used for sleeping on; it has a coarse base and a fine upper layer and is stitched at edge with a dyed strip of screw pine. The finest mats are made of very thin leaf splits, with about 22 splits per inch. The mettapaya, a recent variation of the thazhapaya, is coloured red and is made of two layers that are stitched together. Thazhapaya bed mats are believed to alleviate arthritic pain
The main center for the Thazhapaya making is Kaunagapalli Taluk of Kollam district in Kerala. It is one of the major centres for cottage industries in Kerala. Karunagapally is situated 27 kms, North of Kollam. It is linked with Kollam by the rail and road. Other centers include Thrissur district – Lokamaneswaram; and Malapuram
The spine is removed by using a coconut fibre and the tender leaf cleaned carefully. Cleaned leaves are split in half without disturbing the original length of leaves. This long and narrow leaves are boiled and transferred and kept in fresh water overnight. The leaves are dried and within one or two days it becomes ivory in colour.
Once dry the leaf is straightened using a knife and kept in rolled bundles until the weaving begins.
The weave used is with one weft leaf going diagonally between two warp leaves. The splints are either woven in their natural ivory colour or are dyed various shades. The dyed screw pine, when woven, have an interesting shaded effect, which is based on the variations of the natural base colour.
A single layered thazha takes approximately 15 days to make if a person works 8 hours a day. A bed mat containing 2 layered takes upto one month to prepare.
The products being made with screw pine include table mats, floor mats, cushion covers, coasters, bags, box covers, beach hats, handbags and wall hangings. The mats are often embellished with fine hand embroidery. The two-ply screw pine mat is used for sleeping on. It consists of a fine upper layer and a coarse bottom one, with stitching at the edge. Super fine mats are made of very fine screw pine leaf splints placed 8 to 10 per inch. High quality mats of up to 22 splints per inch can also be made by experienced artisans.
Thazhapaya Mat weaving is a home-based women craft, production is carried out in the artisan’s houses. There are no separate premises specifically earmarked for the exclusively handcrafted activity. The price of the product varies depending on quality. The quality of the product is identified by the count of Thazha per inch. A good quality Tazhapaya contains ’12’ counts per ‘1’ inch. As the count increases per inch the quality also increases.