Pyangs are a special and unusual variety of cylindrical storage containers made of thick bamboo strips. Crafted at Pyanggaon, located near Chapagaon (about 4 kilometres from Lalitpur), it is made by skilled craftsmen called payee and are famed for their skill and workmanship in moulding and sewing the pyang containers. Tradition has it that the payee were given a letter of authorisation or a lal mohar during the rule of Prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana, which entitled them to make the bamboo vessels used to measure rice and other cereals, such as mane, pathi, etc. Tradition also states that these containers were tested by the state and officially declared valid. These measures are now obsolete – they have been replaced by modern measuring devices.
The pyang containers are used for a variety of purposes, including the storing of ayurvedic medicines, herbs, and drugs. In the old days when large-size chests were crafted they were used for storing money and ornaments. Such chests, dating back 200 to 300 years, are still found preserved in homes. But this craft, like many other traditional crafts, is facing a decline.
PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
The main raw material in pyang-making is bamboo of a special grade that is thick and large-sized. This bamboo is accessed at distances that are constantly increasing with deforestation – their supply is often concentrated near the outlying forests of the inner terai.
Legend states that in the place where the special bamboo grows, there is an image of Kaleswar Mahadev. The story is that once some residents decided to spend the night in that area. As they cleared the area of stones and pebbles, to their surprise they found that the stones and pebbles kept reappearing. This happened repeatedly. At that moment there appeared before them a vision (darshan) of Shri Mahadev. And in the god’s honour they constructed the shrine of Kaleswar Mahadev.
When the bamboo has been obtained it is cut into pieces of the required length. The green outer skin is carefully removed and is cut into thin thread like ribbons called choya that are used for sewing the pyang containers.
Next, each bamboo piece is sliced open and stretched onto a plain sheet by heating it over the fire. It is then cut into three or four thinner sheets. These thin sheets are called hapas or khaptas.
The khaptas are then reheated over the fire very carefully in order that the inner surface can be used as the outer side of the pyang and the outer bamboo surface the inner part. The bamboo is then bent into the required curve and sewed up with the choyas. The bottom and the upper cover of the containers are sewed in the same manner.
An interesting by-product of pyang-making is the bamshalochan (the eye of the bamboo), which is used in Ayurvedic medicines as an antidote for cough and asthma, and as a general tonic too – this is found inside the nodules of the thick bamboo.
The payees possess remarkable dexterity in shaping and moulding the bamboo sheets through heat. However this craft is faced with great difficulty, not least of which is obtaining the bamboo itself. There is also the issue of stiff competition faced from the import of aluminium, stainless steel, and plastic containers.