The intricately patterned, coiled grass tharu baskets are made of sikki, the ‘golden grass’ found growing in the wet and marshy area. Traditionally – and till today – sikki grass products are made by the women of the Maithil household especially brides-to-be and are taken to their husbands’ home(s) after marriage as part of their dowry. Made in a wide variety of shapes( elephants, leaves, fish, and religious icons). these are used to carry sweets and fruit to festival gatherings, to bring gifts to a bride, and to provide storage. Some are decorated at the rim with a net-like border incorporating jingling shells and seeds. The baskets are made in the coiling method. The designs, which are stitched over the basic shape with dyed grass, include diamonds, triangles, flowers, fish, bird, and elephant motifs.
They also make strong reed baskets with bold geometrical designs that are used for carrying purchases from the bazaar or for storage in the household.
PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
To make the sikki grass usable, it is first cut from near its base and then dried. The upper portion of the flowering stem is then discarded. The remaining portion is finely sliced and shaved and used for making the products. Sikki is sold by the traders at the weekly haath (market) or by itinerant door-to-door sellers.
The sikki, which is characterised by its wonderful golden hue, is also coloured into myriad shades to make the products more attractive. The deities that are fashioned from the sikki are depicted with their own special colours in two-dimensional images. The colours most popular are purple, deep blue, bright yellow, magenta pink, green, and red, all combined with the natural golden to make the final product a riot of colours. The women craft the products throughout the year according to their needs.
The technique used for making products from sikki is the ancient and time honoured coiling method. Interestingly the actual form is shaped with khar (Saccharum spontaneum), which is much cheaper and more abundantly available. This provides the basic shape and gives additional strength to the product. Thekhar is completely coiled over and covered with sikki; it is not visible through the encasing. The only tool used by the women is a 6-inch long needle-shaped iron object, with a rounded head, made of lac, which is used to grip the needle while coiling the grass. The object being made is held firmly while the right hand is completely free to wield the needle. No threads or cords or any other materials are used. The sikki is wet lightly to make it more pliable as it is coiled around the khar. The colouring is achieved by boiling the sikki in dyes.
The products made from sikki are utilitarian as well as ornamental, and often have religious significance. The women make containers to store grain, rice, and lentils; boxes to keep their clothes and jewellery; baskets to store sweets; and containers to store masalas (spices). Mobiles and toys are made for the children, while the women make bangles for themselves. Coasters, hand-held fans, and bowls and boxes of all types and sizes, mobiles, and three-dimensional figures are made for urban markets, while figures of deities are crafted for religious festivals. Each item is not only colourful but also individual. Colours are used in dramatic contrast and each product reflects the creative impulse of its maker. Two-dimensional images of birds and animals, trees, and figures are also beautifully crafted.