Saturday, October 22, 2022

Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region


While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say just how old the craft is, because natural materials baskets  seldom survive, as they are made from perishable materials like natural fibers ,grass, river reeds, cane ,vine and bamboo 

There are many kind of natural fibers used in Uttra kannada region by our ancestors, local tribes and  communities  .these vegetations are  available abundantly in the nature where they lived .

They used it  for fencing, making shelters like huts and  machans   , making baskets ,ropes , pot holders and pot hangings , tying animals ,caring loads, tying bundles  making jewelries , stringing beads ,  weaving mats, cradles for the new born babies ,traps for fishing etc. Natural fibers were part of  their daily life . weaving techniques are used  to find protection from rain and sun, and to build boundary lines or safety from wild animals and enemies   Most  of the crafts, kitchen and farming utilities were depending on this natural fibers   until  plastics came and took away the importance of this natural fibers

The local story of natural fibers  

Weaving with natural fibers  is a unique rural craft. done by hand and each product has its story weaved in the  local culture

There are many applications for weaving techniques from simple mats, ropes, brooms  to baskets  .Here I have documented various types traditional weaving craft in the cultural context of Uttara Kannada region, Karnataka  Most of them are lost in the plastic and synthetic wave 

halakki women observing cane baskets 

What makes basketry, weaving craft so special is that it has evolved in cultures around the world, as we all collectively found the need to carry things, store items, 

There are a multitude of uses of natural fibers  ranging from sleeping mats to traps meant for catching fish, and they play a prominent role in some religious ceremonies.

Most of them are harvested on a particular season to get the best results. each one has to go through a certain  process to get the final product which can be weaved later

Natural fibers /plants for making  rope,string and twine from western Ghats  :

1.. ನಾರು ಬಳ್ಳಿ /ಕೌರ್ಗಿ  ಗಿಡ  (Helicteres isora  Indian screw tree)

Helicteres isora  Indian screw tree

The best type of isora fibre is obtained when the plants are 1-1.5 years old; the plants older than 2 years yield coarse and brittle fiber.. The best month to harvest is July to September. In costal Karnataka  they harvest in the month of September and the fiber will be ready for the Deepavali festival for the ritual of tying new ropes for the cows .Thin ropes made from these fibres are used  as cordage for making cots, tying cattle and ploughs  The isora fibre has the potential for handicraft products.

.The stem has to be harvested in the month of August or September. The outer plant bark  is peeled off with bare hands for the fiber and soak  in the  flowing water almost 1 month .  This harvest is combined with  a festival called bali padyami Deepavali   which comes in the month of October  That day villages traditionally tie a new rope made by this naaru balli to their cows .   That means harvest has to be done before 1 month of this festival and it is exactly comes in August or September … The bark is also a source of strong fiber used as cordage for making cots, tying cattle and ploughs

 .                          The fiber is called naaru and the rope is called naarina balli 

2. ಕತ್ತಾಳೆ  (Agave sisalana)-Natural fiber thread from Halakki tribe

Kattale /mani daara ಮಣಿ ದಾರ   (Agave sisalana) leaves are quite fibrous and have been used to make rope and twine for thousands of years. In fact, the Inca and Mayan peoples used it extensively: not just for making cordage, but also woven into cloth for garments, hats, footwear, home furnishings, and paper.

Kattale (Agave sisalana)

kattele naaru made by halakki woman 

In Uttara kannda region halakki tribe women wear a heavy bundle of beads in their neck  if you go back to their story of beads you will  be thrilled to know they  used to use natural fiber to make thread to string this beautiful beads . sadly now they are using nylon threads and plastic beads They never bought necklace but beads  and string the beads themselves in a delicately  woven  thread with natural fiber  

Kattale  is a thorny cactus kind of plant which grows in the wild used mainly  for fencing .Halakki tribe women who goes to the forest to collect fire wood pick up 2or 3 of these long leaves which they call it locally  mani hede ( snake like leaf for Beads) There are two verities depending on the colour gray and green they say gray leaf will give more fiber compare to green 

In the rainy season they harvest these leaves and soak it  in the flowing water .When they get time in the summer they take out this leaves which is turned into fiber .they separate the hair like thin strings and weave into thin thread to string their beads .They also use the fresh leaves to retrieve fiber in a traditional way using sharp edged bronze plate by scrubbing the thin flesh on the leaf  

3. Coir rope making 

Coir, otherwise known as coconut fiber, is the natural fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut. Retting is a curing process whereby the husks of the coconut are kept in an environment that encourages the action of naturally occurring microbes.

 Green husks are buried in pits dug along riverbanks, berried  suspended by nets in a river and weighted to keep them submerged. The husks are left to soak for at least six  to nine months.

Hand made coir ropes are disappearing craft on the bank of the sharavati river . 

Weaving brooms from the local grass: hittanade hullu  in kannada (Eriocaulon species) 

It grows in damp soil or shallow water of western Ghat region. Traditionally women weave brooms and baskets with this delicate grass (though the grass  looks delicate it has good tensile strength)  the process is you have to rewove the white head which looks like a  human skull (Burude in kannada ) then the grass  has to be dried in the shade for 3 days until it  turns into golden yellow then weave horizontally  then role it to make  broom.

traditionally these brooms were used to broom the gods room or fire place  now this  beautiful local craft  totally disappeared from the village . heard that they used to make baskets with grass ican just imagine beautiful golden yellow grass  weaved into tiny golden baskets  but never got to see this forgotten craft of making basket 

hittande hidi 

link from my blog :

weaving mats from the local river reeds on the bank of Sharavati river 

 Uttara kannada region has got a unique landscapes has sea ,river forest and western ghat hill ranges .. the art and craft also have its connection with the respective landscape and eco system of this region. People of this land found its own kind of reeds /grass/palm/pine to weave mats. Here we can see 3 types of reeds that are used for mat weaving according to its landscape ; Its interesting to see how the landscape and eco system playing a role in weaving craft. Three kinds of   mats using 4 different species of plants !!such diversity in one region 

  • Mundki hullu (Pandanus unipapilatus) and kedige hullu (Pandanus odorifer)

Both belong to the family of pandanaceous (screw pine family).These are two varieties of thorny bushes/shrubs which grows in Uttara kannada region along river side.and beach side. It also grows near the streams. Both look the same ..Local tribes use both the grass to weave the mats .. Gamokklu tribe from the river side mainly use the

mudki hullu which grows along the river side Halakki tribe from the sea side use kedgi hullu which grows

near the sea side  ..

Mundki hullu

Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

This river reed grows along the Sharavati river bed. Locally it is called Geykana hullu

It is also used as a fodder for the cows .. This river reed is harvested after the monsoon during October or November month until February .Harvesting is normally done by the women .Women themselves take the boat to harvest the grass .After harvesting it has to be dried

before weaving  

Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

  • Echalu mara : palm tree (Phoenix sylvestris)

commonly known as: date-sugar palm, Indian wild date

In Uttara kannada region, deep in the forest siddis ,kare okklu, kumri maratis, deevaru 

women weave mats with special kind of  date palm called Eechalu. The weaving pattern and technique totally

different from sea and river mats 

Palm leaves (Arecaceae spp.) are gloriously fibrous and make a moderately strong for  weaving 

Basket Weaving :

Basketry is a unique rural craft. done by hand and each basket has its story weaved in the  local culture. What makes basketry, weaving craft so special is that it has evolved in cultures around the world, as we all collectively found the need to carry things, store items, find protection from rain and sun, and to build boundary lines or safety from wild animals and enemies Any basket that is woven of natural fibral is a true folk artifact. While modern mass production has all but replaced baskets with plastic and synthetic material.

 1.River reed Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

Hanmi ajji is the only elderly lady from sharavayti river bank who can weave baskets with this river reed 

2.Cane baskets 

Until forest department banned harvesting canes from the forest for essentials  cane baskets were part of their life  the farmers and forest dwellers used to weave baskets for their daily use . it was used as a need and not for the greed baskets were useful for them to carry coconuts, for fishing, for carry manure soil, to store paddy seeds used as a partition in the house

baskets for different purpose and with different design depending on the functional value is a interesting story when you study the baskets of uttra kannada in a cultural ,functional contexts it overwhelming to how the design evolved to make it easier to use 

To harvest arecanut from the tree

mannina butti
normally for rough use like carrying loads like soil manure 

Chooli mutti to collect coconuts 

Baskets were vey essentials for the framers and villagers in their daily life  Unfortunately the forest department in Karnataka banned harvesting cane for the forest dwellers and farmers in Uttra kannada region . and the local craft of basket weaving is fast disappearing .Now you see deep in the forest also  plastic baskets replaced the natural baskets  which looks out of place   

3. Wild Vine basketry-Kurl balli 

In the forest vines have always been readily accessible and plentiful for weavers, they have been a common choice for basketry purposes. The runners are preferable to the vine stems because they tend to be straighter.

In Uttara kannada region the important wild vine  called kurl balli in kannada is harvested fresh and weave into a basket. villagers use this wild vine for different purposes .the use it tie bundles , for fencing it was used like a tough thread for tying poles this was used to make quik containers which was used in kitchen   for arecant picking. storing garlics and dry fish small baskets are mainly used for storing things. its always kept near the chimney where the smoke comes and with the time this baskets turn into black


BuDa folklore is documenting and reviving these natural fibers through educational progrmmes 

Buda folklore Explore the art of traditional basket weaving using the wild vine which can be harvested from the forest of Angadibail. 


Monday, August 31, 2020

Moti gudda trek with Appaji -Unknown treks of western ghats

Moti gudda trek with Appaji -Unknown treks of western ghats

-Vaishnavi Prabhu with Savita Uday 


                        The beautiful view of Motigudda from angadibail forest farm paddy field 

I remember, Appa once met his childhood friend, Madevanna, and they were planning to climb up Motigudda . His friend soon forgot of this plan as he was not serious about it . But, the idea stayed with Appa always. Motigudda trek had been on the 84-year-old Appa’s bucket list for the past 3 years. This is the highest peak of Uttara Kannada region which we see from our breakfast table at the Angadibail farm. I discouraged him that it would not be possible for him at his age and that I will not be taking him. One summer, he somehow convinced his grandson, Atmeeya who at once agreed to take him.

Uday, Anvay, and I were at Gokarna at that time; we received a call from Atmeeya about their adventurous plan of leaving for the trek early next morning. We decided to join and make Appa’s mission complete. Vaishnavi, our all-time favourite volunteer joined us too.

After three years of this trek, Vaishnavi decided to write about it and bring back the best memories of a day well spent.


Motigudda from Angadibail forest Farm, so inviting in its being. It is one of the highest peaks of Uttara Kannada region)

Going through old photographs - ones taken under the waterfall of our childhood years, under the pillow castles
when mom wasn’t home, out on a trip with the cousins, at the movies with best friends, or with strangers
faring in distant lands – they all have the power of transcending time and space and taking one back on the
journeys lived, loved, and longed for. As for me, it came in the form of a day well spent in the serenading
lush of Uttara Kannada where a new love for nature was discovered at each step.
If it wasn’t for Savita akki’s father, Dr N R Nayak whom we call ‘Appajji’, I would have missed
the chance to pay a visit to Mother Nature in her full glory.
The Motigudda trek had been on 84 year old Appajji’s mind for about 10 years. It was a pact made and forgotten
between him and an equally energetic friend. The friend never took it seriously,
but Appaji was determined beyond determination to make this trek possible for himself.
Even Savita akki’s worldly concerns couldn’t convince her father from avoiding the 4 hour trek to the highest peak
of the region, with the closest medical service at least 30 kilometers away from the base .

He had somehow convinced his grandson and my friend Atmeeya to accompany him on this trek.

Just one fine evening we got a call from the duo saying that they were setting out on their willful adventure.

Sparing no second thoughts, Savitakki, her husband Uday, and their son Anvay closely followed by yours truly

packed a bagful of food and set out for the adventure Appaji had planned for himself. 

                                   In the year, 2007 we bought this land with the view of Motigudda)

The far mountains that feed into the waters of the Gangavali River and the ones that can be seen from Gokarna beach have many meandering ways leading to it. We chose the one we were the most familiar with starting at the Buda Folklore base in Angadibail forest, about 30 kilometers from Gokarna. The roads were only suited for an ATV, so packed with sticks and strengths in a red Thar, we started off on the raw forest road.

Our first stop was the last drive-able house - Shalini’s Akka’s forest abode - an hour from our base. On my last visit here, Shalini Akka had offered me a bright pink Rose from her garden, but to my falling face,this time she was nowhere around. But hey, we were in a forest with plenty of forest treasure waiting for us.

                                                  Appaji's adventure starts here

                Shalini Akka's place. This is the first house before climbing Motigudda. It takes an hour on foot to reach here from the buDa center)

Parking the car in their compound, we began trekking like locals with foreign gears. Our camera was enough to make Shalini Akka’s neighbours, a Siddi family, curious.  They had visitors from the halakki family  whom we met  on our way to Motigudda .While some of us stopped to have a few words with the little kids in this house, Appaji kept walking on with his eyes set ahead. From there, we headed onto a steep path littered with many Dhoopa trees. These trees, I noticed on our way back had their trunks slashed with knives and coconut shells tied under the cut to collect the resin in. Atmeeya told me that the locals used the resin, also called Dhoopa, for aromatic and purifying purposes. 

                                            A Siddi mud house. We climbed the hill from here

                                                                   The first way up

We could spot our BuDa house from here, of course through the camera zoomed in. Appaji was figuring out the house on his own.

The forest path from here on was quite misleading. We even spotted some bear feces claiming the territory of its owner, dotted with visible seeds of some local fruit that the animal must have devoured. Up till this spot, we could still see the sky. What followed was the scene out of a paradise or a dream unlived until now.

We met these people on our way to motigudda .His indignance took me to the little girl who was being carried downhill by her father on our way up. “She has had high fever for two days and needs to be taken to a doctor,” he mentioned. The nearest one, as I said, was at least 3 hours away on a good day. We wondered what someone stuck here in an emergency would do. Sure, the forest, as Appaji pointed out, was home to a hundred thousand herbs,edible and otherwise, but can a fruit berry save someone with a broken leg, or worse, a heart attack?..

In the middle of a forest on the height of the hills, this family with its trials and tribulations of surviving made us question the comfort and privilege we have in the cities. Later, when we descended from our trek, the same family, taking shelter in the Siddi house, must have wondered  how the purpose of our trek is different from theirs. 

We also met Appanna on the way. From his house on the top of Motigudda, he treks down for 2 hours everyday to earn his daily wages  

There were huge trees with their trunks so thick, two of us together couldn’t hug them whole. The forest breathed under out feet, each one an enormous sigh of welcome. A few coins of sunlight that the canopy thankfully let in, played on us as we played who’d lead the troop onward.

The forest became denser. The pathways were misleading. We were surrounded by only trees and their huge canopy as our path was filled with  fallen leaves.  It seemed like we were walking on a never ending path . After some time we could hear the invisible stream and we reached a low lying moist land. Tired bodies sensed a human settlement. We crossed the huge fallen tree where we looked like walking out of a fallen photo frame. 

After 3 hours, climbing along the welcoming sight of arecanut trees and banana plantations, we experienced a soothing effect, a sigh of relief. Some humans, a home, and a comfortable feeling .



After about three hours of walking through the sights, smells, and sighs of a green so green it hurt to walk away from, we reached Apanna’s beautiful mud house. A very basic abode with a mud-washed verandah and thatched roof that prevented the sun from drying the ground too much, Apanna lived there with his wife and three daughters. The family grew only the basics: rice, onion, chillies , and lentils to support themselves.

The family was warm; the insides of their home cooler than the sticky air outside. Behind their house was a personal stream with fresh cold water that fed into the narrow valley where the family had their years-worth of Arecanut and banana farms that. The banana plants, Apanna said, were a blessing of lord Hanuman sitting atop Motigudda. He said, “The monkeys wouldn’t dare touch our bananas for the fear of his lord, the monkey God”.

                                                                Appanna's house 

Cradle for a newly born granddaughter that Appanna weaved by himself using cane

The trees around his fields kept the wilderness at the foothills of the surrounding mountains in check.

This majestic sight had me wish against wishes to have a home there. But as every rainbow follows a gloom,

every silence follows a doom, so do the wonders of this valley caution one against the hardships of a life there.

Apanna told us how he worked as a daily wager in Angadibail, which, if he’s fast enough, takes him an hour to reach. They told us how the Monsoons cuts them off from the world outside for 3 months making them survive on all that they had stored during the good times mainly rice , coconut, potatoes ,red chilly  - the basics to survive . “The blood sucking leeches will climb up to your head if you start walking in the rain,” he said. 

It was time to leave Appanna's house Following Appaji, we walked into what looked like a green cave, a portal into the densest forest I had ever seen. Moss covered trees and the roots of those trees covered the ground. It was all darker here with an earthy and musky scent only a forest lover could identify. 

Suddenly the sky opened up and we felt like we were on the of the hill leaving the forest behind . Out of the forest, we edged into a vast grassland that the locals call Gaali Betta. Galli stands for a gale

that made the tall grass sway like the surface of ocean water.

After getting lost here for a little while and finding our footing again, we passed by the last mud house,

which was owned and abandoned by a Siddi family. They had probably moved downhill for better prospects.

We passed by the last mud house, which was owned and abandoned by a Siddi family. They had probably moved downhill for better prospects.

We rested for a while at the abandoned house and, crossing another patch of lush, we began hiking up the last stretch of the coarse and weather-beaten Motigudda. Up there, we found plenty of porcupine quills to decorate my hair with. We dared the last part of our climb under a bright sun with none but a few clouds as a distant resort.

The last house. An abandoned Siddi abode. )

We dared the last part of our climb under a bright sun with none but a few clouds as a distant resort.This stretch was very tiring without any shade. Appaji, who was walking slowly, stayed a little behind. We took a little longer round to reach the so-called highest peak of Motigudda. From distance, we could see the broken structure atop the hill, humoring us, testing our patience.

We finally arrived at our destination atop Motigudda around 2 in the noon. Like many destinations, this too wasn’t

anything on the beautiful journey that led to it. Not one soul but a few seagulls were there in sight.

The mountain top was rugged in comparison to the lush trek that led to it.

We could see where the Gangavali River met the Arabian Sea and in the distance was the pristine

coast of Gokarna.

We rested alongside the locally revered statue of Lord Hanuman. We were all but quiet after finishing off

what Appaji had started for us. As for him, he said nothing, not a word feigning tiredness or expressing

excitement at overcoming his personal feat.

No one could tell what was on the mind of our daring old man having achieved something not many his

age would even give a thought to.

 Careful of not stirring any snakes or scorpions resting there, we settled under a tree and pitched into our little luncheon of mangoes and sweet bread with the appetites of hungry children. Uday uncle and Anvay, the best to each other, had already finished their mangoes when they discovered how Atmeeya and I had sandwiched individual slices of our sweet fruits to relish them longer. By the time we had finished, the few distant clouds had begun gathering to threaten the arrival of the year’s monsoon. So it was time to begin descending.

The way back was easier, more charged because of the feat accomplished and the arrival of a lighter weather. We reached home at our Angadibail base at around 7 in the evening where Eeshwaranna, the caretaker of the property, helped us to a hearty meal.

When it rained later that night, the forest played an orchestra where the crickets giggled, the frogs croaked, and a troop of tired humans snored. And trust me, that’s the kind of symphony that fireflies dance to.

Atmeeya stayed with Appaji throughout the trek

            Atmeeya stayed  with Appaji throughout the trek



Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region

  While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say j...