In Bengal, the word Madur is a generic for floor mats. Mats are an integral part of Bengal’s lifestyle. Madur is a tradition and pride of Medinipur. Women of the households are involved in weaving this beautiful craft. It is sold in the local markets for day to day use and also transported to adjoining states to be used for ritualistic purposes. With the shift in market needs, the weaves are now also used for making decorative and utilitarian items.
The origin of the craft in West Bengal dates back to the Muslim period, when ‘Masland’ mats of superfine variety with fine cotton as weft were produced under royal patronage. Mats were collected as revenue of the Jaigirdari system. In 1744, Nawab Alibardi Khan issued a charter to the Jaigirdars in this regard and as a result, it was obligatory to supply ‘Masland’ mats for use in the collectorate.
The Fibre :
Madurkathi is a rhizome based plant (Cyperus tegetum or Cyperus pangorei), which is found abundantly in the alluvial tracts of Purba and Paschim Medinipur.
The land and climate of Purba and Paschim Medinipur districts is suitable for cultivating Madurkathi. The sticks can be reaped for a period of 3-4 years once the rhizomes are sown. Main seasons for cutting the sticks are April-July and September-November. Best quality Madur sticks are reaped during the September-November season.
Sabang in Paschim Medinipur is the wholesale market of raw Madur sticks. The market remains open throughout the year. Cultivators from both Purba and Paschim Medinipur districts bring in their produce to Sabang. Bulk transactions take place on Tuesdays every week. The sticks are purchased by dealers who collect these for reselling and by producers for their own use. Raw materials like thread, dye and cloth is procured by units producing diversified mat products. The main market for procuring the raw material is at Radhamoni Haat in Tamluk.
The Weavers :
There are around 6000 artisans in Purba and Paschim Medinipur. As part of the initiative by WBKVIB, around 4500 mat weavers have been covered across the two districts.
Mat weaving is the only source of income for 77% of the weavers. Around 74% of the weavers make hand woven mats and the remaining develop loom based products. The loom based weavers have been organised into units by entrepreneurs who cater to orders professionally. There are around 40 of these small units across Purba and Paschim Medinipur. Besides making folding mats, these units have diversified into making various utility items and accessories such as bags, folders, table mats, runners, coasters, boxes etc. 93% of the mat weavers are women. The women of the households spend their leisure time weaving mats.
Few of the traditional mat making families still retain the knowledge of weaving a fine variety of exclusive mats locally known as Masland or Mataranchi.
Process of Loom Setting :
Weaving is also done with the help of installed looms locally called as char dhap (4 steps) looms. This loom is operated by a single person. A length of a mat is produced which is then tailored according to the size of the product.
- Setting up Charkha and winding thread in bobbin
- Development of colour combination and patterns
- Setting up bobbin in frame
- Setting up drum
- Setting up Pedals and Pakhi for weaving
Process of Fine Weaving :
The process begins with the preparation of basic raw material which is commonly termed as pre-loom weaving. The painstaking works starts from the steps when the soft reeds and cotton (some cases jute thread) are arranged on a bamboo frame loom as weft and warp respectively. For weaving of masland mats at least two persons are required. One person places the reeds from left to right by placing one thread on top and another one down, the other person does the same thing from right to left at meeting the finishing lines, the threads are turned and the process is continued. The popular design on Masland mats are of flowers, honey comb (mouchak), Rhomboidal (barfi), cascading (jharna) etc.
- Setting threads on frame
- Making sticks finer with teeth
- Weaving the patterns
- Incorporating designs according to graph
- The pattern gets ready
Dyeing of Madursticks :
The craftsmen have a practice of dyeing the Madur sticks with natural and vegetable dyes. However they nowadays use Azo-free dyes to add different colours to the weave. The process involves cutting the sticks, making appropriate bunches, mixing colours in proportion and adding to boiling water, soaking the sticks in the boiling water with the dye and then drying them in the sun.
- Cutting sticks according to length
- Tying uniform bundles
- Weighing dyes according to proportion
- Soaking sticks in boiling water with dyes
- Laying dyed sticks out to dry
- Various dyed sticks