Grass Mats of Killimangalam

Oct 01, 2014 | Vol. 6, Issue 4
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Bharathapuzha, poetically known as River Nila has played a key role in the development of civilisation and history of Kerala. There are many folk communities, traditional artists and artisans who have been living on the shores of River Nila since centuries. Some of them are still practicing their skills and crafts. From this issue onwards Welcome Kerala will feature such traditions and folklore in a series. The grass mats of Killimangalam (Thrissur Dt, Kerala, India) featured here is one such tradition which requires immediate attention.This is the first article in the series-Surviving Traditions of River Nila.



Killimangalam is a small village resting a little distance away from River Nila, at Cheruthuruthy in Thrissur Dt, Kerala (India). Here you can visit the Killimangalam Pulppaya Neythu Sahakarana Sangham, an industrial co - operative society involved in traditional mat weaving. The  56 yr old Parangodath Prabhavathi – President of the society ,  is a  one  woman show ,  combining  multiple roles- administration , accounts, purchase, mat  weaving and sales. Her confidence is at high ebb and she is working hard to revamp the industry back to its past glory.

Traditional grass mats

Pulppaya, the traditional grass mat, is one of the oldest utilitarian handicraft items of Kerala. Pulppaya (in the local language Malayalam, the word pul means grass and paya denotes mat) is crafted using the Kora grass (sedge grass), which was abundant along the river banks. Years ago, mats were woven by the Kuruva community.

Weaving of these mats is complicated and time consuming. The blade of green grass of about 3-4 feet height is cut and the white pith inside is removed using a sharp knife. The outer sheaths are then dried in sun light. But now these dried grass strips are available at Chittoor market. (They are sold to flower and garland units). The grass it kept in water over night to remove the stain and further dried again before it is dyed. Generally the prominent natural colours employed are yellowish light green (colour of the dried grass), red and black. To enhance the depth for the red colour, the grass is boiled in water with small pieces of twigs from the Chappangam  (Caesalpinia sappan) tree and dried thru night. The process is repeated for 3-4 days to get the right tone. The red dyed grass is kept in thick muddy water to give it a black hue, but still there is tendency to bleed. So it's again dyed in red to control, reduce the bleeding and sharpen the colour richness.  Tie & dye (Ketti Mukku ) methods are also applied. Chemical dyes can be used and the process will be smoother.  It takes three to four days to weave 3ft X 6ft – standard mat with fewer designs and these mats are priced at Rupees Three thousand – ex factory.

In the year 2006, UNESCO awarded its seal of excellence to the indigenous 'Killimangalam Pulpaya' (traditional straw mat) made at Killimangalam. Though the product has good demand in Indian cities and niche international markets, the society could not service the market demand due to shortage in manpower, as youngsters were not keen to take up this skill oriented work.

Efforts for rivival

Prabhavathi said “The cooperative society was established in 1950 with 50 members. Its golden period was during 1980s, with ten workers in the factory and the rest 25 working out of home. The decline started during the 1990s. As stated in the Bylaw of the society, a five member committee with President and secretary will manage the society. At present there are 16 registered workers at the society, but a few have left due to over age and some left looking for better jobs.”

It takes about 15 days to complete a standard mat. In our society the remuneration to the workers are given based on the finished mats. As the society still follows the old wages act, it's always difficult for workers to meet their home expenses from these wages. After I took charge have been able to increase the wages, but am unable to bring back the workers who had already left the society as  they are all settled in other jobs. So my challenge is to make a new work force” said Padmavathy.

She also said 'Recently, a Bangalore based company The Blue Yonder approached me and extended their support to revive these traditional crafts. They already declared financial assistance to me, Chami, a 84 year old master craftsman, who served the society till the recent past, and another boy who have come forward to learn the craft of weaving. I am hopefully waiting for their involvement, if not   I will still continue the weaving as well as the efforts to revive the society until my last breath.

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Good effort to be supported

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