The Bihar state of India has been a center of art and culture since ancient times. It had been a home to various kinds of crafts.One such craft using grass is about thousands of years old and is called Sikki craft. It is a very eco-friendly craft and the humble grass is used to make various articles for use at home and also for ritual and religious purposes. The art is very popular in north Bihar,especially in the Madhubani, Sitamarhi and Darbhanga districts among the women. The skill is being passed across the generations as it is a very old craft.The young girls learn it from their grandmothers or mothers.It is mainly a women’s craft.
It has been believed in this region that before marriage, a girl should know five different form of crafts, namely Painting, Suzni craft, Kshidakari craft, Papier mache craft and the Sikki craft. The more expert the bride was in these crafts, more was her demand for marriage.The bride used to take the products of these five crafts as a part of dowry. Sikki containers and boxes filled with dry-fruits,sweets,fruits are also gifted to daughters at the time of marriage. Special Sikki baskets called Daura is an important part of the marriages for sending gifts.
Initially,the different types of household utensils were made using this craft. Later on,the craft improved and more products like toys,boxes,utility items etc. also began to be made. The commercial use of this craft started in the beginning of 20th century and the objects made with Sikki craft started getting exported to other states. However, with the rise of British power in India, factory made cheap plastic objects started pouring in the local markets. As a result,the demand for this craft started declining gradually and it diminished over a period of time.
The craft saw its revival in the nineties when the awareness about local goods grew among the people with the advent of easy communication and liberalization. The awareness further grew with the efforts of Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan of Patna. It trained many artists of Sikki arts with the new skills and designs catering to the market requirements.It also highlighted the craft during various trade fairs. Sikki Craft got further boost by the hard work of Shri Dhirendra Kumar of Rampur,Madhubani who started the difficult work of drawing the Sikki arts on canvas.
The Raw material…
The raw material used for this craft is Sikki grass (Vetiver grass known around the world), a long stemmed golden yellow colored grass which looks like a paddy plant and grows in abundance in the marshy areas of Bihar. The Sikki is actually the internal part of the Sikki grass. It is thin, but strong and smooth stick stained in the center of the grass and acts as the backbone of the plant.A single Sikki is collected from a single grass.It is then divided into two parts by splitting.
The splitted Sikki is usually bought from the peddlers who come to the village to sell them. Rather than selling it by weight or volume, they sell it by Mutthi or fistful. The rate is usually Rs 8 per Mutthi which contains about 60-70 pieces of Sikki in number.The Sikki grass is also available in the local market at about Rs 300 per kg. The Sikki is also colored using different natural dyes to create different color combinations of the products.
How it is made…
- The Sikki grass is usually collected during the rainy season.The Munj (another grass) and Khara (Straw) are other important raw materials for the making of Sikki grass products. Khara is the rest of the grass left after collecting the Sikki.The artisans buy khara from the peddles at the rate of Rs. 100-130 per ‘Bojha’ (about 5-7 kg in weight).
- Munj is cheaper and easily available. It is usually sold at around Rs 30 per kg.It is used to give basic shape and strength to Sikki products. Munj is first coiled and then it is covered with the Sikki grass.
- The other raw material needed is the dye of different colors and water. Dye is also easily available in the local market at the rate of about Rs 1000 per kg and is used to color the grass. The water is used to soak the Sikki grass and make it more pliable as it is coiled around the Munj.
- The main tool used for making the products is Takua.It is a 5-6 inches long needle-shaped iron object with a rounded head. Other tools used are knife for splitting and scissors for cutting.
- The Sikki grass is first cut from its base and then dried for some days in the sunlight. The flowering part of the stem of Sikki is not used for crafts making. The remaining portion of the Sikki is sliced and shaved with the help of a knife or by teeth.
- The Sikki is then soaked in water to make it more pliable as it is coiled around the Munj. To color it in different shades,it is boiled in different colored dyes. The fuel used for boiling is usually wood, LPG and Kerosene. The colors are boiled with water separately and then the Sikki is submerged into the boiled color to impart a permanent color to the Sikki. Finally the Sikki is kept under sunlight for drying.
- The main form is then shaped with Munj or Khar to provide the basic shape and additional strength to the Sikki product.
- The Sikki is then used to cover and completely coiled over the Munj so that it is not visible through the encasing. The Sikki grass is used to attach two adjacent layers of the coil.
- The product being made is held firmly with the left hand while the right hand is used to wield the Takua and make various designs. One of the functions of Takua is to give pressure along with finger to flatten the Sikki stick to make it ready for weaving. The Takua is also used to insert into the object so that a gap can be created among the tightly woven coil. The leading tip of the grass is inserted and pulled from the other end through this gap created by Takua. Metal wire(MS or GI) is also used to make the structure rigid.
- The different colored and uncolored golden Sikki is used in combination to create beautiful and artistic designs. The colors most popular are purple, deep blue, bright yellow, magenta pink,green, and red.
There was a point of time, when a very large portion of the population in North Bihar was actively engaged in this craft. Sikki work was carried actively to generate income in their leisure time. It was a part of the culture and expression of their life which played a major role in their empowerment. Today, the demand for Sikki goods is ever increasing. However, not many artisans are currently involved in this craft due to lack of new designs and product innovations. This has lead to a gradual reduction of regular sales and income flow now.