Travel Magazine

The Basket Makers of Bangalore: Weaving a Livelihood Through Generations

By Rashmi Gopal Rao

For those of you well versed with Bangalore and its famous K R road, the sight of a several basket makers and their humble ‘stores’ a little off the pavement is a familiar one.  Sitting on the pavement, weaving baskets, mats and the like, an entire line of them can be found as you reach closer to the “Gayana Samaja auditorium” all the way upto the “Kote Venkatarama temple” near city market.   A casual chat with some of them on a day I was passing through the road revealed several interesting details.

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generationsBamboo weavers on K R road

Present in the city on the same road since the last 70-80 years, these bamboo weavers belong to the Medari community.  They are from Karnataka and belong mainly to the Bangalore and Mysore districts including the Chamundipuram and Nanju Malige areas.  “We have been around since the time of my grandfather and I have learnt this craft from my father” says 50 year old Siddharaju who was kind enough to speak to me.  He mentioned that as a child KR road was full of lakes and banyan trees, a far cry from the concrete jungle we have today:(

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generationsBaskets on K R road

Siddaraju revealed that there are close to 50 – 60 families and about 300 odd people into this profession currently.  While they earlier lived on K R road itself, they have now moved to nearby localities after the road was widened for the Metro work.  All of them are into making baskets and mats that are used for window blinds, floor mats and even partitions for gardens and compounds.  The raw material used for this purpose are the bamboo sticks called “Bidr kadi” in Kannada.  It is procured from the nearby states of Maharashtra and Goa.  “One of us procures the bamboos and we all share it by paying the needful” says Siddharaju.

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generationsBamboo used for the baskets

After the raw material is bought, it is sliced it into thin strips which are ready to be woven as desired.  This is a niche skill and most of the next generation lack the same says Siddarju whose children can weave baskets provided they are given the strips.  Slicing the raw bamboo is a tough task and the present young generation is not willing to put in the effort to learn it said Siddaraju.

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generationsSlicing the bamboo into strips

They work all day and if the bamboo strips are ready, 5-6 baskets can be woven in a day.  “It depends on your physical capacity and many a time we work together in case of bulk orders.  There is a high degree of cooperation between the families and whether it is an order for a wedding or a funeral, we chip in for each other.  We have no fixed timings and many a time, people come looking for us even at midnight” said Rajamma who has also been weaving since she was a child.

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generationsBamboo weavers at work

At the ‘end’ of their day, they just cover up their wares and bamboo sticks with plastic and return home.  Surprisingly, they are not concerned about the safety of their goods.  “No one steals anything from here, in fact these bamboos are considered as a symbol of Goddess Lakshmi, why would anyone take them away” said Rajamma.

A day in the life of these bamboo weavers is tough to say the least.  The entire process is manual and physically exhausting.  There is no guarantee of the amount they would earn each day for it entirely depends on potential customers walking in and buying something.  Additionally, procurement of raw material is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive.

A A “work in progress” mat

A conversation with them made me realize how hard they work to earn the meagre amounts they did each day inspite of being so talented.   Believe me, weaving is not easy!  Irrespective of their hardships, they appeared happy and grateful.  Truly a lesson in ‘simplicity’ for me; I bought two baskets for them and keeping them at home made me realize that it is the simple things that are often the most beautiful!

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generations

The basket makers of Bangalore: weaving a livelihood through generations

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