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Leaf ornaments

From time immemorial, the leaves of the date and palmyra palms, and varieties of grass have been used to weave baskets and mats. In West Bengal, rural communities from the backward classes and several tribal groups, who live in the hills and forests and remote hinterland, at the periphery of larger village communities, have been practising this craft for centuries. 

In Tagore`s Santiniketan, worship of nature and floral adornments, inspired by tribal communities in the vicinity, have long been a way of life among the students of Viswa Bharati. It stands to reason therefore that the concept of extending the basketry weaving technique to weave ornaments from natural fibres like Bena grass and fruit seeds was born in and around this region. 




From time immemorial, the leaves of the date and palmyra palms, and varieties of grass have been used to weave baskets and mats. In West Bengal, rural communities from the backward classes and several tribal groups, who live in the hills and forests and remote hinterland, at the periphery of larger village communities, have been practising this craft for centuries. 

In Tagore`s Santiniketan, worship of nature and floral adornments, inspired by tribal communities in the vicinity, have long been a way of life among the students of Viswa Bharati. It stands to reason therefore that the concept of extending the basketry weaving technique to weave ornaments from natural fibres like Bena grass and fruit seeds was born in and around this region. 

Sometime in the nineties, the trend of creating ornaments from fruit seeds like sandalwood, gulmohur, tamarind, date palm and many more became very popular. An abundance of this colourful jewellery soon flooded local fairs at Santiniketan and elsewhere. 

With a surfeit of such products, a few enterprising Santal artists in Birbhum decided to incorporate their traditional weaving traditions into this craft and began to focus more on natural fibre than fruit seeds. They began to meticulously plait, weave, or coil spliced palm leaves to create delicate ornaments like ear rings, bangles and necklaces. They were also encouraged to use palmyra bark fibre which is normally used to make hats and baskets by marginalized artisans. They experimented with designs both traditional and contemporary and from about a decade ago, sat down to sell their wares at the fairs. 

The leaves of the palmyra and date palm trees (taal and khejur) are collected, dried, spliced and then woven. Unlike mats, these tiny ornaments need skilled, delicate fingers. Bark fibre too is used as raw material but extraction is a laborious process. The hard bark is stripped from the palmyra palm, hammered down and then fibres extracted from its underside. Each fibre is then cleaned with a small length of split bamboo before it is ready for use. 

Though this is not a traditional folk craft, but an extension of it, each finished piece of such jewellery is a work of art, and is the product of meticulous work by dexterous fingers in tandem with dedication and love. 

Chhobi Besra and members of her family comprise the handful of artisans who currently  craft jewellery from leaves and natural fibres. They were inspired to do so by Chhobi’s maternal uncle who was a master at weaving objects from palm bark fibre. Selling at the local Shonibarer Haat in Santiniketan is their sole means of sustenance. However, as their brand of ornaments gradually gained popularity in the past few years, they have begun to be invited to exhibitions and workshops in Kolkata and elsewhere.  Debu Murmu, a senior and a learned member of the community too weaves the most exquisite shapes using primarily Bena grass.