MYSURU: A little girl with two plaits falling over her shoulders and a band in her hair, a man with a cap perched on his head, a colourful bird staring at you. All these are pieces of art made from bottle and ridge gourds.Seema Prasad of Krishikala — an initiative of Sahaja Samrudha, is helping rural women make artistic creations and thereby generating employment and income for them.She gives training to farmers, women and tribes to produce artistic value additions to crops which are neglected, undervalued, and/or facing extinction. She teaches them how to make lamp shades and containers using bottle gourd which can be used in kitchens as an alternative to plastic or steel containers.
Even making vases, decorative landscapes, pen stands, lamps and door hangings using ridge gourd are taught. These items sell in the market for around Rs 500 each.According to Seema, there is no market for gourd grown locally as they weigh more than 2 kg, and also because some don’t relish it. She is encouraging women and farmers in her network to grow bottle gourd and purchasing each piece of gourd for Rs 5. She has plans to set up a gourd processing unit in villages (which costs around Rs 20,000), so women can produce and sell the products directly.
She says, for centuries, dried bottle gourds have been used for domestic purpose, as they have a hard shell. They were used to store food items, to make kitchen tools, instruments like sitar, punji, tamboori, and decorative pieces. Even today, tribes in Africa use big-sized gourds for making plates, containers to store liquor or water, bowls, and utensils.
How did the journey start? Two years ago, Krishna Prasad, Seema’s husband, visited Tanzania and Kenya. There he was impressed by the beautiful artifacts carved from dried gourds. He had an opportunity to visit Kenya again through an NGO. And during the period the couple learnt the art — working methodologies, kinds of tools used and how to paint gourds.
They even brought some tools and started working on the gourds. During their house warming ceremony they got painted large number of gourds by artists and gave them to children. “At the Organic Trade held in Delhi, I had decorated the stage using bottle gourd artifacts. On the last day of the exhibition, I got Rs 22,000 selling them. This made me think about adding value to the gourds. Edible gourds which are sold for less than Rs 20 per kg in the market, will get a value of Rs 500 when given an artistic look,” said Seema, who also provides marketing linkage.
During her visit to Kenya, she had collected about nine varieties of seeds from the tribes there, and has grown them here locally. She said, “We can easily grow them as they are not hybrid, and they are heirloom seeds, and are open pollinated seeds. The size of the Kenya gourds is huge, and the skin is more hard and thick compared to local varieties. Carving on their texture is a different experience.”
Nandini, an employee at Krishikala, said: “After harvesting the gourds, they are left for drying for 45 days. Later, a small hole is created and seeds are removed. After soaking the gourd overnight, the skin and insides are removed. Afterwards, it is used to create artifacts. Presently we are using oil paint as it gives a natural look. We are also experimenting with organic colours to make the artifacts eco-friendly.”In association with vegetable growers and seeds savers, Seema will conduct workshops for tribals and women this month end. They will be taught about the items they can create with the locally grown gourd.
The size and shape of gourds differs from region to region — some may be short, big, fat or thin, according to Seema. “I have collected different varieties of gourds from Periyapatna, Sarguru - HD Kote, Kappasoge, Tumakuru, Madagi and Malavalli regions. By giving them an artistic look we can create value for the product,” she said. Seema has collected about 68 varieties of wild and edible gourd seeds from across the country, of which 40 seed varieties are from Chhattisgarh. She is a member of the Global Seed Savers Network and exchanges seeds in the organic trades.
Krishikala was started in December 2017. Currently, they are focusing on the revival of India’s vast array of traditional bottle gourd varieties, and their vision is to teach women to make creative items and provide marketing linkage. In future, they have plans to use paddy, bamboo, grass and other produces to create artistic crafts out of them. Seema, a native of Bengaluru, and a B.Com graduate, left her IT job and joined hands with her husband and the NGO in 2009.