Kannadipaya, unique bamboo mat of Idukki, awaits recognition

The high flexibility of the mat which can be rolled and placed inside a bamboo cylinder with a diameter less than 10 cm is the most important  of the mat.
Women with hand-woven bamboo baskets
Women with hand-woven bamboo baskets

IDUKKI: Kumariyamma of 5th mile Kudi in Adimali is 80 years old. However, her gnarled fingers do not stop as she weaves ‘Kannadipaya’, a specially designed bamboo mat decorated with traditional motifs by the Muthuvan, Mannan and Urali tribes of Idukki district. 

“Kannadipaya making has been our traditional practice. Earlier we used to make the mats for our personal use or to present to those we love, respect and revere,and now we make and sell them,” Kumariyamma said. 

A tribal woman engaged in
weaving Kannadipaya

The high flexibility of the mat which can be rolled and placed inside a bamboo cylinder with a diameter less than 10 cm is the most important  of the mat. The mat gets its name from the woven patterns, which are like  a  mirror  reflection  of  each  other, and  hence the name Kannadipaya (Kannadi meaning mirror and Paya meaning mat). 

It takes more than a month  for a weaver to complete a 6 ft Kannadipaya,as the mat is made from the fine slivers of ‘Njoojiletta’, a locally available species of bamboo identified as  T. Wightii.The bamboos are collected on full moon day, a voyage extending to a day and night to the forest and back. 

The legacy of Kannadipaya making among tribal communities in Idukki dates back to centuries and the hand made craft has the history of being given as gift to Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, during her visit to Idukki dam in 1976 for its inauguration. 

Despite the arduous and long  labour involved in procuring raw materials and weaving the mat,there is hardly any  demand and returns from the market are a pittance. “When the labour and the hard work of tribes involved in making the Kannadipaya is calculated,the mat should fetch a minimum of  Rs 10,000.

However absence of a government mechanism to develop the knowledge area of the tribes and a good marketing platform has so far denied the artisans the benefit they deserve,”Sashi Janakala, state president of Green Fibre, a society working in the field of tribal empowerment said. “The mats  reflect the culture, way of life and their love for nature. The Kannadipaya woven by the Mannan tribes have designs of animals and birds in them,”he added.

Geographical Indication Tag 
The Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) has applied for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Kannadipaya. “If the product gets GI status, its reputation as a unique craft will be enhanced and Kannadipaya will be the first tribal handicraft product from Kerala to get a GI tag. We are coordinating  with a society based in Palappilavu to modernise the making of the Kannadipaya by providing them with machinery and equipments,” said A V Raghu, senior scientist-KFRI.  A project to re-populate the  T. Wightii species of bamboo to ensure the availability of the bamboos in the  forest for the production is also  under consideration of KFRI. 

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