Killimangalam Mat Weavers
It is a Journey of Hearts and Minds…
Our desire for crafting priceless ‘pieces of art’ with personal touches made us travel to Killimangalam – a verdant village on the banks of beautiful Bharathappuzha, where the rich culture of weaving has interwoven itself into the rhythm of everyday life.
Our journey in search of the mat weaving community took us to a tiled roof building at a sleepy corner of Killimangalam. That was Killimangalam Pulpaaya Neythu Co-operative Society, founded in 1977, to revive “Pulpaaya Weaving” (kora grass mat weaving), the traditional occupation of the Kurava community residing in the region.
When we reached the location, we came to know that the 40-year-old society has now been reduced to a five-member team of passionate weavers, Beena, Sheeja, Bindhu, Sindhu, and Sudhakaran – the secretary of the organization.
On our visit to their weaving unit, we found Beena being busy with crafting a beautiful mat with an intricate blue and beige pattern. We were mesmerized by the harmonious way her imaginative mind and dexterous fingers worked, rewarding the weaving process a meditative nature altogether…
“As a craft, weaving patterns on grass mats demands great presence of mind and mental sharpness. We don’t sketch motifs beforehand. The warp will be a blank canvas where we will create the design, strand by strand, without using any tools or devices. If we miss a step or make a mistake, we might have to redo the entire mat,” said Beena.
And that was enough for us to recognize their unwavering devotion to the craft!
We were getting more and more intrigued about the craft and went on collecting more details on its making. We came to know that the renowned Killimagalam mats are woven using ‘kora grass’ – locally known as ‘muthanga pullu’ – grown wild by the banks of tranquil Nila river (Bharathappuzha). The mats are well known for the superior quality of their weave and are easily distinguishable from grass mats produced in other regions, with their unique finesse, durability, and aesthetic appeal.
“With proper maintenance, the mats last for over 30 years”, Sudhakaran, the secretary of the society told us.
“With proper maintenance, the mats last for over 30 years”
Due to competition from machine-made grass mats and plastic mats, the weavers of Killimangalam are finding it difficult today to create a market space for them that values the craft and pays a fair price for this natural product. In spite of these obstacles, this group of women continues to invest their time and effort in weaving.
It was pitiful to see the maintenance and repair of the building, that houses the unit, being stalled due to the lack of sufficient funds. Even so, it was kept neat and functional. The passion and the enthusiasm of those weavers were like rays of hope shining through the cracks…
Most of these weavers are homemakers who discovered a newly-found interest through the Co-operative Society and took the trouble to learn this physically and creatively demanding job. Their gifted hands working on the looms are the primary reason why the valuable cultural heritage of the Kurava weavers continues to stay alive.
On a deliberate search for its history, we found out that the Kurava community migrated to Killimangalam from certain regions of Tamil Nadu. Perhaps, the availability of superior quality kora grass in the river banks encouraged them to settle in this serene village.
Folklore has it that the early migrants wove a grass mat and presented it to the ruler of Cochin; the king, who was fascinated by their skills, gifted them the land they were residing. Gradually, over the years, a weavers’ community got established there.
At present, Ayyappan is the only master weaver in the community. Prabhavathi Teacher, the person who trained the current group of weavers, is also a name to be mentioned, for the vital contributions she made in introducing women from the locality to the craft making.
Making a fine 200 count pulpaaya usually takes 10 to 15 days
Pleased witnessing the unassuming hard work and perseverance of these people, we enquired about the duration of creating this perfect craft, and the answer of the team was, “making a fine 200 count pulpaaya usually takes 10 to 15 days” – yes, it was as strenuous as that!
As we were documenting the finishing steps of making the mat, we saw Sheeja tying a bright red thread in the corner of the mat. “This is the final step. A little something to help us identify mats woven by our society,” she said.
The lone scarlet stood out from the tufts of white at the edge. It felt like a metaphor for their vibrant and gritty spirits and a mark of their commitment to this craft…
If you are interested in the details of mat making process, we have it here.
Mat Making Process
We stayed with the weavers from the beginning to the end of mat making process to get a detailed understanding of the organic process of creating this artistic testament…
We found that the process started with splitting a blade of grass, into two halves and removing the pith. Each half was further split 4 to 6 times. These grass strands were then soaked in water and sun-dried, for seasoning, in order to remove the stains, make the grass soft, and prevent the growth of fungus.
The next process was ‘Ketti Mukku’ – tie-dying of the strands. During this, a portion of the grass strand was dyed using the bark of the ‘Chapangam’ tree, widely known as ‘Pathimukham or Sappanwood’, and the dye was prevented from seeping to other parts by binding it tightly. The leaves of the ‘Kashavam’ tree were used to make the colour deeper and last longer.
Now then the warping! This was done on the floor loom using cotton thread. Once done, the warp beam (they called it ‘paavu’) was mounted on the frame loom, and the weaving began…
We thought it was all over. But more complicated tasks were to come…
Crafted with Love
Apart from the standard weave, motifs were created by the team employing variations in the way the warp and the weft were interlaced. Once the mat was woven entirely, the warp was dismounted and kept in the sun for 2-3 hours.
In the meantime, we inquired about the motif; and this is what they said, “Motifs are abstract geometric designs inspired by our surroundings and everyday life. One of the motifs we commonly use is ‘kannaadi’ (the representation of a mirror). This has a variation called ‘nadu kannaadi,’ which is amongst the oldest designs woven here. Another prominent motif is ‘Aanakannu,’ (meaning ‘elephant eye’), recreating the captivating eyes of a tusker, a grand sight in many temple festivals in Thrissur. Along with this, there is ‘Pambu Vara’ (meaning ‘snake-line’), a zig-zag pattern that we usually use to design the ends of a mat. ‘Vaalpoovu’ (meaning a tail flower) is a motif with two tails, traditionally used to weave in the center of a mat. Even though there are several options, ‘Pallaamkuzhi’ – a design inspired by an ancient board game is conceivably the most intricate pattern woven here. And recently, we have taken up a newer and challenging design with typography. It is often created as an ornamental piece with names woven on it. Most people use this as a popular wedding gift.”
Coming back to the process, we found the team proceeding with the ‘adupikya’ process, during which two weavers sat on either side of the mat to tighten the grass strands using their palms. After that, they started the ‘vakku kettu’ process, which implies ‘tying the edges.’ During this, they folded the grass strands and tied them on the reverse side. Then the excess grass on the sides of the mat was trimmed, and the threads along the sides were knotted tight. As the final step, the mat was cut from the warp, and the thread fringe was tufted.