A fascinating revival of the traditional charpai of India
Going Back In Time
The history of this timeless piece of furniture dates back to approximately 5000 years ago, though nobody can pinpoint for sure where or when it originated exactly. The charpai literally means 'four-legged' and represents the same. It was generally used as a daybed as well as for sleeping. The four posts of equal heights made it self-levelling and thus, a simplistic marvel. In India, the charpai was built using varieties of weaving types from diagonal to cross to linear weaving. Each culture and community had their own ‘traditional’ way of making it sturdy and stylish.
The charpai soon gained popularity among people from all walks of life due to its simplicity, charm and of course, practicality. It became a part of the daily lifestyle among Indians, and was found in almost every room of the household. It also featured in various Hindu rituals, from birth till death.
The charpai had helped entire households generate an economic ecosystem of their own. Families who wove them occupationally soon started planting crops that would yield the fibres for the ropes. Family members would sit together in their spare time, day and night, to weave. A lazy summer evening would imply idling on the charpai under a mango tree or in the courtyard, after a sultry day in the fields. This sentiment is what placed this piece of furniture at the heart of Indian culture.
A Dying Craft
Despite its extensive usage throughout the country, the weaving of the charpai soon became a dying craft. The reason for this, as is in most cases, was the introduction of better and more importantly, long-lasting products like the wooden double bed. A slight disadvantage of the charpai in comparison to these beds was that with repeated use, the woven portion would start sagging and eventually, it would not be in working condition. Nowadays, it has disappeared even from most of the rural households as it is cheaper and easier to acquire beds made from iron and nylon. Like all things great, culture was eventually lost to convenience.
The traditional charpais were made in three simple steps: The available fibre was first spun into yarns using the spinning wheel and similar mechanisms. Next, the yarn was knitted into ropes. Lastly, the ropes were woven into the charpai using distinct styles and techniques. One of the people helping in the revival of the chairpai is Skilled Samaritan Foundation (SSF), an NPO working with women from rural regions in North India to provide sustainable and fashionable lifestyle products.
SSF uses the same weaving approach but with a few twists of the rope! Instead of only using natural fibre materials, they combine various types of sustainable materials like cotton cords, jute and banana fibres with reusable waste products like textile waste and multi-layer packaging plastic waste. What this basically does is that it saves the environment from a whole lot of trouble by reducing carbon emissions that would otherwise be in our lungs right now. They are also generating employment for women who never saw a life beyond household chores, a chance to break barriers and bring about socio-economic change in their everyday life and that of their children.
-Written by Tanaya Ranade
The Alipore Post collaborated with SSF to promote this dying craft, and starting this conversation on sustainability, and how we can make more informed choices as consumers.
SSF is giving away a beautiful napkin holder, made entirely from textile waste materials.
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