Mats made of Kora grass are beautiful, eco-friendly crafts of Kerala. The kora grass grows abundantly in riverbanks and marshy areas. It is a highly valued resource, and can be used to make skin-friendly mats.
Mats made of Kora grass are some of Kerala’s most beautiful works of art. Kilimangalam in Thrissur district is famous for Kora grass crafts, while other production centres include Chittur and Malampuzha in Palakkad district. Kora grass are eco-friendly crafts for household as well as commercial use. The kora grass grows abundantly in riverbanks and marshy areas, and can be used to make skin-friendly mats.
Kora grass grows abundantly along the banks of rivers and marshes. The grasses used for crafting, are collected at the end of the winter season (February-March), and after the monsoon season (September-October).
The grasses are harvested using machetes and knives. Green grasses are preferred while collecting, and these later turn light yellow after drying and processing. The collected green grasses are cut open, and their inner white pith is removed with a knife. The outer part is the useful fiber for weaving.
Thin strips are made of the fiber and dried in the sun. The green grass turns yellow upon drying, and is tied up as bundles to soak in water. Stones are tied to both ends of the bundle and made to float in running water to clean the grass and help it to swell up for up to three times its original size. This wetting process is done for a few days, and later the grass strips are again dried in the sun.
Once dried and ready for weaving, the grasses are woven on a floor loom in a warp and weft pattern. The weft is usually the grass, while cotton or silk yarn is preferred for the warp pattern.
The bundles of kora grass are boiled and soaked in various colour dyes to make them more appealing. For red colour, the grass bundles are boiled with twigs of the Chappangam (Caesalpinia Sappan) tree and dried overnight. The process is repeated until the desired red shade is obtained. Tie and dye methods using natural and chemical colors are also used for mats in different shades. It takes three to four days to weave 3ft X 6ft – standard mat with fewer designs
The Pulluppaya or the grass mat is a traditional craft of the Kuruva community in Kerala. Craftspersons of the community occupiesd the banks of River Bharathapuzha, along which Kora grass grew abundantly. Kilimangalam in Thrissur district was a major center for production.
Due to encroachment of the river Bharathapuzha, the kora grasses started becoming scarce, and the people of the Kuruva community started moving to other occupations. The last weaver from the Kuruva community was U.Chami, who was awarded with the Master Craftsperson award of the Union Ministry of Textiles of India.
Prabhavathi, the President of the Killimangalam Pulpaya Neythu Sahakarana Sanghom, or the Association of the Kilimangalam Weavers of the Grass Mat, is the only surviving weaver who makes mats in the traditional style. In 2006, UNESCO awarded its seal of excellence to the Kora grass mats of the region.
The mats that are currently being produced have begun to sport motifs such as elephants, palm trees, the Taj Mahal, lamps and the lotus. The weavers have also begun to create a wider range of products that includes table mats, runners and bags of various sizes.