A powerhouse of talent and skills, Odisha is home to many craft skills, with every street and bylane bustling with artisans who churn out heritage paintings, textiles, embroidery and more, made with a diverse range of products. One unique craft is not only mesmerising but also eco-friendly coir handicrafts.
Derived from the nuts of coconut palms, coir is exceptionally tensile and environmentally friendly. Called 'Kalpvriksha' or the all-giving tree, this natural fibre is artistically moulded into various shapes and sizes, birthing a unique coir craft that Odisha is famous for. Different communities sustain their livelihoods in the city of Puri with coir craft work. This coir craft is practised chiefly by rural women folk in various areas.
Raghurajpur village, about 10km from Puri, is a stunning artisan village responsible for safeguarding various traditional arts, including coir craft. In 2000, the area was developed as a heritage village by INTACH. It soon became a major rural tourist destination of the state, where residents were also trained to take domestic and foreign tourists on a heritage tour of the village. The abundance of coconut plantations allows the men and women in this village to work with coconut products. Many of these artisans are farmers who use coir as an additional source of income.
The Making Of Coir
Coir is traditionally processed from coconut husks. It is cured in saline or freshwater for 8-10 months by a process called "Retting", which increases the fibre's flexibility, strength and durability. The coir fibre is sorted while the product's design (toys, household items) is drawn on paper. If the finished article is small, the coir is simply moulded by tying it with threads into the desired shape. The design is imprinted on cardboard for more significant items, over which the coir is pasted using a combination of glue and water.
Many of the items are made in parts, all of which are assembled at the end of the day to bring the final product to life. If the product needs stiffness, it is dipped in diluted glue. It can take up to 5-6 hours for the final product to dry up. Most of these coir products take the shape of horses, crocodiles, dinosaurs, giraffes, monkeys, elephants, and houses, for which coloured wool is used in ornamentation. Many products also use wooden beads and bells to make them attractive. Earlier, raw coir fibre was separated using hands today, the process is mechanical, bringing down the price point.
While income from the craft was limited, many NGOs are working towards uplifting the artisans today. A scheme by the government called "Coir Vikas Yojana" aims to promote the development of domestic and export markets, skill development and training, empowerment of women, employment/entrepreneurship creation and development, enhanced raw material utilisation, trade-related services, welfare activities for the coir workers, among other agendas.
Orissa Rural and Urban Producers' Association (ORUPA) is another voluntary effort towards encouraging and helping Odisha's handicraft and handloom artisans to keep the traditional art forms alive.
Getting there Raghurajpur is only 10km by road from Puri. So you must book a car or an auto-rickshaw for travelling to and fro.
Puri can be reached by road, rail or air. The closest airport is the Bhubaneswar Airport, which is 53 km away.