Odisha: Vital for Tumba Craft, Bottle Gourd Ensures Livelihood to Tribal Families in Rayagada
Owing to the sheer abundance of its presence in Indian kitchens, the humble-looking bottle gourd is seldom taken seriously. However, the vegetable known for its bland gustatory appeal, is a vital source of livelihood for the tribal Tumba artists in Odisha. They make intricate decorative products by drying, carving and painting these vegetables.
Ashis Senapati 17 March 2023 9:07 AM GMT
For a vast majority of Indians, lauki ki sabzi [bottle gourd curry] is not the ideal cuisine to be served to guests. The vegetable usually belongs to the most regular class of vegetarian edibles when cooked in the traditional manner.
It takes extraordinary efforts on the part of the cook to derive a delectable cuisine out of the ordinary ghiya [another name for bottle gourd], with kofta — or the vegetarian meatballs being the most widespread culinary measure undertaken to appease the taste buds. However, in Odisha’s Rayagada district, the bottle gourd is far more than a vegetable — it’s a means to earn a livelihood for the tribal artists in the rural areas.
“I have been able to afford my expenses by making Tumba craft items for the last two years. I am not running from pillar to post to get jobs like many other villagers as I am a self reliant thanks to the Tumba craft. I earn around Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month by selling products made by carving and painting dried tumba [bottle gourd in Odia],” Chandini Saraka, a tribal resident of Karubai village in Odisha’s Rayagada district, told Gaon Connection.
Saraka is amongst hundreds of tribal artisans in the Rayagada district which practises the Tumba craft which is centuries-old and has been a vital part of the tribal lifestyle. In the olden days, beautifully shaped tumba containers were used to store water or locally produced alcohol. Farmers preserve traditional seeds in the Tumba pots and these tribes are also known for making musical instruments out of the bottle gourd. There are at least 200 tribal families in the Rayagada district who depend on the tumba craft for their livelihoods.
Local administration supports tribal artists
“The local administration, in its efforts to embolden the tribal artists, have helped the rural residents set up three self-help groups [SHGs]. We are now doing this craft by getting financial help from the government. An SHG gets Rs 500,000 from the government for expanding our businesses,” 28-year-old Pratima Sarkar of the Karuba village told Gaon Connection.
“We make objects like utensils, cups, bottles, flower pots, dolls , birds, animals ,bowls, vessels, musical instruments, wall hangings, and masks. Bottle Gourds are easy to cultivate and need very little care. Hard shell bottle gourds, once dried, can last forever and are essentially a soft wood,” the Tumba artist added.
Himanshu Sekhar Pandia, a master artisan and the director of Rayagada-based Prerana Art and Craft centre, informed Gaon Connection that every year hundreds of bottle gourd craft items are sold in the adjoining villages and far off cities like Cuttack , and Bhubaneswar.
“Most families make bottle gourd items collaboratively, with all members contributing. We are also providing them proper training,” he said.
“We have already provided training to around 200 tribal women in the last two years. Each woman gets a Rs 9,000 monthly stipend from the government during the three months-long training. Earlier , they used to make only musical instruments and pots from bottle gourd. After receiving training they started making flower pots, cups, plates, spoons, table lamps, dolls, animals , jewellery and other items,” he added.
Switch from plastic to organic
According to Panda, the advent of varied products of Tumba craft has reduced the dependency on plastic products.
“Nowadays the bottle gourd craft is making waves and more and more city dwellers are discovering the beauty of tumba products as the products are eco-friendly, biodegradable and reduce the use of plastic. Making Tumba craft items does not need a huge investment as the main raw material, the bottle gourds are abundantly available in the villages,” added Pandia.
The official also stated that the Development Commissioner Handicrafts, Union government, Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS), a government-run organisation and District Industry Center help the craft-persons to sell their products in the craft melas organised by the government.
Bipin Rout, the Joint Director of ORMAS, told Gaon Connection that Tumba craft has finally come of age, and finds a place in the market and helps to burn the hearts of many people, thanks to the sincere efforts of the government.
“Tumba craft items are gaining popularity because it's cheap to produce and is 100 percent eco-friendly. Craftspersons here create a myriad of utilitarian items made from bottle gourds. After drying the bottle gourds the craft-persons sculpt and paint them to make many beautiful items. The increased demand for plastic items in the 1970s inflicted huge losses to this craft. But since the notion of eco-friendliness has emerged, Tumba craft is again in high demand and craftspersons have begun to earn money,” Rout said.