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"Defying Gender Roles Through Craft: The Mayurbhanj Story”

A photo series by Pubarun Basu and Dr Oishimaya Sen Nag




They are no ordinary village women. They are the Green Brigade of the Sabai Grass Cluster

of Mayurbhanj, Odisha. Their ingenuity and diligence have won many hearts. They are

women who have defied traditional boundaries and stepped out of their homes to create

elaborate handicrafts from the simple Sabai grass.



The Green Brigade of the Sabai Grass Cluster of Mayurbhanj, Odisha
The Green Brigade of the Sabai Grass Cluster of Mayurbhanj, Odisha

The Sabai might appear quite unremarkable, but it is extraordinarily resilient to changing

climate patterns, with its ability to grow in soils with low water and nutrient content. It is an

ideal raw material of choice - sustainable and biodegradable - to craft exquisite handicrafts.


The Sabai grass growing in the wild in Mayurbhanj, Odisha
The Sabai grass growing in the wild in Mayurbhanj, Odisha

In Mayurbhanj, the Sabai was traditionally used to make ropes due to its high durability and

resilience. The grass is harvested from the field and then braided to make the ropes.



An elderly village lady braiding Sabai grass to make ropes.
An elderly village lady braiding Sabai grass to make ropes.


Sabai ropes hanging outside a village home.
Sabai ropes hanging outside a village home.

However, one property of the Sabai was less explored for a long time - the ease of dyeing

the grass. It was this property that was harnessed by the ingenious women of the Sabai

Grass Cluster to create exquisitely beautiful handicrafts.



The raw material and the product in a frame.
The raw material and the product in a frame.

The process of Sabai handicraft making is eco-friendly - handcrafted by women using grass

that was grown without any artificial chemicals and little water. The products are also

biodegradable.



Sabai grass handicrafts
Sabai grass handicrafts


Today, hundreds of women in Mayurbhanj are benefitting from this handicraft-making. This

simple, non-demanding grass has transformed their lives and made them financially

independent.



Sabai Grass tribal artisan cluster odiya handicraft
A ray of hope


Thus, the Sabai grass cluster of Mayurbhanj is a story of hope for the future - of financially

empowered women and sustainable consumption. It is a story that can inspire more such

initiatives in the times ahead.


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Oishimaya Sen Nag is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader, a travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, and loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures & participating in activities concerning wildlife conservation.








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Pubarun Basu is a 22 year old photographer based in Kolkata, India. Pubarun made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia 2022 -The Arts list. He was declared as the "Youth Photographer of the Year'' in the Sony World Photography Awards 2021 and his work has been published by international organisations such as National Geographic, Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, CNN, Rolling Stone, GQ, Vanity Fair, and more. Pubarun’s work has encompassed themes of environmental conservation, connecting the stories of resilience of indigenous communities with their intangible heritage.



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