Kalpatharu - The Virtuous Tree

 

In India, trees are sacred and are associated with different gods and goddesses revealing the nature of the fruit and its importance in daily life and ritual. The banana tree is commonly associated with the goddess of wealth, beauty and wisdom, Lakshmi. The banana plant itself embodies these very properties - creating wealth, enhancing health and beauty and representing wisdom. 

Some scholars believe that it was under a banana tree that Gautama Buddha actually received enlightenment. The banana tree is actually a herb and has deep significance in Indian culture. In some traditions, grooms gift bananas to their brides during the marriage ceremony to symbolise fertility. Ancient paintings contained images of banana plants. Like the painting Gundagri Ragini, probably from the Northern Deccan region circa 1670-1680 which features a lush green landscape in a banana grove where a beautiful lady in red is flanked by two female attendants. The sanskrit inscription above the painting describes the lady's meditative stance as she thinks about her lover.


 

Banana is one of the most commonly cultivated fruits in the world. And India is one of the largest producer of bananas in the world. Though we commonly consider bananas as a fruit food crop, every part of the banana plant can be used in some way or another and is a great source of income to banana farmers. In fact in India the banana is known as "kalpatharu" which means "herb with all imaginable uses." An equally compelling meaning of "kalpatharu" is "virtuous plant", a name the banana plant has lived up to. The fruit bunches and leaves are main source of income, while the leaves are used as bio plates for serving food in homes and functio

ns. The banana flower is an important part of worship and ritual.

 

Another use of the banana plant is the extraction of fibre from the banana stem, leaves or even the waste material leftover from harvesting the banana fruit. Banana fibre has an ancient history and was first used in Japan and Nepal around the 13th century. In Japan, banana plants were nurtured differently right from the start to ensure that the fibres extracted would be soft and silky. The rougher banana fibres would be used for domestic and household products which the finer banana fibres would be weaved into beautiful kimonos. The process of extraction of banana fibres differed in Nepal, where the banana stem would be used for extraction and the resulting fibre was called banana silk since it had the same strong and silky nature as silk. 

 

Today, banana fibre has emerged as an environmentally sustainable material and its extraction has the potential to revolutionize banana plantations in India. In India, approximately 5 lakhs tons of banana trunk is discarded as waste every year, after harvesting. Traditionally there are mounds of waste material following the banana harvesting season. Plantation owners have to hire labour to clear out the plantation and most of this waste material ends up in landfills. These days, at some plantations, these wasted stems are being used to create a usable, durable and environment friendly fibre. While the knowledge of extracting fiber and paper from banana was well known since the 13th Century when the Japanese processed it, new and easier methods of extraction are making this material more accessible. 

 

Banana fibre features as a blending material in the textile industry and is used in the pulp industry to create paper. It is also used to create a wide range of handicrafts like the ones featured on Natsy by Design. Banana fibre files, boxes, pen stands, belt, photo frames and jewellery boxes are made by differently-abled people who are part of an occupational and rehabilitation training centre based in North Karnataka. Natsy By Design supports this endeavor by promoting these eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable products.

So every time you buy a hand-crafted product, you support a tradition and a heritage which is being kept alive by artisans under adverse circumstances as well as promote an environmentally responsible material. 

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