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The Revival of the Traditional Charpai

Nest’s Artisan Guild highlight series focuses on our community of makers, craftspeople, and entrepreneurs, introducing you to their stories in their own words. We’re excited to feature, Tanaya Ranade, of Skilled Samaritan, a global sustainable brand making functional home and lifestyle products while creating dual impact—providing steady income to women from marginalized communities in India, and using salvaged and waste materials to make products for the conscious buyer. 

Going Back In Time

The history of this timeless piece of furniture dates back to approximately 5000 years ago, though, no one is relatively sure about where or when exactly it originated. The charpoy literally means four-legged and represents the same. It was generally used as a daybed as well as for sleeping. The four posts of equal heights made it self-leveling and thus, a simplistic marvel. In India, the charpai was built using varieties of weaving types from diagonal to cross to linear weaving. Each culture and community had their own ‘traditional’ way of making it sturdy and stylish.

The charpoy soon gained popularity among people from all walks of life due to its simplicity, charm and of course, practicality. It became a part of the daily lifestyle among Indians as it was found in almost every room of the household. It also featured in various Hindu rituals, from birth till death.

The charpoy had helped entire households generate an economic ecosystem of their own. Families who wove the charpoys, occupationally, soon started planting crops that would yield the fibres for the ropes. Family members would sit together in their spare time, day and night, to simply weave. A lazy summer evening would imply simply idling by on the charpoy under a mango tree or in the courtyard, after a sultry day in the fields. This sentiment is what placed this piece of furniture at the heart of Indian culture.

A Dying Craft

Despite its extensive usage throughout the country, the weaving of the charpoy soon became a dying craft. The reason for this, as is in most cases, was the introduction of better and more importantly, long-lasting products like the wooden double bed. A slight disadvantage of the charpoy in comparison to these beds was that with repeated use, the woven portion would start sagging and eventually, it would not be in working condition. Nowadays, it has disappeared even from most of the rural households as it is cheaper and easier to acquire beds made from iron and nylon. Like all things great, culture was eventually lost to convenience.

Revival

The Skilled Samaritan Foundation is a NPO working with women from rural regions in North India to provide sustainable and fashionable lifestyle products. They have taken an oath of revival on behalf of the traditional Indian charpoy.  They identify unique individuals with an unparalleled skill set in the traditional art of weaving and help them design and market products for the urban and global consumers.

The traditional charpoys were made in three simple steps: The fibre is first spun into yarns using the spinning wheel and similar mechanisms. Next, the yarn is knitted into ropes. Lastly, the ropes are woven into the charpoy using distinct styles and techniques. Skilled Samaritan uses the same approach but with a few twists of the rope!

Instead of only using natural fibre materials, they combine various types of sustainable materials like cotton cords, jute and banana fibres with reusable waste products like textile waste and multi-layer packaging plastic waste. What this basically does is that it saves the environment from a whole lot of trouble by reducing carbon emissions that would otherwise be in our lungs right now. Yay!

Their team of designers is constantly coming up with unique products that fit the requirements and spaces of a modern consumer. One of their most recent customisation projects revolves around reviving and revolutionizing the Indian charpai for specific needs of the client.

SSF is actively working in the return of this age-old marvel known as a charpai that simply got lost in time. In doing so, they are also helping you reduce your carbon footprint by consuming responsibly. What’s better is that they’re doing all this while generating employment for women who never saw a life beyond household chores.

Commemorating one of their most recent milestones, Skilled Samaritan was accepted for the DO Disruptor Program initiated by UN Women | WeEmpower Asia and the DO School. In light of this great step towards expanding their work and ideologies, they will also soon launch their latest brand, Sirohi.

 

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