Ringal is a socioeconomically and ecologically important type of bamboo that is extensively found in the rich forests of Garhwal Himalayas. Ringal or ningaw as it is locally known is considered by the local communities to be an important resource for their livelihood. Ringal weaving is an age-old craft of Uttarakhand with almost every family directly or indirectly involved in ringal weaving work in the regions of Chamoli, Bageshwar, Khalijhuri, Almora, Rudraprayag, Joshimath and Pithoragarh.
Of the locally available species of ringal also called as dwarf bamboo, Chimonobambusa jaunsarensis is widely preferred by the weavers (rudiyas) for making articles due to its durability, quality and availability. Himalayacalamus falconeri is also used for its flexible and smooth nature however, Drepanostachyum Falcatum (Golu or Garh or Garila ringal), though easily available is not used by the weavers due to the rough texture of the bark and lack of durability. Thamnocalamus Spathiflorus (Dev ringal) is valued for its elastic nature, natural yellowish colour and erectness and used to make puja thalis, roofs and coverings for their grass houses, hookah pipes and walking sticks. T. jonsarensis (Tham ringal), Arundinaria falcata (Sararu ringal) and Bhatpura are used for making handicraft and agricultural items.
Ringal is preferred over bamboo because it has greater resistance to water and therefore, will survive longer in the snow-capped Himalayan region. Generally, ringal is collected between October – November from the forests. The barks are lightly peeled and dried in the sun for 3 – 4 days and then cut into 4 -12 parts as per the requirements (weaving or crafting domestic implements). The whole ringal is split into small strips with different lengths for warp (lengthwise yarns) and weft (crosswise yarns) as per the product requirement. The excess fibre of the ringal splits is removed before the weaving commences.
The thick wide strips are placed to make the base and the thinner strips are weaved by overlapping the base strips. The sides are made by adding additional ringal strips till the desired height is achieved. The rim is then sandwiched with two thick ringal splits to interlock the border.
The artisan creatively weaves dark and light ringal strips to make unique designs. The finished product is scraped to smoothen the edges. Some of the natural and eco-friendly products made are kandi/odagi (a big basket used for crop residue and collection), solta/malkhna (a multi-purpose big netted basket), tokari (a round vessel for keeping chapati, fruits, flowers etc.), supa (winnower), changera/bisala/dabolla (dome-shaped basket for storing grains), phooldan, thali, kalamdan, chatai, hathkandi, kudadan, chittha and chawai roofing.
Ringal products are tough, durable and last for at least 20 – 25 years. These intricately woven products are exquisite and have multitude of uses. Ringal offers commercial and development opportunities to the local communities living in the hilly terrain of Uttarakhand who need to utilize the summer months to generate income for their families. Unfortunately, ringal weaving is on the verge of extinction as many of the families prefer to migrate to the cities for better job opportunities. This traditional ancient handicraft is struggling for its survival and yet to receive global recognition.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)