This Idukki Man Crafts World’s Finest Musical Wind Chimes

Wind Craft. That’s the name of Rajeev Valsala Kumaran’s brand. Very apt. For it’s the ‘wind’ that powers his beautiful creations made of bamboo—wind chimes.

Living in a hilly and forested neighbourhood with the river Periyar flowing by Rajeev often escapes into this bucolic surroundings to seek inspiration. “Bamboo holds so much spirituality in its being. It’s food–the bamboo shoots–, it’s used to make dwellings, musical instruments are fashioned from it and even the body is carried on its way for last rites. It gives us so much,” he elaborates on his fascination for the grass variety. Thanks to his government license, he can source bamboo directly from the forest.

Rajeev displaying his wind chimes during a workshop

His wind chimes have names. Each identified by the rhythm and mood he has tried to create. Like the ‘Candid Wild Stream’ which echoes the gurgle of a stream as it moves to splash on the boulders or the ‘Deep Rain Forest’ which reminds of raindrops falling on the leaves or the placid calmness of ‘Deep Blue Lake’ disturbed by a bird call. They are six of them, each differentiated by the length of the bamboo. “I have named them depending on the size and the particular theme obtained by tuning,” says the self-taught empanelled master craftsman of the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts working out of his home in Thattekanni (Idukki), 105 km from Kochi.

Rajeev’s wind-chimes echoes the sounds of the forest, river. He elaborates, “The sounds are representation of the surroundings.”

A wind chime

A bamboo chime has six fine-tuned segments. The smallest of Wind Craft’s wind chime measures 6 to 8 inches and the longest at 22-25 inches, the price beginning at Rs 3500 to upwards of Rs 10,500.

Hang it on your window and let the breeze stir it to motion and hear the river on an autumn day or experience the quietness of a jungle as the bamboo-groove sways.

Rajeev’s wind chimes are made from Ochlandra travancorica, a bamboo variety endemic to the Western Ghats which runs through Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Locally called etta and oda, Rajeev considers bamboo as a magical raw material for the future, which is also beneficial for the environment. A diploma holder in Electronics and unable to get a job he returned home to his pristine surroundings and embarked on a career creating art though insisting that he is a craftsman.

Details from an installation titled ‘Lily Pond’

Why Bamboo?

“I chose bamboo because it aligns with my principles. I don’t want my raw material to harm the environment.”

Being a member of several WhatsApp groups devoted to bamboo propagation I came across the 42-year-old Rajeev showcasing his creations in a post. He received several thumbs up but hardly any orders!

“I have spent years fine-tuning my wind chimes and getting the sound right,” says Rajeev, his first wind-chime, inspired by one from Bali, was the result of five years of experimentation and research, trial and error.

Calligraphy pens

Mostly self-taught, he is an empanelled master craftsman of the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts and sources aged or ripening bamboo for his creations.”I dry it for a year before working with it,” he says.

Rajeev’s work with bamboo has been mentioned by the Beijing-based International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) on their Facebook page thrice; possibly the first Indian craftsperson to be given the honour.  

He counts Susanth Satyendran, Head Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at the National Institute of Design (NID), Bengaluru, as his guru. (He is averse to the word ‘mentor’ and considers ‘guru’ as it has connotation to spirtuality.) “I was introduced to him in a workshop I attended in Waynad in 2002. He made me understand the organic sublimity of bamboo and what he said about design opened my eyes: “Design is our creative responsibilties to the surroundings we live in.””

Terracotta planter with cane and bamboo

He considers Filipino bamboo craftsman Edgar Balansi Banasan as his guide. “Banasan had come to Bangalore to conduct a NID-organised workshop in 2019 on “Healing through bamboo music” and I assisted him. His praise for my wind chime and its sound quality was a great encouragement,” he says.

But it was a chance encounter with a Tibetan Buddhist monk at a handicraft exhibition in Bangalore in 2003 which made him realise the importance of silence versus sound. “We sat under a tree but didn’t speak for the first 15 minutes. Then he said, “A sound is a tool, a medium to decorate silence.” And we parted ways after he gifted me a tiny bust of Buddha made in stone.””

Rajeev’s interest lies in creating utilitarian items out of bamboo including masks, sculptures, wall decors, trays, card books, mobile holders and an amplifier made of bamboo – a pocket-sized, eyelet-shaped hollow piece of bamboo with a groove. His latest is a terracotta planter with cane and bamboo. An installation by him, the ‘Lotus Pond’, earned praised from INBAR. For the four ft by three ft piece, he used bamboo and its nodes (as leaves) exclusively. The piece gives the impression of fluidity, without the stiffness one associates with bamboo. His minimalist design sensibility shows in the foldable coat hanger, which looks more like a stick with a cord. Like the amplifier, it connects to his interest in minimalism.

Mobile amplifier

Rajeev hopes of having a school of his own where he can “teach bamboo fine craft and which shall serve as a production centre too.”

He is on Facebook and Instagram and most of his orders originate online, especially from buyers residing in the European nations.

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