Bhimal is the local name of a deciduous tree species called Grewia optiva. Other vernacular names are bheku, bhekua, and bhimu. In ancient times, the local dwellers of Uttarakhand made clothes out of Bhimal plant fiber.
Grevia optiva, locally known as “Bhimal”, is a perennial, evergreen tree which is 45 feet tall and 4.5 feet in girth. Its leaves make good fodder for livestock, bark of branches gives a Bast fiber made up of Sclerenchyma tissue, which upon maturing comprises dead cells with heavily thickened walls containing lignin and 60%–80% cellulose, which provides structural support.
Bhimal grows abundantly near cultivated land in Chamoli and Pauri districts of Uttarakhand, found from lower Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas to 7000 feet. It is a farmer’s area specific tree that contributes to their economic growth and which is environment friendly.
Production of Bhimal Fibres
Grewia optiva (bhimal) is a popular tree found near agriculture fields in the hills. It occurs naturally in the field bunds and is conserved by the villagers for its multipurpose utility. It is considered as a family tree of inhabitants. Every family has got 6-8 trees at lower altitude and 10-12 trees at higher altitude. Normally the tree is cut down during winters for fodder. It is moderate sized tree up to 45 ft. high and 5ft girth with a clear bole of 10-12 ft. The plant is distributed from Punjab to Bengal, ascending to an altitude of about 7000 ft. in the Himalayas. Traditionally Bhimal is grown for fodder, fuel and fiber. Bhimal can grow easily in different type of soil. But sandy loam soil with adequate moisture favours good growth. Growth of the tree species is very poor in shallow dry soil. The leaves are proteinous and good for mulching animals. Women of villages near Rishikesh town in Uttarakhand are now earning a livelihood by an ingenious method of mixing bhimal and jute fibres .
Bhimal is a good source of fiber. Villagers extract the fiber by retting process. Branches of the tree are cut during winter season and dipped in water for a month. The soaked branches are beaten and fiber is extracted.
The pruning of the tree and de-leafing of the branches is done in winters. In the month of April, the dried branches are laid out in the sun. The branches are then bunched together and weighed down using large stones in running water. This process is called retting. Retting is done for thirty to forty days depending upon the thickness of the branches and the temperature of the water. The flowing water seeps into the branches and breaks down the cells, thus breaking the outer layer. This results in the rotting of these branches through bacterial action. The bacteria rot the pectin or the gum that holds the fibres together. Over-retting of the branches can weaken the fibres and produce poor quality ropes. Nowadays lot of enzymes are available which can make the Fibre softer. Varieties of Softener can be tried.
After retting, the branches are thrashed against boulders to loosen the bark and the phloem from the wood. The fibres are washed, dried in the sun and then separated. The dried fibres are called sel. The sel are hand-twisted to make ropes and strings in the rainy season so that the moisture content in the atmosphere makes the twisting of fibres easy. The jyor/thick rope is made of three thinner ropes plied together. Its function is to tie animals, yoke bullocks to the plough, and fasten firewood for carrying. Seenkh and jao are thin strings used for tying vegetable bags.
Sometimes, instead of undergoing degumming initially, the fibres are directly used as strips to tie or wrap bundles and strengthen fences. The bhimal rope is wrapped around a coil of grass to make a potholder. To create textile quality yarn out of bhimal, the fibres have to be softened, carded, and spun. This has not yet been possible as the sel is too dry and weak to be spun into yarn. In order to enhance the look and feel of the fibre, the artisans have started using natural dyes of different hues and shades.
Considering the qualities of Grevia optiva trees, it sure is a boon to the local population of Uttarakhand. The Rural Development and Industrial Sector of Uttarakhand Government must take keen measures to uplift the livelihood of hardworking crafts people, who are skilled and devoted. Bhimal is superior to Jute and can contribute to voluminous uplift of the youth of Uttarakhand.
Properties of Bhimal Fibres
The bast fibres of the tree are rough and uneven. Properties of Bhimal fiber characterise high tensile strength, biodegradable, insect barrier, antimicrobial, antifungal and fairly long filaments with a natural yellow hue. The Bhimal fiber blends well with other fibers and is beneficial as a health fiber, used by doctors for patients in dressing supplies such as bandages and gauze, sleeves, clothing and masks for the medical industry.
Uses of Bhimal Fibres
These fibres are used to make ropes and good quality paper. The bark of the bhimal tree produces mucilage which is used to make hair shampoo.
The branches of the tree have been used as torches and firewood since earlier times. The thicker branches are used to make handles for small agricultural tools while the thinner branches are woven into baskets.
Extracted fiber is a rich but an under utilised resource for weaving textiles including Area rugs, Carpets, Yardage, Lamp shades, Upholstery, Shoe uppers, Jackets, Coats, Hats, Spectacle cases, Pouches, Bags, Table linen, Kitchen linen and Bed spreads.The Bast fiber is used for making ropes to carry large Bamboo baskets, “Kandi”, and cattle leash, while the harder inner part of branches make fuel wood and the sap of the bark is used as shampoo.
The tree pulp can be used for making paper. Seeds of Grewia optiva can be used for extracting natural dyes. These dyes can be used for dyeing fabrics of cotton, silk, wool and jute by using alum, ferrous sulphate, copper sulphate, potassium dichromate and stannous chloride as mordants.
But lately, the fibre from dried and beaten twigs are also being widely and successfully used to make exquisite handloom products such as slippers, baskets, mats and bags. Bhimal is useful in its entirety, its roots hold the soil and leaves provide shade as well as cool the air and purify it.
Dr. N. N. MAHAPATRA
Business Head (Dyes ), Shree Pushkar Chemicals and Fertilisers Ltd.