Weaving a new chapter in handloom

M Sudha Rani, CEO, Abhihaara Social Enterprise, displays some of her handloom textiles at Craft Safari Studio.

Dubai: The art of handloom weaving in Telangana is dying, but not the weaver, says Sudha Kumari Mullapudi of Abhihaara, a social enterprise based in Telangana, India.


On the contrary, it is the weavers dependent on power looms who are committing suicide, she tells Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

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Elaborating, Kumari who was in Dubai for a handloom exhibition at Crafts Safari, says since the inputs are less for the weaver in the cottage industry, his loans are smaller. And in any eventuality, his losses are minimal. But it’s the power looms that suffer bigger losses in the face of stiff competition from mill-produced cheaper cloth. Bogged down with bigger loans and erratic power supply, the power loom weavers are ending their life, she explains.

Kumari says corporate giant Microsoft and international NGOs such as Oxfam and the Telangana government have been encouraging the weavers weather the storm and keep alive the traditional weaves with a modern twist to woo the younger generation as well.

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Telangana produces some of the finest cottons and boasts of several handloom clusters, each unique in its weave. It is well known for its Gadwal, Pochampalli and Narayanpet sarees. Handloom sector thrived in the region under the patronage of Kakatiya kings, Nizams of Hyderabad and Zamindars in samsthanams like Narayanpet, Gadwal and Wanaparthy.

The ancestors of actress Aditi Rao Hydari and her cousin Kiran Rao (Aamir Khan’s wife) of Wanaparthy zamindari family patronised weavers from Kothakota, Kumari says.

But the handloom sector is beset with several problems viz rising cost, decentralisation of pre-loom activities, cheaper imitation produced by power looms and mills rolling out further cheaper textiles. Adding to their woes is the changing styles, Kumari says.

The younger generation, too, showed no interest in their trade and migrated to cities for work. Earlier, the whole family was involved in the process. With the rise in population and increasing demand, master weavers entered the scene, who kept the artisans under their control. With the pre-loom activities such as spinning and dyeing being farmed out to others, the weavers slowly they lost their skills sets as also their negotiating power and the direct connect with the market. Where there’s dependency, there’s exploitation, she adds.

But, thanks to the efforts of the Telangana government and stepping in of a corporate giant like Microsoft and NGOs such as Oxfam, UNDP and Abhihaara, there’s a renewed initiative to revive the dying art, Kumari says.

Oxfam tried to understand the issues and with the same spirit Abhihaara — Story of Cotton, Cloth & Craft was born, Sudha says. Our aim is to connect women across the cotton supply chain — cotton growers, weavers, garment makers and craft artisans — so that all of them are at mutual advantage, Kumari says.

Microsoft, as part of its CSR initiative, is empowering weavers through digital education and occupational communication in English and market access through e-commerce. In collaboration with the Telangana government it has started ReWeave centres in Pochampalli, Narayanpet and Koilagudem to market their products profitably.

On the other hand, UNDP through its Disha programme is looking at skill building and equipping women at marketing, setting up pre-loom centres for dyeing and training in embroidery for value addition.

Speaking about Telangana government’s effort, she says it has come up with several schemes such as providing yarn subsidies, loan waiver and separating hand loom from power loom. All the handloom clusters are geo-tagged, to ensure genuinity. It has also made a call for all to wear handloom textiles on Mondays and declared August 7 as Handloom Day and promoting Telia Rumal in a big way. Now any guest or dignitary visiting the state is honoured with a Telia Rumal shawl instead of ones produced by power looms.

The other major initiative is placing an order for millions of Bathukamma sarees to be sold through fair price shops to poor women during Dassera.

Also thanks to social media and media and textile trades people, the passion and interest in actually visiting and buying from the weaving clusters has gone up. Singing paens to the 6-yard drape, she says, “I think saree is a good investment, because it’s for a lifetime. Garments will go out of fashion over a period of time, but you can wear a saree even after 30 years with a different blouse. It is a legacy that can be passed on from one generation to the next.”

Saree revival efforts are also being made by a lot of people. Celebrity designers like Sabyasachi have launched the ‘Save the Saree’ campaign and many saree groups like ‘100 Saree Pact in Hderabad, the ‘Global Saree Pact’ overseas and the ‘Gulf Saree Pact’ here in Dubai are promoting the saree, talk of the craft and enthuse others to own at least one saree in each variety. Now people are looking at having a range of hand woven sarees, which is good for the sector and their livelihood, she says.

Also, many people are going to Pochampally and Narayanpet to interact and see weavers at work. Slowly the weaver-user connect is coming back.

Handloom is also being talked about because of climate change. Unfortunately, we have lost some of the finest weavers; had there been similar efforts about 10 years, we would have saved them, she says.

The younger generation that had migrated are coming back and earning decent incomes, she says.

Handlooms of Telangana:

Ikkat is the queen of textiles. And Pochampalli sarees from Bhoodan Pochampally woven in traditional geometric patterns in Ikkat style of dyeing, enjoy an exalted status. Ikkats are also well suited for furnishings and drapes, as well. In ikkat weaving, both warp and weft are dyed in intricate patterns and hand woven. It takes about 15 days of continuous effort to make one saree.

Of particular interest for women is sarees made in the Telia Rumal technique. It requires the precision, patience and elaborate understanding of the craft. The yarn is dipped in sheep dung overnight and then rolled and washed and treated in a solution made of ash from burnt castor seeds and water. Natural red and black dyes are used for Telia Rumal.

Gajam Govardhan of Puttapaka in Nalgonda district who learnt the art encouraged by Marthand Singh, then chairman of Intach, and Praful Jayakar, who was the federal Textile Minister.

The first breakthrough came in 1983, when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, at the Festival of India in Lon-don where some of the rumals were displayed. There the Indian community who took fancy to this art encouraged him to make sarees, too. That’s when the Telia Rumal saree took its avatar. Now any woman who loves sarees wants to own at least one of these intricately woven sarees.

Gajam brothers are into their 60s, and none of their children is interested in taking this art further — it is fading.

Coming to class, it’s always Gadwal saree. It is appreciated for its cotton body and silk pallu and border. It has the comfort of the cotton and elegance of the silk. The cotton and silk warp is interlocked by twisting the fibres with ash and not many artisans are left to practise this tradition.

Narayanpet sarees are known for affordable and cool cottons that are also lightweight. At one point of time there used to be 2,000 artisans weaving this saree, but now their number is less than 300.

Gollabhamas of Siddipet are known for their milkmaid motifs. People in Telangana and other places also want to own at least on Gollabhama. But there are only a handful of people who know the art of wearing these motifs in a separate weft.

Cine actress Samantha Akkineni, who is the handloom brand ambassador in Telangana, is showing particular interest in Gallabhamas and had personally selected one to be presented to Ivanka Trump when she recently visited Hyderabad.

And not many people outside Telangana know of the Mahadevpur cluster in Jaishankar Bhupalpally district that makes tussar silk sarees. The weavers rear silkworms in nearby Kaleswaram forests and extract the yarn from cocoons using the thigh-spinning method. They have the entire supply chain in the village itself.

Vavilala is known for its khaddar. The Indian national flag that flies on the Red Fort in Delhi is made here.

While Warangal is famous for its dhurries and Kamalapur for its towels, Armoor in Nizamabad district is known for providing Devatavastram to various temples.

Weavers:

While most have been shunning the art, Nalla Vijay from Siricilla is creating wonders. He’s taken after his late father Parandahumulu in creating a 6-yard saree weighing just 60 grams that can fit in a match box and a shawl weighing 30 grams that can fit in a smaller matchbox.

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His latest feat was a silk saree that could pass through the eye of a big needle. But such finesse is being lost as handloom weaving holds no promise as a profession.

Mone Adilakshmi, 32, from Nandavaram village near Gadwal, has been involved in pre-loom process of weaving a Gadwal saree since her childhood. Through ReWeave project supported by Microsoft she is now encouraged to sit on the loom and weave and is having a bank account on her name. Her husband is a part time teacher who helps her in pre-loom after his school hours.

WLD Mone AdilakshmiShe is now weaving checkered Gadwal cotton bodied and Silk bordered sarees, which are a rage among the traditional saree lovers. She has orders lined up for next 3 months. She earns Rs1,800 for weaving a saree. With 5 sarees a month, her income is now Rs9,000 per month compared to Rs1,300 per saree that she used to earn earlier. She has a good recognition in her village for her skills and colour choices.

Dudyala Shankar, 48, from Koyyalagudem village of Yadadri district, is a very highly skilled weaver. He is an ex-pert dyer using natural colours and weaves intricate ikat weaves. He started assisting his father at the age of 14 and has woven for nearly 30 years. As the incomes dwindled with intermediaries in between and increased cost of living he has left weaving and even took up electrical works.

WLD Dudyala Shankar

ReWeave encouraged him to do intricate double ikats. His income is now Rs18,000 per month while his wife Lalitha supports him in pre-loom. He weaves for eight hours everyday and is much happier now and he is confident that this art will not die.

Shambhu Vaishali, 40, and her husband Krishna have been part of ReWeave for last one year. Nara-yanpet cluster is known for affordable and comfortable sarees. The wages and the incomes have been so low as they lacked market access and inputs in design and colours. Though ReWeave initiative they got a working capital of Rs40,000, which is providing them continuous work. They were encouraged to come up with offbeat colours and big borders to enthuse younger generation. A year before their family income was between Rs5,000 and 6,000 and now they earn Rs9,000 a month. Their children are getting good education. “We are improving on quality day by day with regular follow up and monitor-ing by team ReWeave,” Vishali says. Through UNDPs Disha Project we are learning skills in value addition on fabrics and sarees which is helping us earn better incomes, she adds.

WLD Shambhu Vaishali

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