When Krishna Wore A Saree To Revive A Traditional Weave

When Krishna Wore A Saree To Revive A Traditional Weave

by Harsha Bhat - Friday, August 7, 2020 07:40 PM IST
When Krishna Wore A Saree To Revive A Traditional WeaveUdupi Krishna sporting a Udupi cotton handloom weave (PC- Udupi Saree Revival)
  • While big brands can rope in actors, cricketers, and other popular personalities and spend a million bucks on promotions, this humble curation of the handloom weavers of coastal Karnataka has god himself as its brand ambassador.

In the Mahabharata, when Draupadi called out to Krishna in absolute distress when she was being humiliated by Dushyasana, giving up in absolute surrender as he began to disrobe her, divine grace is said to have intervened with her saree staying put on her even as the Kaurava kept pulling endlessly.

A similar instance of grace seems to now be flowing for the traditional handloom weavers of Udupi sarees whose numbers had dwindled to less than fifty in the twin districts of coastal Karnataka. Udupi Krishna wrapped himself in the indigenous weave which seems to have now blessed its slow and steady revival.

Every Friday and on important occasions, the little Krishna in Udupi wears the six metres of the yarn woven and dyed in organic natural colours by the weavers of the Talipady Weaver's Society as he sports the Lakshmi roopa (form).

Swami Eshapriya Teertha, the present pontiff of the Admar Matha, who has been very vocal about sustaining these local traditions and cultural heritage, backed the efforts of those working for the revival of this weave and ordered these sarees for the deity.

And it seems like the dark one who turned around to give 'darshana' to Kanakadasa through the 'kindi' (window) is slowly turning the fortunes of this art around too.

On this national handloom day, it is only fitting that we highlight the plight of these traditional weaves and weavers which, if not for the backing of a few concerned individuals, like the Kadike Trust in this case, would have been relegated to the pages of history.

This despite being a GI tagged industry in 2016.

Since most of the weavers who still pursue this craft are well in their sixties and beyond, it was a struggle to not just encourage them to keep at it but also to ensure the art is passed on to younger craftsmen.

This is when a bunch of individuals formed this Trust three years ago with 'the objective of nurturing sustainable rural livelihoods' and began to work for the revival of this dying art.

They work with weavers cooperative societies in the two districts and while on one hand help weavers receive government aid, train new weavers and induct more into the fold and help secure their livelihood, on the other they effectively market the weaves on social media and share the profits with the weavers.

The lockdown season recently also turned into an opportunity as social media connected handloom enthusiasts from across the country to these weavers. Training sessions too were conducted in which a batch of ten weavers were provided skill lessons for a period of two months.

Recounting the journey of these weaves which were disappearing thanks to the onslaught of machine looms and fancier textiles, Kadike Trust President Mamata Rai says the focus is on training younger people to get back to weaving and to sustain the industry. "Two years back there were no weavers below 55 years of age. But this year we have been able to conduct training in batches and induct ten weavers over two batches,"says Rai.

The economics of it are appalling as these weavers can barely sustain themselves with what they earned. "Two years ago weavers would get just Rs 50 per metre but now they are able to earn upto Rs 100 per metre. And after a long wait of 14 years, the weavers society gave them a 10 per cent bonus last year", explains Rai.

The oldest weavers who have still chosen to keep the loom running and keep this art from dying are 85-years-old Somappa Jattanna and 83-year-old Sanjeeva Shettigar. 'Udupi Saree weaving is still alive only because of the senior weavers like them who are still weaving with dedication and passion against all odds,'.

83 Year old Sanjeeva Shettigar (Left) 85 year old Somappa Jattanna (Right) 
PC - @kadiketrust/Fb
83 Year old Sanjeeva Shettigar (Left) 85 year old Somappa Jattanna (Right) PC - @kadiketrust/Fb

The heirs to this craft chose not to sit at the loom for it is neither lucrative nor held in regard. "Low remuneration and lack of recognition from the society for this highly skilled art work is responsible for its present state," adds Rai.

For this temple town once resonated the sound of the looms and was bathed in the fragrance of pure cotton. Weaver's societies in Udupi that had atleast 500 weavers three decades ago, don't have even one tenth the number now.

"There were 5000 families at one point of time involved in this craft,"reminisces Rai, who has also now been working to help them obtain monetary support from NABARD.

The Trust also honours different weavers once in three months thereby appreciating their contribution to sustaining this indigenous cultural heritage. Another unique way of connecting the weaver to the one wearing the sarees is that every saree goes wrapped with a label that has a photograph of the weaver and mentions his name.

The Trust's recent offering was the Yaksha saree or the traditional Kase saree which was only worn by Yakshagana artists.

Yakshagana artists sporting the Kase saree. (PC:Udupi Saree Revival)
Yakshagana artists sporting the Kase saree. (PC:Udupi Saree Revival)

The red and yellow checkered saree one sees the Yakshagana artists sporting is called the Kase saree.

The originally 8.5 metre checkered weave saree has been customised to 5.5 metres with a pallu and is being marketed as the Yaksha Udupi Saree.

The Yaksha saree being woven by Padmanabha Shettigar (left); Yaksha Saree (Right
The Yaksha saree being woven by Padmanabha Shettigar (left); Yaksha Saree (Right

The response to the organic marketing has also been overwhelming. In a matter of days of posting about a yellow coloured saree which has been dyed using the peels of pomegranates, it was out of stock and further orders had to be put on hold until the pre-booked ones could be woven and delivered.

"We were able to get better prices to the society and in turn they incremented remuneration and gave bonus to weavers after 16 years."

Member of Parliament for Udupi Shobha Karandlaje who was gifted a saree earlier this year as prasada in Udupi too took to Twitter to promote the weave of her constituency.

"We took up the marketing of their products through social media and other platforms by participating in events personally and spreading awareness about brand Udupi Saree. Earlier they were forced to sell their products to their old bulk purchasers and local bargaining customers," explains Rai on how they managed to rebrand the product and earn the weavers a better price for their product.

A weaving room (Udupi saree revival)
A weaving room (Udupi saree revival)

"We changed the labelling and got an eye catching logo designed by our friend who is a reputed artist and designer from Mysore, a band like label with the name and photo of the weaver," says Rai, adding that it was this personal touch that touched handloom connoisseurs across the country.

Team of Udupi Saree Revival
Team of Udupi Saree Revival

The special quality of the Udupi saree is that it is extremely soft yet sturdy. This makes makes it a humble heirloom usually passed on silently to generations. This weave has for decades now been making its journey from being worn by grandmothers for years together to transforming into a homemade quilt for the grandchild with neither its colour fading nor the fabric coming apart.

For the weavers put their life into them, unlike the machines which only bring the threads together.

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