World Sari Day: How These Two Fresh Ideas From Karnataka Reimagine The Timeless Drape
Can you ever imagine seeing a dancing Lord Krishna or a herd of cows weaved to come alive in Jamdani or a blouse material transforming itself into a sari?
To mark World Sari Day this year, let’s look at how contemporary re-inventions help their sustained survival.
What are the new weaving endeavours one can muse on during this year’s World Sari Day (21 December 2021) that adds meaning to the older techniques getting a new lease of life?
With support from handloom crusaders and passionate NGOs, weave and textile experts have brought in contemporary relevance to our native handloom and yardages mastered over generations. Two creative examples in Bangalore throw spotlight on such efforts in the weaving and designing world.
One, an exceptional Uppada weave highlighted with Jamdani work visualised by the textile revival boutique ‘Madhurya Creations.’ These set of saris showcase Lord Krishna in a dancing pose and even bring in a beautiful set of cows in the pallu of the sari.
Two, the eye-catching set of saris from the label ‘Kubsa’ has the two-century-old Khunn material re-designed into a sari width. Khunn had remained a blouse fabric in 30” measurement and sold in traditional markets across northern Karnataka and Maharashtra, staring at dismal demands for want of product diversification and dwindling labour.
Krishna and the cows on Uppada
How did Madhurya Creations zero in on having a Krishna with flowers in the background; and also have cows in the pallu, to make it unusual?
"If you observe it’s a Pichhwai-styled painting that is adapted into a weave that had me visualize this for Sari Day this year. Every year we bring in something rare, and the weavers are adventurous enough to accept the challenge and give us something so spectacular that it makes a new-beginning for the weave itself! This is our reverence towards dexterous hands on the loom as we have known hand loom weavers struggling for their survival, especially now during the pandemic,” says Bharathy Harish, Head of Madhurya Creations in South Bangalore.
“I visualised Lord Krishna in Pichhwai that has been close to my heart,” says Bharathy adding that it was a bigger surprise when the experienced weaver Lakshman Rao Tammisetty agreed to do it exactly according to the picturisation sent to him. Madhurya has, over the last decade, helped revive nearly three dozen weaves and motifs for keeping them documented in the textile world.
It’s a pure zari, fine-cotton Uppada sari, one of the finest, exclusive weaves, where the intricacies of the subject can be taken up in subtle colours. And the gorgeous Pichhwai-styled Krishna makes it all-year wear for festive occasions.
“We have released a series with different colours and pallu. We have pallus with imposing cows, and with Lord Krishna nestled in multihued flora. It’s a coming together of amazing art forms like Uppada and Jamdani and Pichhwai in the weave,” avers Bharathy elaborating on the subtle body make up with rain-drop buttis that help highlight the pallu better.
The saris were done by weavers in Andhra Pradesh, under the guidance of senior weaver and handloom awardee Lakshmana Rao Tammisetty and his son Sriram Tammisetty of Sumeru Handlooms. The father-and-son conscientiously guided their weavers into taking up Krishna and the cows in different hues on Uppada weave.
Represented in Pichhwai-styled Jamdani work, this technique, they thought, would be ideal for a canvas-like weave to display the Lord amidst variety foliage and even have a set of cows to be part of this Krishna series in other saris.
“These saris are reversible, the weave is the same in the front and back,” explain the father-and-son Tammisettys pointing to the pallu on a video call interview.
“The mixture of diverse elements that go into the age-old Jamdani work is aplenty. We have chosen Jamdani on Uppada sari that will help us bring out the minutiae involved in the craft for detailing the subject. We take up such exclusive weaving work only on orders, as the costs involved are high due to months of backbreaking labour,” says Lakshman Rao.
The weaving technique adopted is not an overlay. Jamdani work is essentially like tapestry work, the wefts forming the pattern wherever needed. They are threaded through the warps with a wooden or bamboo needle to make them merge and float with the base textile.
“It’s an overwhelming process. It took two weavers, two months to have only the pallu made, and six months for the entire sari to get ready,” says Tammisetty.
Khunn material from North Karnataka, as a sari now
Designer Geeta Patil of the designer label ‘Kubsa’ boldly wanted to take on product diversification with the traditional fabric from Guledgudda taluk of Bagalkot district in North Karnataka without compromising on the craft's identity.
Owing to her childhood memories of seeing people weave and wear Khunn material, and having witnessed the challenges faced by master craftsmen to have the divine weave in silk and cotton go on, she wanted this experiment to go a long way.
“I wanted to add further value to Khunn Kupsa (blouse) worn generally with an Illkal sari. As I realised that the demand had declined as younger rural and urban women from this region have moved away from this traditional sari and blouse pairing and left weaving for other professions, I came up with the idea of having the Khunn material transformed into a sari-width to make the fabric popular in saris too,” says Geeta, happy that her venture paid off with a good response from people.
What is the rich weaving culture of Guledgudda Khana, a thriving weaving centre turned into a non-descript place despite getting a GI Tag?
Guledgudda Khana was patronised by the Chalukyas and was one of the major textile trading centres in this region. Each household boasted of at least four handlooms, with the entire village involved in the handloom activity. Last few decades, however, have seen a steady decline due to various factors.
“Power looms came in the early 1900s and the 1960s saw art silk or rayon introduced in the market. This gave a stiff competition in pricing to the hand woven silk Khunn. Guledgudda once boasted of 30,000 handlooms and now there are less than a hundred left struggling. The village now mostly is drowned in the sounds of power loom, explain Geeta," who holds post graduation in Textile Design from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.
"Majority of the weavers are still under master weavers/merchants who offer loans and for which the weavers work all their life to repay. Individual weavers still suffer to earn a decent livelihood resulting in urban migration eventually in seeing the end of this beautiful craft,” she adds.
So, in all these years, there has been no design intervention with Khunn weaving?
“Not only that, there are so many other textile crafts like the Ilkal saris, the Kambli weaving, Jhamkhaana or durrie weaving and many more that has fallen flat. As I come from North Karnataka, I felt that there is very little interest from government and NGOs to invest in this region's craft, culture, infrastructure, and growth. This region is rich in resources, and needs the right intervention to improve the socio-economic status of the people,” says Geeta.
‘Kubsa’ aims to revive this craft and improve the livelihoods of the communities involved. “Craft can transform the rural economy if done with a deeper understanding of the cluster. Our impact has been small but powerful. The ripple effects can be seen in the growing interest in these crafts from other brands, designers, and organisations who earlier never looked at this as a possibility. Our weavers are happy that their incomes have more than doubled and a certain sense of pride in their own craft and work is rekindled,” says Geeta.
Khunn saris from ‘Kubsa’ are handwoven on a traditional pitloom with mulberry silk and cotton. The entire process from the yarn to the finished product involves at least 10 to 12 artisans using natural dyes.
“We source raw materials like marigold flowers, Nilgiri leaves, and pomegranate rind from local farmers,” says Geeta, who has worked in weaving clusters across India through various organisations.
“I wanted to contribute to the growth and possibilities in rural India, through the rich craft heritage that we inherit. And learning textiles, visiting craft clusters inspired me,” she says.
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