Six Yards of Handwoven History

An understated tourist destination, Chanderi and its looms are often missed on the route to nearby Orchha and Khajuraho. PHOTO: Gaatha

An understated tourist destination, Chanderi and its looms are often missed on the route to nearby Orchha and Khajuraho. PHOTO: Gaatha

You must have heard of India’s ubiquitous piece of clothing that is the sari. Graceful, flattering, stately – several are the adjectives used to describe this six yards of fabric. But have you heard its story? From the threads and to the loom, to the people striving to uphold the dignity of working by hand and keeping the powerloom lobbies at bay? Then, the story of the Chanderi sari is for you to read, courtesy the Outlook:

The softly shimmering legacy of many hands lingers in its weave, the gorgeous rustle of cotton and silk hails its arrival: the handloom sari, timeless showcase of India’s heritage textile, gathered from all over the country to drape the Indian woman. From Delhi living room conversation piece to subtle South Indian wedding showstopper, the handloom sari has always kept standards high. Parrot green, frighteningly pink, marvellously magenta, from Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu to Sambalpuri in Orissa, it wends its way into trousseaus, staple sari collections and 100 Sari Pacts (the most recent trend in sari preservation has women vowing to wear a hundred saris and commemorate the traditional garment). Its weavers are craftsmen, their outlines blurred by the sheer number of people involved in the creation of one long, winding stretch of cloth.

In Chanderi, few of the weavers know much about the dangers the Handloom Reservations Act recently faced, as is often the case. Thirty years ago, the Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act listed a quaint list of items reserved for handloom production: the saree, towel and gamcha, angavastram (‘a grey or bleached cloth of plain weave with border with extra warp in the borders’), lungi, bedsheet, jamakkalam durry, dress material, barrack blankets or kamblies, shawl or pankhi, woollen tweed and chaddar. The litany may sound like it comes straight out of a historical novel, but the Act is nevertheless relevant today–in that it will keep the powerloom lobby, powerful and capable of choking other industries, at bay. Keeping these items out of the legal preserve of powerloom companies that seek legitimate inroads into a market which conservationists would say they have already encroached on, the Act protects the legacy of handloom weavers and their products. ‘When someone threatens to raze the Taj Mahal to build a temple, we are angry, but we are also confident that such madness will never happen,’ Dastkar founder Laila Tyabji wrote in The Hindu recently. She cited the increasing demand for millions of metres of handloom– and the 20 million handloom workers (versus 3 million in the infotech sector) plus its low carbon footprint which make it a valuable contributor to the economy.

Read all of this interesting piece here.

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