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Special Content

Issue no 19, 07-13 August 2021

My Handloom My Pride

On August 7, 1905, the Swadeshi Andolan began as a movement to build national self-reliance. The Swadeshi movement sought to oppose British rule and encourage the ideas of self-help, swadeshi enterprise, national education, and use of Indian languages. To fight for Swaraj, the radicals advocated mass mobilisation and boycott of British institutions and goods. This was seen as a necessary precondition to ultimately and effectively challenging the British rule. The Swadeshi programme developed along two lines - of reviving traditional crafts that had been destroyed by competition from the British goods and of building indigenous industrial enterprise on modern western lines. The boycott of imported textiles, revival of Indian crafts, and a rise in demand created by the Swadeshi movement did provide an important stimulus to handloom-weaving.

The National Handloom Day is observed annually on August 7 to honour the handloom weavers in the country and also highlight India's handloom industry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the 79th edition of Mann Ki Baat, talked about nation building by being #VocalForLocal. He said, "Supporting local entrepreneurs, artists, craftsmen, weavers should come naturally to us. The National Handloom Day on the 7th of August is an occasion when we can strive to attempt that." He encouraged the citizens to make it a point to definitely buy handloom products being made in rural areas and share it with #MyHandloomMyPride.

What is National Handloom Day?

National Handloom Day was first celebrated in 2015 when the Hon'ble Prime Minister launched the India Handloom Brand for branding of high quality handloom products to promote production of niche handloom products with high quality, authentic traditional designs with zero defect and zero effect on environment. Since the launch of the Brand, 1590 registrations have been issued under 184 product categories (as on March 31, 2021). India Handloom Brand has partnered with 103 Retail Stores, to showcase and sell the exclusive IHB items from their stores

National Handloom Day seeks to focus on the contribution of handlooms to the socio-economic development of the country and also increase the income of weavers. The major objective is to generate awareness about the importance of the handloom industry and create a market space which cater especially to the demand for diverse products among the younger generation and export markets with high growth potential. This Day aims to increase awareness about the benefits of handloom, role of weavers, and support the handloom weavers by encouraging everyone to buy handloom products.

Why celebrate handlooms?

Handlooms are environmentally friendly, and a viable way to make a living. The handloom sector provides 4.33 million people with jobs, and is the second largest source of employment in rural India. Around 95% of the world's handwoven fabric comes from India. Handloom mainly uses natural fiber like cotton, silk, wool, jute, etc. Therefore, it is eco-friendly. We can make it even more eco-friendly by using vegetable dyes and other organic products.

Handlooms are important not only for aesthetic and cultural reasons, they are also essential to political and diplomatic relations, as they are symbols of the identity, culture and inclusive growth of a country. More than 50 per cent of India's total weaver population resides in the country's eastern and north-eastern region. The sector has the advantage of being less capital intensive. There is minimal use of energy, it is eco-friendly, and allows flexibility of small production, openness to innovations and adaptability to market requirements. It is a natural productive asset and a tradition at the cottage level, which has sustained and grown by transfer of skill from one generation to the other.


How does it help the local artisans?

Handloom is a major source of livelihood for tribal communities in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand, Gujarat and industrially backward states of North Eastern Region. Government and NonGovernmental Organisations (NGOs) have taken keen interest in promoting the handlooms and provide financial support to help create business ventures. This has encouraged the tribal communities to create Self-Help Groups and Cooperatives, thus building a platform for generating income and inculcating entrepreneurial skills.


The Government has taken several measures to boost the handloom sector. The Handlooms (Reservation of Production Articles) Act, 1985, Handloom Census, Geographical Indication, ecommerce initiatives such as 'e-dhaga', capacity building programs and the overall revival of handlooms and Khadi Gramodyog industries are important steps launched by the Government of India to boost the handloom sector in India. Khadi was mentioned by the Hon'ble Prime Minister in his last Mann Ki Baat where he said that buying Khadi is "service to people, service to the country". Khadi, a fabric that breathes "warm in winter, cool in summer", is a handspun and handwoven cloth which acquired patriotic status during Indian freedom struggle and it gave a Swadeshi spirit. Khadi, derived from khaddar, can be cotton, silk or wool. The difference between khadi and other handloom fabrics is apparent in the texture. The small weaving errors or unevenness give khadi its unique charm.


Apart from khadi, India is home to several world famous handloom products. Let us get to know about some of them.


1.      Baluchari (West Bengal) This fabric is named after the village 'Baluchar' located on the banks of the Bhagirathi River in Murshidabad district, West Bengal. Baluchari weaving flourished during the period of Musid Quli Khan, the Diwan of Bengal, an erstwhile Hindu Bramin who embraced Islam. These textiles are famous for their elaborate 'anchal' (palloo). It is a highly decorative silk fabric having extra weft on 'palloo', border, and body. Designs are made with extra weft using silk yarn. No zari is used as done in Benarasi or other silk saree. The motifs are mainly derived from the then social/religious customs, animals, lifestyles of people, etc and are organised in narrative style in palloo portion. Murshidabad variety of less twisted mulberry silk yarn was originally used in Baluchari sarees. Main feature of Baluchari Sari is the arrangement of design in palloo by maintaining the corner and cross border perfectly in boxes. 'Jala' technique was originally followed by Baluchari weavers. The pictorial element of these sarees retains a degree of continuity and evidence of assimilation of diverse cultures giving rise to a distinctive art form that was accommodative and secular.

2.      Kancheepuram/Kanjeevaram (Tamil Nadu)

Kancheepuram is the silk city as well as temple city of Tamil Nadu. The traditional Kancheepuram saree is woven in a shuttle pit loom by using adai technique. It is carried with the help of two weavers for making solid borders (Korvai) and petni technique for making contrast pallu. The sarees are woven with the traditional designs inspired from the sculptures of temples in the town. The materials used for manufacturing of Kancheepuram silk sarees are mulberry silk yarn and gold zari. The original gold zari used a ratio of 40% silver, Copper 35.5%, 24% silk and 0.5% of gold. Flattened silver wire is coiled to conceal the core silk thread. This silver thread is coated with gold to produce zari used in the production of silk sarees. The speciality of Kancheepuram silk saree is contrast border with Korvai technique and contrast pallu with Petni technique.

3.      Tussar (Bihar, Chhattisgarh)

Tussar is a variety of wild silk, popularly known as Vanya Silk. The unique feature of the Tussar Silk product lies in its unique texture and unevenness. Rough, coarse texture and weft bars are visible due to unevenness of the yarn. The colour varies from yellowish beige to brown in natural state. Tussar silk, alternatively known as Kosa Silk, is generated by the silkworm Antheraea mylitta which mainly thrives on the food plants Asan and Arjun. Traditionally, Tussar silk fabrics are woven using domestic reeled Tussar silk yarn (Kosa) both in warp and weft. Sometimes, cotton and spun silk yarns are also being used for ornamentation and extra wefted design. Generally, Pit loom is used for weaving with Jala and Patiya technique for making small butti designs.

4.      Pochampally Ikat (Telangana)

Pochampally is a well known cotton and silk ikat weaving centre in Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district of Telangana. The fabric uses simple methods to produce bold geometrical designs of flowers, birds and animal patterns. The Pochampally fabric is perfectly reversible with the same appearance of the design on both sides. Intensity of the colours in the design also appears the same on both sides of the fabric, whereas if the fabric is printed, then colours in the back side of the fabric will be lighter. The technique of Ikat weaving is believed to be brought in the town of Pochampally from Chirala in Andhra Pradesh. The materials used for weaving are different counts of twisted cotton yarns, silk yarns and zari, depending upon the quality of the fabric. Ikat is a weaving style that employs resist dyeing technique to impart colours to the yarns before their interlacement. The fabric woven in this technique shows a feathered and hazy pattern.

5.      Kota Doria (Rajasthan)

Doria (stripe) fabrics in narrow width for turban used to be woven in Kota in earlier days. When Maharaj Kishore Singh, a great patron of craft, brought weavers from Mysore to Kota, these weavers introduced silk yarn to Doria weaving which is now famously known as 'Kota Doria'. The fabric has basic texture in combination of cotton and mulberry silk yarn in the base fabric whereas Gold and Silver Zari (fine metal threads) yarn has extra warp and extra weft for designing. The cotton yarn provides strength and suppleness whereas fine raw silk makes the fabric transparent and delicate. Kota doria fabric is woven on a traditional throw shuttle pit loom in such a fashion that it creates a small square check pattern in the fabric, locally called as Khat. It is a light weight open textured fabric and soft to touch.

6.      Paithani (Maharashtra)

Named after the Paithan region in Maharashtra, Paithani is woven by hand and is made from very fine mulberry silk. More than 2,000 years old, the art was developed in the then splendid city of Pratishthan ruled by the legendary Satavahan as ruler Shalivahana, now Paithan in Marathwada. Main raw material used for weaving Paithani saree is mulberry silk yarn and zari. Preferably, filature silk is used as warp and charakha silk is used as weft. Paithani evolved from a cotton base to a silk base. Silk was used in weft designs and in the borders, whereas cotton was used in the body of the fabric. Present day Paithani has no trace of cotton. Paithani is woven in a simple pit or throw shuttle frame loom without having any designing devices. In its weaving, the picks do not move directly from one end to the other end of the saree, width wise, but the weft yarn of small lengths returns being interlaced or interlocked with the threads of different weft colours as per designs. This procedure of returning of threads is called "tapestry" weaving which is the most labour intensive and time consuming one.

7.      Lepcha (Sikkim)

In ancient times, the Lepchas of Sikkim were said to use yarn spun out of stinging nettle (sisnu) plants to weave clothes. Today, cotton and woollen yarn are used together with vegetable dyes and synthetic colours. Lepcha weaves or 'thara' are woven on a backstrap loin loom and thus results in a shorter width. Cotton, used as a base material, is combined with multicoloured motifs woven in woollen yarn. The weave frame is made from bamboo or various types of wood, which is readily available. Traditional designs with different colours are used to make tharas which are used for making bedspreads, bags, belts, curtains, cushion covers, table mats, tray cloths etc, apart from their traditional dress.

8.      Muga (Assam)

It was under the patronage of the Ahom dynasty that muga culture thrived and became a part of the social and economic life of the Assamese people. Muga silk was granted Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2007. The heritage product, woven at Sualkuchi in Kamrup district of Assam, has a natural rich golden colour. Muga silk, due to its low porosity, is difficult to be bleached or dyed, and hence retains its natural beautiful golden tint. As the fabric ages its golden luster increases. In fact with every wash the quality of muga gets finer and softer. To weave this fabric weaver, use a fly shuttle frame loom with two head shafts with a drafting order of warp, the yarn was sized. And during weaving the pirn of weft yarn became damped with water to get a better texture.

9.      Kani Pashmina (Jammu and Kashmir)

The weaving of Pashmina is an age-old tradition of producing Kani and Jamawar Shawls. Since the Mughal period, Pashmina Kani Shawl and Stoles are famous for their delicate, intricate and traditional patterns that are woven into them. These are composed of threads of Pashmina wool obtained from the underbelly of the wild Tibetan and Ladakh mountain goats (Capra hiracus) which has a special luster due to its long, fine fibres, which are as thin as 12 microns. In Kani weaving the design is formed by the manipulation of small wooden sticks called 'Tojis' which interlock their respective colored threads as they complete each weft of the shawl.

10.  Chanderi (Madhya Pradesh)

Situated on the boundary of two cultural regions of Madhya Pradesh, Malwa and Bundelkhand, Chanderi, placed in the Vindhyachal ranges is home to a wide range of traditions. Specialising in producing fine textured Chanderi sarees of silk and cotton embellished with zari work intricately woven by hand, interspersed with the delicacy of the extra weft motifs, has for times immemorial satisfied the refined tastes of the royalty. Chanderi silk cotton sarees display various beautifully striking motifs that include 'Dandidar', 'Chatai', 'jangla' etc. Weaving is done on pit as well as frame loom fitted with jala designing technique. Jala are lifted manually either by helper or weaver himself for weaving extra weft designs in the body and the palloo of the saree. Due to un-degummed (raw) silk warp, the fabric texture is somehow not very soft. The fabric is not compactly woven. It is transparent and light weight, very suitable for summer wear.


(Compiled by Annesha Banerjee & Anuja Bhardwajan) Source: NHDC/India Handloom Brand/ NCERT/PIB)