Complex weaves, pretty embellishments and vegetable dyes have defined India’s fabled cotton heritage, going back many millennia. They continue to define it even today as can be seen in the rich block printed saris from various regions showcased at the Central Cottage Industries Emporium’s Exhibition titled ‘Cool Cotton’.

A perfect foil for searing summer days are exquisitely woven dhakais, tanghails and kanthas from West Bengal, Sambhalpuri ikats from Orissa woven by National Award winner Dayalu Meher, jewel-toned cotton Kanjivarams and Dabu ‘mud resist’ block printed saris from Rajasthan.

Old textile traditions mingle with contemporary touches of innovation in many saris on display. Weaver K. Venkatesan’s Kanchi range delights with unusual colour combinations and woven borders. He says, “My father K. Veeraraghavan, a National Awardee, was one of the pioneers who introduced the weaving of Kanjivaram cottons based on the patterns and weaves of the traditional ‘pattu’ saris. The body and the border are woven separately by two weavers and then put together by the interlocking system. This process which also uses three shuttles has been traditionally used to weave Kanjivaram silks. We have used the identical process on the cotton range.”

Anwar Ali from Jodhpur explains the detailed process of the fascinating Dabu ‘mud resist’, which is his forte. Dabu resist motifs have been spattered on saris and fabrics for centuries. “Look at this piece,” says Anwar, pointing to an indigo piece with white flowers. “We first wash and dry the raw fabric and then spread castor oil all over to soften it. We then do the block printing with a mixture of ‘mitti’ taken from the local ponds, gum and ‘chuna’. After this, we wash the cloth in indigo dye or any other natural dye and leave it to dry. The mitti falls off, revealing the white motifs. For double colour mud resist, we dye the cloth in ‘harde ka phool’ and alum, after which the block printing is done. We wash the cloth and dip it in alizarin. The alum gives the red colour around the mud resist motifs. The whole process is time consuming.” Unfortunately, the number of Kanchi weavers and Jodhpur’s block printers is dwindling rapidly.

Both the artisans creations are part of the CCI collection. On view are saris, yardage and dupattas with Dabu patterns in brilliant hues as well as Kanch cottons in a spectrum of colours, traditional checks, temple and Rudraksh borders.

The Cool Cotton exhibition is on view at The Central Cottage Industries Emporium, 672, Nandanam, till May 31.

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