A pantheon of craftsmen and their art are on display at Kaivalam, under way in Chennai. Rashmi R.D. introduces us to some Living Legends of Indian crafts. Meet Chaman Devji Velkar

“Weaving has been in our family for the last eleven generations,” says Chaman Devji. “I started to apprentice under my father at the age of 12.”

The Kutch region is well known for its traditional weaving communities who make a variety of hand-woven clothing, garment accessories, home furnishings and carpets from different types of yarn. ‘Kutchi’ weaves are unique in the patterns and motifs that are woven into the fabric.

Woolen yarn is sourced from Kullu Manali and Ludhiana, cotton from Ahmedabad, silk from Bangalore, tussar silk from Bihar. Two varieties of silk yarn are also sourced from Assam. The yarns are dyed in preparation for weaving; a combination of chemical and natural dyes is used.

The looms used for this weaving are also made by hand, and are of various sizes depending on what is being woven. Carpets and saris require looms with larger frames. In the past, wood from the jungle would be used to construct the looms; though some components are now available in the market, seventy-five per cent of the loom still has to be built by hand. Just as the skill of weaving has been handed down from generation to generation, there are a group of carpenters who are solely loom specialists and have worked in tandem with the weavers, building their looms.

‘“Puraana zamaane mein (in the old days), traditionally woven shawls were quite heavy and could weigh up to 3-4 kilos. Now we work with different kinds of yarn and can make much lighter shawls, some so light they weigh just 300 grams.”

Two plain, single colour shawls can be woven in one day. The more complex and intricate shawls, stoles and saris can take eight months to a year to complete.

Chaman Devji talks of a weaving centre set up in this region by Mahatma Gandhi to further spread and encourage the learning of local crafts. His father Premji Velji Valkar, a Shilp Guru, is a veteran weaver; now, at the age of 78, he encourages the younger members of the community to perpetuate the craft.

“Some of the youngsters are not too keen to continue with this. They’re unsure whether this will bring them a good future. My father and I do our best to keep them motivated and interested; we tell them to think of new patterns, new types of clothing we can weave. If we innovate there is no reason our skills shouldn’t have a solid future.”

“We have seen some lean periods. Machine mills in Ludhiana started to imitate our shawls. We sold our most basic handmade shawls at Rs.300-400, but these machine shawls were being sold at Rs.100 or sometimes even at Rs.80. It was a big setback for us, and discouraging for the community.”

“But things are getting better. People realize there’s no substitute for the beauty and quality of a hand-woven shawl; you just will not get the same look and feel. I am a kaarigar (artisan), apna rozi roti kamaata houn ,main bahut kush houn ( I earn my daily bread , I am very happy). This craft is in my blood. ” he says with finality and affirmation.

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