If you’re from down south, you have lusted after the waif-like Kota cottons at some point in your life. But Kota today is more silk and tissue, and a regular on the party circuit

When you hear that a sari from far off Rajasthan derives its name from Mysore in your home state, it is an exciting proposition. But when you find out that something as famous as the Kota sari was a creation of weavers of Mysore, and was actually initially woven here in Mysore, you are left a bit stumped. Apparently, in Rajasthan it’s still called the Kota Masuria, or the Kota from Mysore!

It’s the first I’ve heard of it, and any Google link tells you how the weavers of the characteristic square-patterned airy-fairy fabric landed in Rajasthan. Weavers from Mysore were brought to Kaithoon, a small town in Kota district, Rajasthan, by Rao Kishore Singh, a general in the Mughal army and a patron of craft, in the late 17th and early 18th century. In fact Kota’s weavers made fabric for the royalty at the Kota Durbar, says Israr — the pagdi, saafa and odhna were all Kota fabric.

I’m hoping for some grand romantic stories to come from third-generation weaver Mohammed Israr who’s come for an exhibition to Bangalore’s Vermilion House from Kaithoon with his creations. But he also knows nothing more, and states that one line of history. Israr is not a man of many words. But his saris definitely do all the talking.

One look at the candy pink zari-bordered sari with golden delicate floral butis and geometric wave-printed zari pallu and you get an idea of the direction in which the current-day Kota is headed. Normally associated as a staple of Marwari women who team these translucent saris with satin petticoats, the Kota has gone beyond the traditional pastel floral cotton. “Kota’s originality is the cheques pattern,” reiterates Israr. “But today any type of sari can be made in Kota weave. We make Jamdani, Leheria, and now the latest demand is for Paithanis in Kota.” He shows me a Kota-zari with intricate colours — dubbed Meenakari Kota. It looks like fine embroidery but is actually a weave.

An intricate pink Paithani he unravels took a weaver family four months to weave and is priced at Rs. 60,000. The fine weaves definitely do seem to come at a fine price, but if you consider the kind of effort that’s gone into weaving it…Also most Kota saris today feature real zari (read gold); Alam points out that the zari is certified too. The “adras” is another newer design,” says Alam, where a double-tissue effect is achieved with more zari taken into weaving reducing the checkered pattern.

Israr and Alam suddenly go into these huddles where they talk rapidly in a language all their own — it’s called Hadauti, says Alam. And to make things clearer to me he says Hindi and Hadauti are similar, just as Telugu and Tamil are!

Israr’s more vocal nephew Parvez Alam talks of how “tissue Kotas” are now in demand, because women wear these light creations to parties. Women in Hyderabad specially have a fancy for them, he notes, because they are lighter than “south silks”. Alam is the newer face of weavers emerging out of Kaithoon — he’s studying for his B.A. degree and handles the marketing and sales for his uncle’s family. He’s aware of the power of the Internet and believes he has much to learn to tap its potential to increase their sales. Their home office has a computer and they use it to load hand-drawn patterns that the grapher makes and check if colour combinations work on them. “Accounts are computerised and when a client in another city asks for a sample, we are able to email pictures,” he says.

Israr talks of life back home in Kaithoon, a town where there are over 1,500 families of weavers. “We are a joint family. My brother (Alam’s father), his wife, my wife…we all weave. I have two daughters. I first want to educate them. They will have to start weaving anyway later on in life.” Alam says women in the family weave from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day. He also talks of how cooperative societies that started taking shape about seven years ago are bringing in many benefits, including free medical treatment and insurance.

Israr currently has 65 karigars working for them. “There’s no need to set up a factory. Every one weaves in their home; we supply the silk and cotton yarn and zari,” he adds. Israr in turn supplies the saris, yardage, dress materials to shops and boutiques all over India, as far down south as Kerala, and yardage to large stores like FabIndia too.

The story, ultimately comes all the way back to Karnataka, and more specifically Bangalore. “Earlier we would weave in mul cotton, but now we use mercerised cotton from Coimbatore. Pure zari comes from Surat. But the silk yarn, called Korea Silk and China Silk come from Cottonpet in Bangalore,” smiles Israr.

There, we brought the long-winding yarn right back home.