Rural Karnataka chants a different development mantra, which was revealed at an exhibition of the Handloom Development Corporation

“Nammadu kugrama,” says Harish, speaking of his backward village, Shantigrama, in Ramanagara district. There are no proper roads either, he adds standing at his stall in the Vastra Chittara exhibition, organised by the Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation. Harish’s stall with handloom products from the co-operative he runs with others is among the 32 stalls at the exhibition, most of them from remote villages of Karnataka that perhaps don’t even find a place on the map. From very fine cotton fabric to the coarse and comfortable, there’s a whole range of home spun material.

“Our village is all of 15 to 16 houses, and our livelihood is agriculture. Weaving is not our traditional means of livelihood,” explains Harish, who completed his PUC and went to the Karnataka Handloom Weaver’s Advanced Training Institute (KHWATI) at Jamakhandi in Bagalkot district to further his dream of setting up a cottage industry in his village. At this institute which imparts training in modern handloom weaving, design and dyeing, the dreams of Harish’s ideal village began to take shape. “My father and grandfather were Gandhians and felt that as a village we should engage in the Gandhian dream.” Harish returned from Jamakhandi and trained his people in weaving.

It’s a “revolutionary change” over the last 11 years for a village that otherwise had no contact with the world. The weavers of Shantigrama make towels and lungis, and are indebted to the Karnataka government. “We get research grant, scholarship for education, insurance, medical reimbursement… they have even given us a mobile van to help sell our products,” says Harish. Holding out a bright leaf green and mustard carpet he says, “This is a small achievement of our village.” The mat produced with waste from weaving saris is stunning, and apparently has an acupressure effect too. “We now have a little more money with us, and the most important thing is that no one wastes time like before.”

There are stalls from Hanur, Gadag, Aralekoppa, Mahalingapura, Honalli and several others. There are saris, bedspreads, towels, handkerchiefs, lungis, coats, kurtas – all in cotton fabric. The stall from Molkalmuru has stunning silks. “It’s all handmade,” says Vanjre Ramesh. “We are a traditional weaving community that has been making these saris for decades. My ancestors moved from Maharashtra and settled in Molkalmuru. We do everything from weaving to dyeing, the complete process,” and for the natural dyed silks they even prepare their own colour. Ramesh, explains the traditional motifs on these silks and says that their family made saris for the Wadiyars. “There’s a whole range of Simhasana saris, which have been revived. We have huge tomes of documents that explain the traditional designs, their history and context.”

Abdul Khadar works at Harish’s father’s loom for as long as he can remember. “Tumminakatte village is famous for ‘devara vastra’,” says Harish, holding out the super fine cotton fabric used to clean the idols of gods. “It’s manufactured in no other place in Karnataka,” explains the young boy who comes from a village of traditional weavers and nurtures aspirations of doing his graduation. It’s impossible to tear yourself from Rajkumar’s stall of woollen and cotton blankets. Made in stunning colours of oil red, burgundy, olive green… they are entirely made by the weavers of Honnalli, beginning with sheep rearing for wool. “Our cotton threads come from Paniphat, and our lungis are so sought after that we export them too.” The government has provided them with abundant facilities, and “under the Suvarna Vastra Neeti we run courses for youngsters of the village giving them a monthly stipend of Rs. 2000.”

The exhibition ends today at the B.K. Kalyana Mantap, near Tagore Circle, Gandhibazaar Bazar.

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