An indigenous variety of cotton, Kala Cotton, believed to have been in existence for centuries, is being revived.

As we take giant leaps from the folds of present into the havens of future, the past often ends up as a source of nostalgia and romance, but not always. At times, it is identified as a brilliant idea, picked up with pride and pursued with passion. Kala Cotton, an indigenous variety of cotton grown in Kutch, is one such story. Khamir, a craft resource centre engaged with local artisans set up after the massive earthquake of 2001, has gone back in time to unearth an old world cotton, called Kala Cotton. “The British called it Kala to distinguish it from other kinds of hybrid varieties of cotton that they were promoting at the time,” states Meera Goradia, Director of Khamir.

Kala Cotton made its debut in the Capital during an exhibition “Re: retelling the stories of Kachchhi artisans and their craft”, organised by Khamir, which showcased diverse craft traditions being carried on by Kutch craftsmen, like weaving, block printing, tie-and-dye, pottery, leatherwork, metal bells, turned lacquer wood, silverwork and Rogan painting. Seeking response to the yarn the NGO brought out their first but tiny collection comprising men's and women's shirts, tunics, trousers and jackets in the public domain.

What makes Kala Cotton special is the fact that it is an old world cotton, of the type G.Herbaceum which traces its existence to the middle of the 18 Century. Until the mid-18th Century, only the indigenous Arboreum and Herbaceum varieties of cotton were grown in different regions of the country. Archaeological evidence shows that the cotton samples retrieved from Mohenjodaro (like Dholavira), made around 3000 BC, were produced from a cotton plant closely related to the present day G.Arboreum types.

While the cotton was used by the local communities, for their clothes, like the traditional jodis (a two-piece) and pagdis, it was largely being used as a blend in denims for its fibre strength or in upholstery, in sofas and beddings. “As compared to BT cotton, its staple length might be short but it has immense strength. But it was being used as a blend and not getting its due,” explained Ghatit Laheru, Artisan Development Manager, Khamir.

The organisation decided to concentrate on the Marwaras and Gujjar weavers in Rapar and Bhachau for two reasons. Firstly, the weaving clusters of the area working on traditional looms haven't been exposed like those in Bhuj and the area surrounding it and also because the variety grows there in large quantities. Khamir is pushing the case of Kala Cotton grown by a mix of Patel farmers as it doesn't use any pesticides and fertilizers. And since it grows in rain-fed conditions, it doesn't require additional water. Besides the natural advantages of organic cotton, Khamir has added another dimension, making it a holistic and practical deal for everybody involved. In collaboration with Satvik, another NGO active in the area, it has formed a sustainable local production chain — thus providing income for small and marginal farmers, spinners, ginners and weavers. “It grows like a semi-opened boll type. It's picked along with its calyx, which is used by the pastoralists who use the calyx of the plant as cattle feed. The cotton lint, the seeds, the calyx, all provide the farmer with an income,” explains Laheru.

A lot of work has gone to attain the current texture of the cloth produced using the cotton. “We hope to make it more smooth,” says Paresh Mangalia, Design Development Manager at Khamir. While there are some who work on bigger looms, most of the weavers still weave short-width fabric on tit looms. They are then stitched together to produce bigger fabric.

Integrating it with natural dyes like Indigo and other indigenous craft traditions like block printing lends their creations a unique touch. “Different motifs are also being taken, like this flower motif, tanglia, which is woven on the ghagras of the women in Saurashtra,” tells Mangalia.

Right now the efforts are being made to create general awareness about the product in the market by participating in a number of exhibitions, but Khamir wants to target designers. “But we also want to promote its use amongst the local weavers,” says Goradia.

Keywords: Kala Cotton