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Fine threads of tradition

Vidhi Singhania, who has done much to revive the unique weaves of Kota in Rajasthan, will present her newly-designed collection at the Crafts Council of India's Summer Sale in the city on March 8 and 9.

DELICATE AS a spider's web, almost matching the whimsical Roman description of Indian cotton as vetri venti or woven breeze, ethereal and dream like. Rajasthan's 300-year-old tradition of Kota saris almost faded into oblivion in the last decades of the 20th Century. In the face of the growing popularity of powerloom saris, the hand woven Kota sari simply folded up, taking along with it age-old processes such as the creation of patterns, graph making, the dyeing of yarn and setting up of the loom and, of course, the tradition of the entire family bonding together in the weaving of the fabric.

Traditionally a muslin fabric woven with alternating threads of silk and cotton, Kota saris were created by the descendants of the Muslim weavers brought from the Deccan to Kota in the early 18th Century by Maharao Bhim Singh. And what subtlety and harmony they brought to their craft, weaving gossamer thin saris, which draped royalty and commoner alike! A heavy Kota brocade sari would take up to four months to weave and the entire family would be involved in the process. Equally elegant, a simple Kota sari would be woven in 10-15 days, its thin layers affording ample protection to the common folk against the scorching heat of Rajasthani summers.

Alas, with the advent of the powerloom, the weavers drifted to the margins of poverty or took up menial jobs. And the markets became flooded with less expensive machine made Kotahs made out of synthetic yarn.

Craft lover and connoisseur Vidhi Singhania decided to revive this heritage weave and moved to Kota. Her endeavour was not only to restore the magic of the old hand woven Kota but bring it into the mainstream with a contemporary palette of muted colours, introduction of block designs as well as revive zari weaves. With the introduction of new designs, colours, quality inputs, marketing facilities and persuasion, hundreds of looms began to hum again. The superb old Kota was back and along with it the livelihood of thousands of householders.

The resurrection was not easy. According to Vidhi Singhania, it sometimes took a whole year for the weavers to agree to use a new colour palette, or work a new design. However, working with them was a rewarding experience. Today, magnificent Kota brocades are again being woven both in old style formats and with dramatic contemporary designer borders and pallus. She has introduced fine block printing and vegetable dyeing into the Kota tradition.

Incidentally, as a tribute to the community of Kota weavers, each new line of sari is named after the members of the weaver's family. So we have Rabia, Nargis, Sultana and Shameem saris, adding a personal and poetic touch to the saris.

On March 8 and 9 Vidhi brings to Chennai her newly-designed and priceless collection of Kota saris, dupattas and fabric, which will be showcased at the Crafts Council of India's Summer Sale. It wil introduce the cognoscenti of Chennai to an incredible variety of Kotas, ranging from magnificent tissue and brocade Kotas for special occasions to elegant block printed saris for daily wear.


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