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Weaving a Puttapaka tradition

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Weavers display an ikat fabric from handmade looms
Weavers display an ikat fabric from handmade looms

Ranee Kumar

Tribe produces ikat fabric with a colour blend that complements the weave

Hyderabad: Tucked away in the dusty recess of Samsthan Narayanpur in Andhra Pradesh’s Nalgonda district is a rural weaving community called ‘Puttapaka Padmashalis.’ Nothing in the dreary environs would convey the existence of this arithmetically aesthetic tribe whose only trade is to interweave reams of pure silk from handmade looms.

The striking skill in design definition, precision of pattern and colour conjunction is something unique to this place.

Specific computations

“Though our sarees and silk material appear artistic, the technique involves specific computations that focus on symmetry without undermining aesthetics. To draw a coarse comparison, our work is akin to civil engineering where every inch is calculated and connected unlike the free strokes of Sambhalpur silk weaves [Orissa] which come closest to ours. In both cases, the design is broadly classified as ‘ikat’. In lay terms, it means tying, dyeing, untying, retying and dyeing in different shades of colours as per the pattern envisaged. This process wards off overlapping of different hues,” says Kolanu Govardhan, a young designer.

“Our ikat is warp-based unlike most other ikats designed predominantly on weft. The labour-intensive double ikat [warp and weft] which has been our forte can now be only custom-ordered,” explains Kolanu Surya, a veteran.

The warp designing needs linear tying of the silk yarn strands – nearly 4,850 – for a 48-inch wide material. Since space is a constraint within their dwellings, the entire street is used up for placing the linear wooden contraption to which the yarn strands are hooked on and then the design worked into them.

Processing

“The mulberry silk yarn broadly undergoes a stage-wise processing – very rustic, in as much as every inch of it is done manually making it literally live up to its name as ‘handloom’ in every aspect. “The colours used are by gradation, wherein the hues are derived from one or two primary colours,” says Samala Yadagiri, investor weaver. The end product is a mind-boggling ikat fabric with a colour blend that compliments the weave.

“A six-yard saree costs us nearly Rs. 2,000 at the source. But the most distressing part is our inability at marketing on our own. The early 1990s can be termed our golden age, so to say. Buyers from as far as New Delhi would come down to this village and purchase in bulk. The APCO [State cooperative] used to be our main marketing arm through our local society.”

Many retailers in the State capital also display our stock of sarees even to date. Puttapaka weavers were engaged in this trade for over 200 years. At that time, they were the sole silk weavers in the vicinity.

Rough terrain

“Ironically, our ancestors used to market our silk creations through Pochampally dealers [who were then only into cotton]. The reason being the rather unapproachable geographical location of our village. To this date, our fabric and sarees are being sold to customers in the name of Pochampally and only a genuine buyer can discern the intrinsic difference,” laments Samala Venkatesam, village sarpanch.

Sadly today, the looms of Puttapaka grate and gear to production only on orders from exporters like Bharat Silk, Universal Textiles and Padmini Silksor direct sales linkage through middlemen to retailers like Hyderabad-based Kalanjali, Chennai-based Kumarans, Pothys and Radha Silks. Market identity crisis has a telling effect on the younger-generation weavers of the village who have already started migrating to the State capital for low-income jobs to eke out a living. Those who still live by the trade are content to get their monetary dues minus the recognition.


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