On the trail of the Negamam sari

The yarn being stretched  

Being part of the 100 Sari Pact last year influenced me to take notice of the traditional weaves that are still in practice close to my home town. The summer holidays seemed the perfect time to explore the village of Negamam known for its cotton saris. My first visit with kids in tow to this quiet hamlet 30 minutes from Pollachi was such an eye-opener that I did another trip soon.

The drive to Negamam takes you past lush coconut groves and large expanses of farmland. When we stopped to ask for directions, the landmark we were given was an old peepal tree. We found the tree soon enough. It stands tall providing shade to the village folk who, even in the middle of a blistering summer day, seemed to prefer sitting outdoors than inside their homes.

Pravin — whose tour company Thadam organises a walk through the village — accompanied me on the first trip. That’s how I got acquainted with the local cloth store, Lakshmi Textiles, who have decided to support the handloom weavers by being the sole distributor for the saris woven at Negamam.

On our way to visit the weavers, we passed a wide road that had the village temple on one end. A bunch of kids playing cricket caught my attention. A few houses ahead, an elderly grandmother sat on her porch watching us while she swung a gurgling baby in a makeshift swing.

The first home was that of Arumugam’s. He and his wife work on the wheel fitted in the middle of their home. The wheel is turned to stretch thread meant for 12 saris.

Though they enjoy their craft, they have sent their son away to study in the city. To find him a wife who will agree to do this work, they say, is impossible. So, they’d rather he find another profession.

From here the stretched yarn goes to the dyers. Sivasami, his brother and his wife, Kanimozhi, are the main dyers in this locality. Sivasami also teaches yoga and meditation. The foyer of their home is covered from end to end with yarn that has been dyed and left to dry.

Their hands are sore from the chemical dyes and they are not in favour of their daughters following in their footsteps. But they are more than happy to chat with us and their pride in their work is evident.

Next comes the starching, which is done in another village. Then the yarn comes back to Negamam to be woven into fabric. The last step is the actual weaving. The clickety-clackety of the handloom has been ringing in our ears throughout our walk. The hands and the feet work the loom with rhythmic dexterity.

Weaver Krishnan points to the holes in the jacquard weaving technique, which is now in practice. He says it takes him 2-3 days to weave a sari depending on the design. He gets paid anywhere from Rs.1,800 to Rs.3,000 per sari. He introduces us to his wife Poongudi who is the only one in the village who has taught herself to design. Earlier the whole process was done by hand but she now uses modern technology to improve her craft.

Krishnan points to the wooden stick that keeps the cloth taut while weaving. He enjoys his work immensely as he is assured of a market for his saris. But he too is sceptical about what the future holds because it may not be lucrative enough for the generation after him.

We end our walk at the cloth merchant’s. They are busy packing saris to be shipped off to stores across the country. They are not keen about retailers but, since we are a group of 12, they allow us to pick one each after a little browsing.

After this sari trail, I have a new respect for the Negamam cotton sari. It is beautiful in its simplicity and, we are told, the cloth get better with each wash. I came away grateful at having seen these talented craftsmen work their magic in an environment that resonates with contentment as well as serenity.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 2:49:44 AM |

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