Designer Shravan Kumar on his collection of heritage saris

Shravan Kumar  

A bottle-green Narayanpet with a deep red border. “It doesn’t cost more than ₹500 to 600. I wear it like a dhoti,” says Shravan Kumar Ramaswamy. The designer is in town with a collection of weaves he has revived, not just from the treasure trove of textile heritage of Andhra and Telangana but also from across the country.

Can you tell me about your special saris, I ask. He jumps up and pulls one out of the neatly displayed ones. He unfolds it, deftly fashions pleats and wraps the pallu around me all in a few seconds. I look at the mirror and instantly feel like Maharani Gayatri Devi. Because it is one of her saris that he has revived. Shravan says that he has permission to copy some of the royal saris, not just Gayatri Devi’s but from several other royal houses too.

Designer Shravan Kumar on his collection of heritage saris

“Saris are not from our country; they are our country and heritage.” A conversation with Shravan is interspersed with flourishes and drama. That is because he feels keenly for the weavers and the many weaving techniques are going extinct, as no young person is interested in taking it forward. He talks of the rich textile heritage of Telengana with emotion. Gadwal, Venkatagiri, Mangalgiri, Gollabomma, Narayanpet... “If I am asked what is my favourite kind of sari, I would say Narayanpet. Do you want to know why? Because they are woven by some of the poorest weavers,” he sighs. Otherwise, he says, a favourite would be the Benares weave, which royal women wore no matter which part of the country they came from.

Love them!
  • The beauty of a sari has nothing to do with its price. A sari that is ₹2,000 can be as striking as one that costs ₹200,000.
  • When you pick a sari, make sure it is a handloom. Patronise your local weavers.
  • Check its colour, weave, how comfortable it feels to you and how often you will wear it. It is smart to figure out how many looks you can get out of it. A sari can look very very different with a mere style of wearing or with a change of blouse or accessories
  • The sari is one of the most forgiving and flattering of garments. Wear it at least twice a week. No matter your shape, size, age or profession, it is a winner right through
  • Do not discard old saris. They are heirlooms. You may not find weavers who can make you another sari like that any more
  • If you are lucky enough to know weavers, ask them to reinforce the places that have frayed or weakened in the fabric. If nothing works, convert that precious sari into a wall hanging or use it as a canopy in your puja room

“I have worked with over 5,000 weaving clusters across the country,” says Shravan adding how he and his team have been instrumental in training nearly 10,000 women through the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) scheme. “In 10 batches of 1,000 each over 100 days. We trained them in cutting, stitching, sketching and made mini designers of them. Many now have a respectable income,” he says.

He did the same with Pochampally. “I had to persuade the weavers to go back to traditional, uncomplicated single Ikat. They were insistent about complex weaves and were barely getting the money for the effort they put into it.” Pointing to the kurta he is wearing he exclaims, “See how nice it looks. People love it and it sells fast.”

Treat them WELL
  • Air your saris frequently. They need to breathe fresh air
  • If you want to wrap them up, make sure you do so in a normal cotton textile
  • Make little bundles of black pepper or mustard with cloves and put them in your cupboard to keep the musty smell and insects away. Camphor works too

Is that Kalamkari, I ask of another sari. “It is the grandmother of Kalamkari. It is Mata Ni Pachedi,” he corrects me. A folk art from Gujarat, it also uses flora and fauna and the figure of a goddess all hand-painted in natural dyes so one is forgiven for thinking it is Kalamkari. “It is a backdrop and is said to be something the Vaghari community painted for themselves as they were barred from entering temples,” he explains. It was also used as a backdrop (Pachedi) or a canopy to the mother goddess (Mata).

Shravan’s eyes keep straying to where his saris are. “I am sorry. I worry when people pull the saris out, drop them on the floor or handle them roughly. They are not saris to me; they are my daughters.” He pulls out a beautiful pink-and-gold coloured Benaras — his grandmother’s sari — and declares, “This daughter is not going anywhere. She will stay with me.”

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 9:24:32 AM |

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