Village known for its ikat weaves and textures has won world tourism recognition
Pochampally village, about 50 km from Hyderabad in Telangana, is set to be named as one of the best tourism villages by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. It is a global initiative to showcase villages where tourism preserves cultures and traditions, celebrates diversity, provides opportunities and safeguards biodiversity.
Pochampally is an artisanal village known for its exceptional ikat (known as tie-and-dye) weaves and textures. Visitors throng the village to see the weavers at work on their handlooms, creating fabric with complex geometric designs and myriad colours.
Indian handwoven fabrics have been known since time immemorial. Though India was famous even in ancient times as an exporter of textiles to most parts of the civilised world, including through the Silk Route, few actual fabrics of the early dyed or printed cottons have survived. Indian floral prints, dating back to the 18th century, were discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in the icy waters of Central Asia. The evidence shows that of all the arts and crafts of India, traditional handloom textiles are probably the oldest.
During the British occupation, the handloom textiles of India faced unforeseen competition from the industrially produced textile goods of the U.K. Compounded by other factors, such as famine, the skilled weavers not only sought other employment but were also reduced to wage workers dependent on merchants for the sale of their products.
After Independence, the Government of India has taken various steps to protect and promote the handloom industry, but in an open market economy, with imitations flooding the market, it is fighting, according to some, a losing battle for survival.
The handlooms survive today largely because, as the late Pupul Jayakar said, the women of India wear saris and these shall stay alive till our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters continue to wear them. But the tragedy is that at a time when the Government is talking about skill development as a priority, these skilled artisans are becoming deskilled labour working on lowly paid jobs.
Even today, thanks to the grit and determination of the handloom weavers, the patronage of the lovers of handloom textiles as well as the long-standing initiatives of the Government of India, we continue to have weavers who produce textiles which are not only avidly purchased by the countrymen for special occasions as well as fashion statements but are also hugely appreciated and acquired by the tourists coming to India from all over the world.
Indian handloom is not a single brand or product. There are regional, State-specific and local variations, produced on different types of looms and based on various colour and design technologies. Some of the well-known (authentic/ethnic) handloom textiles of India, currently very popular nationally as well as internationally (in alphabetical order) are Balucheri, Banarasi, Chanderi, Gadhwal, Kalamkari, Kanjeevaram, Kota, Mangalagiri, Maheshwari, Paithani, Pochampally, Patola, Sambhalpuri, Tangail and so on. Some other less-known but exquisite handloom textiles are Chituku Cheera, Kantha, Mekhala-Chador, Narayanpet, Risa-Rignai, Telia Rumal, Venkatgiri and so on.
Returning to Pochampally, way back in mid-1980s, when I was working in the Office of the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, Shyam Benegal, the film director, was persuaded to “weave” a film story around the life and times of the Indian handloom weavers. After a lot of discussion, he chose Pochampally as the location. The star cast included a few established actors like Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Neena Gupta, Mohan Agashe, and K.K. Raina as well as up-and-coming actors who earned a name for themselves later, such as Anu Kapoor, Harish Patel, Ila Arun, Anita Kanwar, Pankaj Kapur and Satish Kaushik. It was billed as a story about the “ikat handloom weavers of Pochampally, portrayed by the master weaver Ramulu and his family struggling in the then times of mass-production”. In case you have not guessed it, the film is Susman and it was released in 1987.