LITERARY REVIEW

Collector’s dream

SABITA RADHAKRISHNA

These two volumes will go a long way in creating awareness of the wealth of Indian textiles that we take for granted

Tanabana: Handwoven And Handcrafted Textiles Of India Vol 1 & 2; Text By Romanie Jaitley, Edited by Mallika Sarabhai, Mapin Publishing

The two volumes under review introduce a selection of Indian textiles to the lay person. Our textiles are jewels among our heritage with a visible presence in India’s fight for freedom. That they should endure through the ages is of paramount importance, and efforts such as these volumes will go a long way in spreading awareness of the wealth of Indian textiles that we take for granted.

The volumes dwell only on 12 hand-woven textiles and 10 handcrafted textiles selected from an extensive range. Each one, however, has been described at length to cover the history, charming folktales involving the craft, the kind of looms used, and its present status. Indian textiles seem to follow a trend, with the zenith during royal patronage, then a slump and resurgence again thanks to the Government agencies and NGOs.

A couple of important facts are omitted. One, the Kancheepuram korvais are languishing, and there is a dearth of traditional handloom weavers in the temple town. Two, Varanasi is facing the same problem, with the hike in yarn prices. The Chinese are copying their designs, and selling Benares saris at ridiculous prices, leaving the weavers with unsold stock and not enough work, resulting in suicide deaths. Highlighting these problems will make people aware of the dangers these priceless handlooms face, and concerted efforts by concerned agencies will turn the tide.

Valuable information

Volume One gives valuable information on 12 different weaves. The textiles of Arunachal Pradesh, Adi and Apa Thani weaves speak through geometric designs as do the Bodo weaves of Assam.

A common factor is that there is a gender distinction and the skill is passed on from mother to daughter.

The chapter on ikkats tell you about Orissa weaving and double ikkats but there is no mention of neighbouring Andhra that has scintillating Puttapaka weaves and Pochampalli ikkats. Patolas are not mentioned either. Jamdani weaves on pure soft muslin have an ethereal quality in contrast to the heavy Kancheepuram saris with their korvai borders.

The Kani Pashmina shawls with its intricate twill tapestry technique of weaving are known for their elegance, and are one of India’s most celebrated crafts.

The Kota dorias, a gossamer fabric of Rajasthan, has a cotton and silk mix and wonderful for the Indian summers.

The Maheshwari sari from Madhya Pradesh, with the introduction of silk warp and narrow closely woven traditional borders, make classic saris, stoles and scarves. Varanasi boasts of complex and splendid designs and the textiles are unbeatable in their delicacy and intricacy. Their brocades have the extra weft and the textiles are famous for their meenakari in a silk background with zari motifs.

Block prints

Featured in Tanabana’s section on handcrafted textiles are block-printed Ajrakh prints from Kachch Gujarat with their repertoire of indigo prints, and vegetable dye Bagh prints from Madhya Pradesh.

Needlecraft includes appliqué work from Barmer Rajasthan and chikan work from Uttar Pradesh a craft very much alive today. Most of the needlecrafts are handled by women.

Crewel embroidery in Kashmir is done with hooked material, believed to be improvised from a crochet hook used in France. One of the best examples of recycling in craft is kantha embroidery where soft quilts were made using old cloth and the thread for embroidery taken from old saris. With the intervention of NGOs the embroidery has been upgraded, and command a higher price in the market.

Ari work is believed to have enriched the costumes of the Moghul Court and largely prevalent during the reign of Akbar where royal ateliers were brimming with craftsmen producing rich trappings in gold. Ari work and zardozi flourished with royal patronage but suffered a decline in Aurangazeb’s time, but today it has seen a resurgence.

Crochet was introduced to India in all probability by the Portuguese, and the Narsapur lace is famous and is used for clothing accessories and furnishings also accepted by fashion designers who use crochet for ornamentation.

Test of time

The painted and printed vegetable dye motifs in Kalamkari constitute an art that has stood the test of time. Two distinct schools produce the Kalamkaris namely Masulipatnam and Sri Kalahasthi in Andhra. Now kalamkari has diversified into applying the art on clothing and table linen. Vegetable dye printing is also very popular here.

The photographs in the book are fabulous, and Volume 2 comprises of swatches of material along with two beautifully done DVDs which talk about the genesis, history, cultural milieu, and processes leading to the making of some of the most exquisite textile crafts of India.

While Tanabana is a collector’s dream my submission is that the list of handloom and handcrafted textiles could have been more exhaustive, even if it meant cutting down on the space given to the chosen textiles.