1. Maniabandha, Odisha
Maniabandha is a village in Badamba block of Cuttack District, Odisha- an eastern state of India which is well known for its beautiful ikat textiles Maniabandha is adjacent to Nuapatna and at a distance of 100 kms from Bhubaneshwar and around 80 kms from Cuttack, the two major cities of Odisha. While Nuapatna developed into a centre for commercial weaving, it is well connected by road from Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack and is a famous Buddhist village.
Maniabandha has retained its quiet traditional charm with its syncretic culture. This region has a heavy concentration of weavers making wonderful ikat textiles, mostly in cotton and few in silk. Ikat is the craft of weaving with tie-dyed yarns to create colourfully patterned textiles. It is a way of resistance dying.
Ikat came through sea trade route to the coastal states of Gujarat, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh in India. Within India, ikat weaving evolved with each region developing designs which set them apart from the others. Ikat came to be known by regional names such as Patola, Chitka, Bandha, Pochampally, Puttapaka or Telia Rumal. In Odisha, Single Ikat is referred to as Maniabandha Ikat and associated with Khanduas. Majority of weavers in Maniabandha are traditional Buddhists. Odisha became a large centre for Buddhism in the 3rd Century BC, during Emperor Ashoka’s reign when he got influenced by Buddhist philosophy, becoming remorseful of the bloodshed in wars. In the 6th century AD, Odisha witnessed conflicts and some Buddhists took refuge in Maniabandha. Here, they quietly practiced their faith till the conflicts receded.
Origins of Ikat
Maniabandha’s ikat saris slowly became famous for their unique designs and fine quality of weaving. Traditional ikat dyeing was done on cotton, wool and silk using natural dyes from herbs, roots and minerals. Special recognition came to the Maniabandha weavers again in 12th century, when a well-known poet and writer Jaydev offered an ikat from Maniabandha called Pata Khandua tie-dyed and woven with verses of Gita Govinda to Lord Jaganannath of Puri. Thereon, the management of Lord Jagannath Temple Puri decided to get the Khanduas – a textile that covers lower portion of body – for the clothing of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabadhra and their sister Subadhra from the weavers of Maniabandha. This honour has continued till date.
Maniabandha is famous for its saris which are known as Maniabandhi, Kataki or Khandua Sari in Ikat extra weave techniques. The ikat of Maniabandha is deeply connected to clothing of Lord Jagannath who is considered to be Lord of the Universe, a highly revered deity, a form of Hindu God Vishnu. Lord Jagannath is also considered to be a syncretic deity, fusing many cultures – Hindu and Buddhism considered to be two major religious influences in Odisha. The Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri attracts thousands of devotees and is considered to be one of the 4 most important pilgrimage points for Hindus in India. The weavers here are masters in single weft ikat weaving.
The ikat technique in these parts is popularly known as Bandha – the local word for tying. It is special due to its finer quality, curvilinear designs and colours. The colours used for Khanduas earlier were red, black, yellow and white which were naturally available around but nowadays many colours are used. Traditionally floral, fish and animal motifs were used and nowadays geometric patterns are also being done. The ikat of Maniabandha is different in style from the other famous ikat weave in Odisha – Sambalpuri ikat where shells, wheel and floral motifs were an important part of the traditional designs. This makes both the ikat styles distinct. Apart from Ikat weaving, the weavers of Maniabandha are masters in extra weft weaving, which they had been traditionally weaving for personal use.
While the weavers of Maniabandha have been weaving special Khanduas for the deities, textiles for their personal use such as sarees, dhotis (loin cloth), gamusas (thin towels), turbans, shoulder clothes etc. for a very long time, they have now begun weaving commercially for markets. The region produces the finest single weft ikat sarees for the local and State markets. There are around 4000 weavers in the region who are actively engaged in the production of sarees, yardage and some stoles and dupattas
Due to seasonal local demand for saris, lack of investment and marketing, and lack of holding capacity there is a high dependency on Mahajans who in turn sell stock to bigger centres in Odisha and few to stores in Kolkata. Few weavers sell their products to societies, but their market base has shrunken, and they are not taking up new members. Therefore, there is a need for intervention. Anataran has set up professional ground teams will nurture artisans to become entrepreneurs through a comprehensive program of design and business education and hands on trainings, workshops, market development and trade facilitation process.
2. Kamrup, Assam
Assam is a state in Northeast India, situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys. The Kamrup region has 4 blocks which have approximately 100 villages together. This region has a large weaver base and is considered to be the Eri belt of Assam. Weaving has the potential to become a primary means of livelihood here as agricultural land has been depleting due to soil erosion from floods of Brahmaputra river. The region has a mix of tribal and non-tribal communities’ population. Although South Kamrup is inhabited by tribal and non- tribal population, it is primarily dominated by the non- tribal. Among the tribals, the Rabhas are largest in number followed by the Bodos. There is a small number of Garo villages also.
Weaving is an ancient craft of Assam, known for its beauty and simplicity. Assam is famous for its silks. In every house, looms are a prized possession and the knowledge of weaving is passed on from one generation to the next in by way of rich Assamese literature and scriptures.
While earlier records show that weaving was most probably a male occupation, it is now a primarily feminine activity, except in Sualkuchi, which has grown into a commercial weaving centre where men are weaving. Thus, every woman from a very early age is expected to acquire the craft from their mother. It was also believed that expertise on loom of a woman marks her eligible for marriage.
The mention of cotton in Kalika Purana and Harsacharita gives evidence of the availability of cotton in ancient Assam. However due to its geographical region, eri and muga silk were easily available and often used. In the older days, there were professional weaving castes, such as Tantis and Muhamadan Jolaha engaged in weaving finer fabrics mostly for the royalty and other dignitaries. Spinning and weaving became an everyday activity for the Assamese during the Ahom regime (1228-1826). It was made compulsory for every household to know weaving and to wear woven clothes. Weaving was not considered as a lowly profession hence everyone irrespective of their caste wove.
The fly shuttle loom is the most common and traditional loom used by all communities in Assam. The accessories required for the existing fly shuttle loom are very simple, made from indigenous materials, mostly bamboo and wood which are easily available locally. The Assamese usually use eri silk, muga silk, or cotton. Eri is a type of wild silk that is specialty of Kamrup region. Traditional process of making eri silk is organic and is also referred to as ‘Ahimsa (non-violent) silk. Muga is one of the rarest and highest valued silks in world. It has been an integral part of Assamese Culture. It is indigenous to Brahmaputra Valley and found in the districts of upper Assam. Cotton is abundantly available in nature and has been traditionally spun with spindle to spin to make yarns. The designs on the fabric created are inspired from mythology and nature.
The very prominent geometric and floral motifs in colourful shades are used majorly for ethnic costumes. Designs with simple linear borders with motifs highlighted by extra weft and extra warp techniques, give a lasting impression of their products. Symbolism is an ancient cultural practice in Assam and reflected distinctly in the textile traditions of the State- be it the designs or be it usage. Each textile has significant cultural value and weaving is not merely production of cloth but a rich expression of culture and pride for the weaver as well as the wearer. The motifs and designs in the traditional textiles of Assam are unique and distinctive in many ways.
Today, weaving is still practiced by women, but more so as a hobby rather than professionally. Further, natural dyes were used in Assam, but with growing needs and economic considerations, synthetic dyes are being used. Process of extracting colours and standardising them could not be developed on a large scale. However, local communities still have the knowledge and capability to use natural dyes.
Antaran, with the aim to develop the handloom sector in Assam has chosen the Kamrup region to begin the first steps of intervention. 12 villages, with approximately 5000 weavers were finalized for the first phase of the program. The cluster villages include 5 tribal villages and 7 non-tribal villages. Major tribes in this region are Rabha, Bodo and Garo. As part of the programme, women weavers from this region have been enrolled for an education programme for developing weaves professionally for contemporary markets. The first batch comprises of women from Guimara, Nahira and Sapathura(simian) villages belonging to agricultural families. Antaran aims to show these women how to be entrepreneurs and empower them to turn their skill into a business.
3. Dimapur, Nagaland
Dimapur is located in Nagaland, in North East India. Nagaland situated in North Eastern part of India, is a beautiful mountainous state bordered by the countries Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. It is home to 16 distinct hill tribes for whom loin loom woven textiles are an integral part of their cultural identity. Di means “water”, ma means “large” and pur means “city”, translating to “Big-river-city”, associated with the meaning of “Kachari” which is “people of the river valley” and after the river which flows through it (Dhansiri).
The textile designs for different tribes are distinct and till date, they value their cultural weaving traditions. Each of the woven textile designs has a cultural context that can be related to the identity of a tribe, the status of the wearer and even their achievements. It can be said that the weaves of Nagaland are a cultural expression for the weaver and wearer alike.
Hand loom weaving is one of the largest family based traditional industries of Nagaland. There is a vast number of products matching with varied culture, languages and dialects. Among many Naga tribes, the origin of spinning and weaving is believed to be associated with supernatural beings inspiring them to invent the art of weaving. Weaving in Nagaland is done exclusively by women, unlike other parts of India, using a loin loom. This type of loom is cheap, portable and can be operated by a single woman.
Origins of Weaving
Creating textiles at home has been a traditional activity for the tribes for generations, passed over from mother to daughter. Weavers depending on their weaving skill fit into different ranks in society. It was also viewed as feminine. Naga girls expressed their love and care for their beloved by presenting them with woven products. Skills in weaving was one of the criteria used in the selection of mates for marriage. Thus, the act of weaving had an entire social system built around it and was considered pivotal in socialization.
Although loin loom device is simple, sophisticated designs and motifs made by it have symbolic meanings. The designs are hard earned. The traditional Naga attires employed feathers, cowries and other shells, bamboo, bone, beads, fur, ivory, red-dyed goat’s hair and different types of native textiles. In every Naga tribe, there are also certain shawls which mark rank and status. There are also some special motifs that were used only in these special shawls of high societal status such as the elephant, which was a symbol for strength, abundance and prosperity.
Each traditional motif has a cultural tradition and story to tell relating to the social and traditional heritages. The motifs were a mark for a person’s success in life, wealth, history of offering feasts of merit and participation in raids. Thus, the motifs created by the loin loom all were symbolic. Examples of this include motifs used by Chakhesang women, including a spear (symbolised bravery especially during war), diamond (Also called Khunyopi, symbolised aesthetic beauty and auspicious things), Nu kongra (V shape, symbolised war weapon) and flesh (Symbolised death).
Today, despite hardships, loin loom weaving is still practiced by women even though they have had to switch to cheaper yarns such as acrylic, rayon, polyester due to economic compulsions. The weavers have also started creating products for outside markets in their spare time for earning supplemental income. This has given women a new opportunity to also look at it as a professional practice using their traditional skills to earn supplemental income and for younger women to adopt it a full -time occupation.
As part of its program for rejuvenation of Handloom Sector in India, Antaran has chosen to look at the loin loom weaving traditions. Clusters are being identified, in Nagaland and beyond, to start the process of reviving the traditional processes, involving the younger generation and begin an educational process of honing/learning weave techniques, design and enterprise development for loin loom weave craft. Given the cultural significance of weaves in the region, the first intervention will begin with Phek and Yoruba districts, given their proximity to Dimapur and easier accessibility to markets.
4. Gopalpur, Odisha
Situated on the banks of Brahmani river as one of the leading Tussar producing clusters in India, the Gopalpur (Jajpur) cluster is about 400 years old and is linked with the great saint Shri Chaitanya. It is known that lord Chaitanya visited Puri, Odisha from Nadia, West Bengal during the 16th century. Thousands of his followers also accompanied him and this was believed to be the largest religious journey during that period. When Shri Chaitanya returned, many devotees from Guin and Gauda community from Bardhaman, West Bengal stayed back in Gopalpur and continued their weaving profession. Weavers in Gopalpur had been weaving cotton fabrics till 1972. A super cyclone in 1972 changed the landscape of weaving in the cluster due to destruction of looms and houses on the one hand and brought about an increase in wages and yarn prices on the other. This is when an export company stepped in and provided low cost but superior quality Tussar yarns to the skilled weavers of Gopalpur, facilitating an adaption that now renders remarkably beautiful Tussar sarees.
Gopalpur Tussar Fabrics
The craft received the Geographical Indication tag by the Government of India in 2009. Gopalpur is known for its production of different tussar fabrics like sarees, scarves, stoles, dhoti, joda, shirting, chaddar etc. Fabrics are designed in tussar and gheecha and enhanced with an extra weft technique. Products are also made with different blends of tussar - cotton, tussar - eri and tussar - mulberry. One of the artisanal skills associated with Gopalpur craft is their use of hand spun and hand reeled yarns which is done mostly by the female artisans of the family.
5. Venkatagiri, Andhra Pradesh
It is said that the weaving at Venkatagiri first originated over 300 years ago and was patronized by the Velugoti dynasty. A group of about 40 weavers were supported by the Velugoti dynasty for the exclusive purpose of weaving dhoti and turbans made-of soft cotton, with sophisticated embroidery to the Royal family. Gradually, the weavers started moving into saree making which was exclusively made for the queens, royal women and other zamindaris. Venkatagiri was also known as “Kali Mili. It is famous for its Handloom Cotton and Silk Sarees, currently having an active weaver population of 2500. Venkatagiri Handloom Sarees Apex Soc was the applicant for the GI-Venkatagiri Sarees.
Zari and Jamdani Weaves from Venkatgiri
The distinctive feature of a Venkatagiri saree is big Jamdani motif of peacock, parrot, swan, mango or leaf in the pallu. The fine weaving and unique zari designs of the sarees made them the preferred choice of royalty in Andhra Pradesh. Jala mechanisms were used to impart motifs through extra weft techniques. Jacquard mechanism is more prominent now a day. They are usually of six yards and are suitable for all climates. The workmanship of Venkatagiri sarees primarily adopts, a bold ribbon of zari as border, and in the pallu of the sari, with traditional peacock, swan, parrot, mango, butti, leaf and gold coin designs interspersed all over the saree in zari or thread. It is believed that no other variety of cotton saree incorporates the amount of elaborate zari work as in the Venkatagiri sarees.
6. Nalbari, Assam
Nalbari, means a place of reeds which signifies its importance as a major textile hub. It was referred to as the doors of Bhutan in earlier times. This region is famous for its Sanskrit schools, Buddhist & Hindu temples. The area is predominantly inhabited by Bodo Tribes, General Assamese and Muslims. respectively .The southern and eastern side of the district is bounded by Kamrup district.
Located at the base of the eastern Himalayas in Assam on the north bank of Brahmaputra, Nalbari is a perfect getaway to explore the wilderness of nature with its vast Paddy fields and dense forests. Situated close to Saulkuchi, Nalbari is a hub for weaving.
The motifs are mostly imitation of nature and Assamese traditional objects like the Jaapi, Pokhila, Joonbiri, Kaziranga style and Kalki (Paisley). The material culture mainly revolves around Mulberry, Cotton, Eri, and Zari.