Having lived in Hyderabad for a major part of my life, visiting Pochampally was always on the agenda, given my undying love for handlooms and ethnic weaves. However, it was always one of those elusive trips that somehow never seemed to materialise. But the plan remained firmly harboured within me. Hence, when I visited the city of the Nizams recently, decades after leaving it, I made sure I realised this ‘dream’ of mine.
At a distance of just under 50 km from Hyderabad, this quaint village is located in Nalagonda district, Telangana state. Easily accessible by road that is surrounded by scenic hillocks and rocks on both sides, Boodhan Pochampally, as it is also known, can be reached in about 90 minutes. As we drove past the Ramoji Film Studios and a beautiful lake with some lovely avian species, my excitement was palpable as I knew our destination was close.
The fact that this little village was the launch pad for Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement is definitely an interesting and significant piece of trivia. It was a movement by the great leader wherein wealthy landlords gave up part of their lands for the welfare of the landless and peasants of the village. One of the ancient centres of the traditional ikat fabric along with Gujarat and Odisha, the village with its eclectic mix of tradition, culture, history and heritage is the perfect destination for the experiential traveller.
As you enter the village, the main road is dotted with numerous little shops (read unassuming showrooms) on either side retailing ikat fabric, saris and dress material. But before indulging in retail therapy, I headed straight to the Rural Tourism Complex which is an initiative of the Telangana Tourism Department. Set by the serene Pochampally Lake, also known locally as Pochampally Cheruvu, the complex has a museum and houses displays of the different kinds of looms, weaving and dyeing techniques. There are looms on display where you can watch the weavers work as they deftly move their hands while they spin the colourful threads into exquisite materials.
I just stared in amazement at the exclusive creations and intricate beauty of the single ikat mungi design, single ikat akshara design, double ikat onku design and chepa (fish) design. These designs are first meticulously drawn on graph paper and replicated with incredible precision on fabric. There are multiple rooms that depict the history of ikat, the contemporary adaptations of ikat and the traditional textiles of Pochampally. With a nominal entry fee, a visit to this complex is indeed an eye-opener into the lives of these talented craftsmen.
Dating back over a 100 years, the designs of Pochampally are characterised by their unique geometrical patterns that are woven in bright colours. Popularly known as tie and dye weave, the design and colour is transferred onto warp and weft threads and then woven together. Dyeing is done using the tie and dye technique in which the warp or weft or both are dyed. Given that the entire process is manual, the effort to produce a sari or length of fabric is humongous, to say the least.
Though the weavers from generations have retained the nuances of the craft while adapting to the changing preferences of customers, it was sad to note that the average income of a weaver who produces cotton saris was as meagre as Rs 8,500 a month while that of a silk weaver was as much as Rs 12,500. Understandably, the present lot of weavers are not very keen on the next generation taking this up for a living.
After this, we decided to take a stroll around the village whose streets exuded simplicity and tons of old-world charm. The houses have traditional doors that are brightly coloured and affixed with old-fashioned latches and locks that open directly onto the quiet desolate streets. Almost all households are involved in weaving and have the looms inside their humble abodes.
I visited a couple of houses wherein the inmates were more than willing to show us the designing and weaving process. Their welcoming nature was truly endearing. On speaking with the people here, I was given to understand that they are the last generation of their families to carry on this legacy and they rather prefer their children take up jobs in the service sector that are more lucrative and entail less manual effort. Many houses retail saris and fabric on a small scale while others supply to the showrooms in the village and bigger cities.
The government is also doing its bit to revive the tradition of ikat handlooms. The creation of the Pochampally handloom park that is proposed to be an integrated handloom textile designing, dyeing and weaving unit, spread over 24 acres, with an objective to promote ikat designing on the national and international platform, is a step in this direction. Other initiatives include the Integrated Handloom Cluster Development programme sponsored by the Ministry of Textiles.
A visit to Pochampally is sure to open your mind to a craft that is so intricate and yet is on its last leg wherein I realised that travel has its own meaning too.