Weaving a fabric of colours and shades

Weaving a fabric of colours and shades

In the bustling town of Gajendragad in Gadag district, Hemalatha Jain and her group of weavers are quietly reviving lesser-known sari weaves of Karnataka. “While I was working with the Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation, I came across a few saris that people shared which were no longer made. This made me realise that there were a lot of weaves missing and led me to take action,” says Hemalatha.

Thus, her journey into reviving many lost sari weaves began, particularly those that originated in North Karnataka. But, why this particular region? “When it comes to weaves of North Karnataka, many people only know of Ilkal saris. I really wanted to bring back lost crafts as there are a lot of weavers who do not have any weaving-related work, instead they are pursuing alternative careers to support themselves. Though the weavers have extensive knowledge about the craft, they do not have the right support,” says Hemalatha.

One of the first saris that she revived was the pattada anchu, the effort began in 2015. While records of the pattada anchu go as far back as the 10th century, Hemalatha came to know it from the weavers she worked with. To understand more about the sari and its history, she began doing extensive research into its past. Though it proved to be challenging, she was able to get the needed details to ensure that the pattada anchu weave can be revived. This was soon followed by the gomi teni in 2018, and the Hubbali sari earlier this year. But why were these particular saris revived? “These are some of the saris that were worn routinely by farmers. However, not many talk about these weaves today. This is why I decided to work on weaves that were dying due to lack of proper documentation,” says Hemalatha.

While doing so, she also contemporised it through a way of colour to not only generate interest but also to sustain production by using locally available resources, particularly cotton, for weaving. What’s more, she believes that each sari has a story to tell. “For example, the pattada anchus were gifted to the daughters on their wedding day. On the other hand, gomi teni was usually given to the daughters and daughters-in-law when they were pregnant as these saris were a sign of prosperity,” elaborates Hemalatha. The Hubballi sari is usually reserved for married women. Looking for weavers to work with her to revive some of these weaves proved difficult for Hemalatha. However, many came around after seeing that she had an interest to work with them on regular basis.

Enterprising endeavour

After a year of research with them, she established Punarjeevana, a trust, in 2014, which translates to ‘revival’ in Kannada. “I did not want to do it as an individual business venture, but as a collective effort which focuses on the overall development of everyone involved,” says Hemalatha. Beginning with one weaver, Punarjeevana today has 45 weavers, of which around 30 are women. With the saris now getting more popular, the weavers have become conscious of the growing demand and are willing to invest more time in weaving saris. Hemalatha often shares with the weavers the market trends and takes them to exhibitions in the city so as to provide them with an exposure to the market scenario.

As Punarjeevana flourished, so did the number of people who wanted to join. “Working with Punarjeevana has been fulfilling as we were able to learn and work on a distinct regional weave, popularise it and ensure that it is passed on to the next generation,” says Gowri, a weaver with Punarjeevana. By not only generating sustainable, gainful employment, Hemalatha hopes to create a meaningful debate around handloom weaves and revive more such weaves.