On the road to revival
On rainy Bombay afternoons, tired of having nothing to do, my mother goes through her sarees. It’s a habit I picked up too, for daughters grow into the silhouettes of their mothers, and mine is often draped in nine yards. Her sarees are segregated - chiffon and georgette separated from the silks and the cottons. One bundle, firmly secured in a piece of my grandmother’s old cottons, remains elusively out of reach - the handloom saris She insists on opening those herself. My mother’s protectiveness for the artisan-sourced handmade drew me to Shrenis, but it was only when I started working with artisans who weave these sarees that I truly realized the value of it.
As a 20-something in today’s fast-fashion world, I don’t have the opportunity to appreciate the depth of handloom - its rich tradition and exquisite process. The history and complexity of the art are drowned out by commercial noise. So, when my team introduced me to our handloom revival project in Kodiyala, I was eager to learn more.
The initial conversations surrounding Kodiyala were alien to me. As I write this, I can sift through the excitement that our team brought back from the field and look at the importance of what happened.
The Kodiyala Experience
Having never been to Kodiyala myself, I rely on my teammates to draw scenes from the field. Nithin was the first to talk about its history. He says, “The Royal family of Mysore invited members of the Padmashali weaving community from present-day Andhra Pradesh to settle near Mandya, KA.” This was around 200 years ago, after which many more weaving families arrived. According to the people, they wove silk sarees for the royal family which impressed them greatly. The royal family then built a house for the head weaver.
He adds further, “On one of my visits, I was fortunate to be invited into the home of one of the weaving families. The house itself was over 100 years old, with enough space to accommodate 100 handlooms. We met an old woman living there, whose family had served the Kodiyala Setu.”
The local kuladevaru ‘Bhavana Maharishi’, is said to be a weaver himself and is worshipped by the weaving community. They also worship ‘Badrati Devi’, and conduct pujas for the two deities every year, on the auspicious day of Dussehra. The deep roots of the profession, therefore, have permeated to every aspect of their socio-cultural and religious identity.
Anupamaa, an associate at Shrenis, observed - “We saw old Tanjore paintings in the older houses, where deities were wearing robes with motifs still seen in the Kodiyala sari.” The Kodiyala sari that we see today came from a trader who wanted to attract customers. The inspiration for the design came from the traditional handloom silk saris (almost a century old) and was applied to different raw materials. And thus, the quintessential Kodiyala Sari was born.
Almost everyone in Kodiyala has some connection to handloom either through family or profession. Of the 150 families that used to practice handloom weaving in the near past, only 20-30 families continue the tradition today. Others have shifted to power loom or other professions.
The Road To Revival
Without the strong will of the weaving community to move back to handloom under the right conditions, Shrenis would not have been able to conceptualise the Revival and Training program. While planning our interventions, and expanding our conversations with the weavers, one refrain that they used frequently was stuck in our minds - “If you can guarantee that handloom will pay us, we are ready to leave the power loom right now.” It is the power of this statement that led us to planning tech and design interventions along with the enthusiastic weavers of Kodiyala. Anupamaa puts it succinctly - “There was already a will to bring back handloom in the community, we were just filling the gaps.”
The Kodiyala Revival and Training Program is aimed at reviving not just the traditional Kodiyala sari, but the age-old practice of handloom weaving itself. With the help of ‘Jyeshthas’ (elders) leading the team, we planned new designs, motifs, and an upgrade to the looms. We’ve also set up looms where women of the community can be trained to pursue their traditional craft too. (This came shortly after a visit where the women approached our team and said that if they were provided training, they would love to be a part of the project!) These women are being trained in two batches this year, by master weavers of the community.
It was never a question of Shrenis “saving” the community - it always was, and always will be about the honour and joy that the weavers themselves take in their profession, and acting as a medium to bring focus, attention, and respect to their work. Slowly, we aim to assist the community in becoming fully self-sustainable, get fair returns on their labour, and become independent. These are all steps in bringing back the pride that the weavers take in their work and making sure that the world sees their craft with the love and respect it deserves- the way my mother taught me to and the way we do at Shrenis.
Our sources for this article are the discussions we’ve had with the people of Kodiyala. They have generously let us into their lives, and we have been enriched by their experiences. To continue with us on our journey, stay tuned to this space.
To support our program at Kodiyala, shop for the traditional collection here.