What is common to the Patolas, the coveted sarees from Patan, Gujarat, and the Pochampallys that come from the eponymous village of what is Telangana today. Obviously it is the tie-and-dye technique one would say but it is also a story of migrations. If the Salvis from South India moved to Patan to make fresh silk Patolas for the king, two brothers Malliah and Venkiah from the traditional weaving community of Padmasalis moved from Chirala to Pochampally. Patolas, then as well as now is a matter of all silk, “pattu” as the name itself is supposed to indicate. Pochampallys were woven only in coarse cotton to begin with, as silk was added much later.
Above left: Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampally Ikat weave sari, by Hermann Linde (1863-1923). Pictures courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The story of migrations of weavers as perhaps art guilds across the country in ancient and medieval times is fascinating. While Patan has records of its Patola heritage from 11th – 12th centuries CE, Andhra Pradesh doesn’t seem to have that. One of the earliest evidences of migration is from the 5th century Mandasor pillar inscription that records silk weavers guild from Lata, Gujarat who migrated to Mandasor and built a temple dedicated to Sun. Movement of weavers within and outside the country established Ikat as a well-known and widely practiced craft from the eastern coast of Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, and on the west in Gujarat.
Also read Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective
“Some of the weavers claim to have originally migrated from Saurashtra, and settled in Chirala, which formerly produced the finest weft Ikat in the form of rumals used by rich Muslims,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai in “Patolas and Resist-dyed Fabrics of India’.
Writing for the ‘The Journal of Indian Textile Industry’, in 1955 the veritable Pupul Jayakar says it was forty year ago that the brothers migrated from Chirala, already famous for the variety of fabrics called Telia Rumal. Telia Rumals, literally indicating the process the yarn goes through soaked in oil and the square cloth or the handkerchief. Telia Rumals with chowkas, diamond within a square patterns woven in cotton, was a famous export from the eastern coast to Arabia and beyond. They were made typically in three colours, white, black and red with geometric patterns and a single colour wide borders.
Though Pochampally is a name that is generally used for all the Ikat that comes from Telangana today, it came to Pochampally, a small village in Nalgonda district only by the turn of 20th century. It soon spread across several mandals, covering many places like Puttapakka that makes intricate designs in double Ikat and Koyyalagudem that specializes in upholstery and bed spreads.
Chirala’s Telia Rumals served the nobility as well as the fishermen. The cotton square cloths served as basic clothing and the royalty used the embroidered and Ikat woven with gold as dupattas. How then did they transform to full six-yard sarees is an interesting story.
It is believed that All India Handicrafts Board helped the weavers of Pochampally revitalize their craft of weaving Ikat sarees. But, writer Renuka Narayanan gives a dramatic account in Hindustan Times – “Nobody knew of Pochampally until Kamaladevi (Chattopadhyay), a wet towel tied over head in a trick learnt from Bapu, drove through scorched Andhra countryside to track down weavers. The first three saris together cost Rs. 120”. So, the doyen of crafts, textiles and heritage had a hand in bringing us the Pochampallys. During Jayakar’s time itself she records around 150 weavers practicing Ikat weaving at Pochampally village. Today it has grown exponentially and all of Nalgonda district is humming with the sound of looms.
As per the geographical indication (GI) tag application, Pochampally comes from at least 40 villages within a 70 km radius of Hyderabad, capital of Telangana, in the adjoining districts of Nalgonda, and parts of Warangal, including Pochampally, Koyalagudam, Puttapakka, Elanki and Chautupal where Ikat textiles are woven. “In these villages, Ikat weaving is a way of life, with every member of a family from child to grandparent, being involved at one stage or another,” says the GI application of Pochampally Weavers Associations.
Pochampally Ikat or resist dyeing, involves the sequence of tying (or wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined colour scheme prior to weaving. Thus the dye penetrates into the exposed section, while the tied section remain un-dyed. The patterns formed by this process on the yarn are then woven into the fabric.
Pochampally Ikats can be single Ikat or double Ikat – single Ikat involves tying and dyeing either the warp or weft before weaving, double ikat means tying and dyeing both the warp and weft according to predetermined patterns and colours and then painstakingly matching them on the loom manually, a complex and time consuming process. There is also a combined Ikat where there are portions of warp Ikat, and weft Ikat and at places where the warp Ikat and weft Ikat overlap.
With the popular demand for Pochampally increasing, weavers started getting silk from Bangalore and zari from Surat to produce silk Ikats. They added to their repertoire of designs, traditional motifs like parrot, elephant, and flowers. Pochampally weavers also experimented with jacquards and dobby techniques that is reflecting in the hybrid Pochampally with Kanchipuram border sarees in the market.
“Today Patolas of Patan are imitated fairly successfully … The basic difference between the double Ikat weaves of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the Patola of Gujarat is that the Patola uses eight-ply silk while the imitations do not,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai. Though the copying of Patola designs continue at Pochampally, the weavers and their craft go much beyond the mere imitations.
Copies they do, but the issue is also how some traders are taking copies of Patola made in Pochampally for comparatively lower price of Rs. 30-35,000 and selling it up to even a lakh. If this copy of Patola at Pochampally for a lower price is bad, worse is the fakes that are passing of as Ikats in many cities, as gullible buyers won’t be able to differentiate the Ikat prints passed off as Ikat weave. This is killing the Ikat weave and its trade – a connoisseur had recently mentioned how a printed copy of fake Ikat look alike on a shiny material sells for as low as Rs. 900/- in the markets of faraway Kolkata. A word of caution, always look out for the handloom mark and silk board mark on the fabric you buy as it is a stamp of authenticity and ensures you a verified product.
Today, at Pochampally an invention that has brought a lot of pride and if followed to convenience to weavers is the ‘AsuLaxmi Machine’. Born in the family of traditional Pochampally weavers, Chinthakindi Mallesham won the 2015 Kamala Award for Contribution to Crafts in 2015 and Padma Shri in 2017. One of the processes involved in making of Pochampally sarees is the process of yarn winding called as “Asu” that involved 9000 arm movements consuming 5 hours for a single saree. Mallesham who used to watched his mother go through the painstaking Asu process created the AsuLaxmi Machine which in a day can prepare yarn for six sarees with little labour involved.
The AsuLaxmi Machine. Refer the following website for more details
While the industry is picking up, the issues that the Pochampally weavers face are grave especially that of low wages. Younger generation has moved on to other jobs. Second, an inability to price the products for if they stick to the old practice of using locally treated yarn rather than all falling for the mercerised yarn the price is going to be steeper. For instance the Telia Rumal is made from a distinct quality of yarn that comes from the treatment of it in oil. Today, this practice is unviable and just one master craftsman accepts it on order and the price naturally hits the roof. Telia Rumal is still available on order, but the ones that are made of mercerised cotton.
Whether it is the advent of swift powerlooms or the profuse availability of mercerized cotton, until we do not value a handmade product and the skill and artistry involved, we will loose an invaluable piece of our rich cultural heritage.
Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer
Pochampally is not only a name famous for textiles but has an important place in the post independence history of the country. Bhoodan Pochampally, as the place is referred to comes from the Bhoodan Movement. It was at Pochampally in 1951, Vedire Ramachandra Reddy voluntarily donated 100 acres of land to Vinoba Bhave and began a movement that would leave a permanent mark on the social consciousness of the country. Thus was created Bhoodan Pochampally.
Author – Vaijayanthi Chakravarthi
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org