When Bengaluru’s The Registry of Sarees and a postgraduate in regenerative architecture created the revival project, Hosa Arambha
The story of the Padmashali community of Kodiyala, the weaving village in Karnataka’s Mandya district, isn’t too different from many others in India. Once patronised by royals (it is believed that in the 1750s, Tipu Sultan invited them over from Andhra Pradesh), their handwoven craft had given way to the lure of power looms, until only around four of the 400 families worked with hand looms. Then Kshitija Mruthyunjaya visited them early last year.
The architecture student had reached out to The Registry of Sarees, founded by entrepreneur and perfumer Ahalya Matthan, for her MA Design thesis, just when the Bengaluru-based research and curatorial platform was looking for someone to spearhead the revival of the traditionally minimal Kodiyala sari. Discussions with the weavers — and a collaboration with Shrenis Trust, an outfit that empowers artisanal communities through skill development and digital opportunities — has since seen a reclamation of the Padmashalis’ identity.
Of legends and looms
Having an architect at the helm has made a difference. Mruthyunjaya not only looked at reviving the textiles, but also the basic infrastructure needs and systems. “We approached the project in a 360° way. For example, spatially, can the weaver’s chair convert into a flat surface? They spend 10 hours a day doing physical labour and often complain of a backache,” she says.
What to expect
- Yali, the four-month-old online platform, showcases the commercial projects that evolve out of The Registry of Sarees’ research and documentation work. With plans to introduce a variety of saris, clothes and home textiles, it has several projects in the pipeline. Mruthyunjaya, its creative director, will be introducing Jayadhara cotton saris (as part of the Kodiyala project) soon, as well as Kandu, a collection of outerwear made from heirloom brown cotton.
For the product — shorn of the heavy ornamentation that had been adopted from neighbouring craft clusters — she went back to the original blueprint. Long conversations with master weavers Laksshmannraav and Sridhar revealed the storytelling behind their weaves. The Padmashalis believe they are descendants of Bhavana — a rishi (sage) who built a loom from his body parts and wove clothes for the gods from lotus threads that emerged from Lord Vishnu’s navel. So, for the first collection, Hosa Arambha (new beginning in Telugu), Mruthyunjaya took them back to their roots. Each of the seven new motifs created — such as the yagna (fire), maggam (loom), and kamalam (lotus stem) — is derived from the legend, and is further accented with the Telugu script, the language of the Padmashalis.
The collection features saris in indigo blue, madder red and conch shell white, with a plain body and intricately-woven motifs on its thin pallu. And each one is named after the flowers found in the village, such as Mallige (jasmine), Mandara (hibiscus) and Parijataamu (night flowering jasmine). What also caught my attention was how they championed the weavers’ story. Each of the 110 saris has a QR code woven into it, and when a buyer scans it, it pulls up all the information about the weaver, thus “initiating a conversation”.
Interestingly, the weavers have not only been involved in the design but are also part of its image building. The face of the campaign is Sridhar’s wife Mala, along with dancer and actor Rukmini Vijayakumar. Mruthyunjaya echoes the sentiments of all revivalists: “Weavers don’t need sympathy, they need their craft and skill to be celebrated.”
Plenty of challenges still remain. In the next phase, they hope to strengthen the ecosystem: increase the number of looms, invite more weavers and spinners to come back to the community, reinstate natural dyeing units (currently they use azo-free dyes), and introduce Ambar Charkha yarn (to replace the mill-made ones presently sourced from Salem). Most importantly, there will also be a renewed research commitment to sisal. The plant grows abundantly locally and, besides providing fibre for the fabric, it can be used to build a new kind of loom — one with more comfortable seats, bottle holders, and hooks to hang the weavers’ shirts. It is still a long ride into the future, but one that Mruthyunjaya and the weavers are looking forward to.
Saris between ₹5,998 and ₹7,140 on yali.store
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