Reza – Journey from the Indus Valley to a Fashion House

The history of weaving in Haryana is as old as the Indus valley civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Haryana have been growing cotton for several millennia and spinning yarn for making cloth. The skills for preparing many types of cloth by weaving and dyeing the cotton yarn continued to be refined for several centuries. However, the basic tools of weaving and the Kargha or crude weaving machine have remained unchanged until a century ago. In spite of British influence on weaving in India that changed the scenario to great extent, the rural weaver continued to operate his old frame (four and six pedal loom) and weaved a traditional kind of cloth popularly known as ‘Reza’, a purely organic product of the Indian soil.

Old woman on Charkha (spinning wheel) preparing yarn

Little is known about the origin of the word ‘Reza’, but a large number of people in the rural area wore various kinds of apparel made from this fabric until the mid-1900s CE. Everyone was familiar with ‘Reza’ as a coarse cloth woven by the village weaver directly from raw cotton. The women of the family would do the ginning, spin fine yarn and provide it to the village weaver who would then weave the cloth as per the requirement of the family whether for preparing wearable garments or for other household and agricultural purposes.

 

An 80 years old slung bag made from Reza cloth used by Jogis to collect alms
A 80 years old jhola or bag used by jogis to collect alms made from Reza fabric

 

 

A 'Khes' ade from home supn yarn
A ‘khes’ made from home spun yarn

 

Due to impact of industrialization and people taking to other professions in Haryana, many started discarding the coarse cloth and instead preferred mill manufactured cloth. For nearly five decades since the 1950s, the people of Haryana had nearly forgotten if such a cloth as Reza ever existed and confined most of the old garments prepared at home with this fabric to boxes in attic. It remained secure for decades until it was rediscovered a couple of years ago by Lalita Singh, convenor of Daksh, a group of fashion designers. Its revival has been nothing short of a miracle and the quality has not been compromised.

 

A fifty seventy years old shirt made from true Reza or Chausi cloth
57 years old shirt made from Reza or also known as Chausi fabric

 

Before introducing Reza, thorough research work with documentation was undertaken followed by recovering the old textiles – dyed as well as decorated, from the cupboards. Relics of information were gathered during conversation with several elderly weavers and traditional dyers. A home-based facility was set up at Bohar village adjacent to Rohtak town in Haryana for weaving of Reza.

 

Through constant research and veritable inputs, Lalita attained a level in skills to weave fine to coarse cloth and was able to produce Reza. After receiving her initial training in fashion designing, her new endeavor took her to take a quantum leap into textile manufacturing and apparel designing by exclusive induction of traditionally home spun yarn and Reza manufacturing. It could now be used for cutting edge marketing by manufacturing garments for every age group. As a special project, Lalita Singh imparted the skills of Reza manufacturing to the prison inmates in two districts –Rohtak and Jhajjar, for which she got instant support from the highest authorities in the government as well as the Jail Department.

 

Lalita at her six pedal loom
Lalita at her six pedal loom

 

In the preliminary phase various kinds of cotton grown in Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were tried for manufacturing Reza. When the trial period was over, it emerged that the long fiber and color of the white cotton obtained from Western Madhya Pradesh was best suited for its enduring quality and sheer strength of yarn. The cloth that acquired a distinct color could also be dyed to yield dull but soothing shades in blue, red and green. Nevertheless, her designing skills and enthusiasm have led to test brown or Khaki colored natural cotton for weaving designs and patterns into weaved cloth i.e. Reza. May be next cloth would be all naturally Khaki. Lalita cautions that ‘Reza’ should not be compared or branded as ‘Khadi’.

 

Hand supn cotton yarn -dyed in organic azure blue earth color (left) and yarn spun with natural brown cotton
cotton yarn dyed in shades of azure and earth

 

Reza manufactured at Lalita’s facilities – whether at home or in Jail premises, can endure seasonal variations in temperature and withstand moisture to last a decade at least, provided how many times a garment is used and washed in a proper medium. Its thermal efficiency is better than cloth manufactured in a modern cloth mill.

Her fame led many an eminent personalities in the department of Justice, Police, public administration and patrons to opt for Reza garments and customized apparels. The garments prepared with Reza cloth can be embroidered with raw silk or woollen threads with folk motifs handpicked from a rich tradition of decorative textile designs of Haryana and north India.

 

Apparel designed by Lalita and hand crafted in embroidery by a woman of Bohar village -on Reza
Apparel deigned by Lalita and hand embroidered by a woman of Bohar village

 

In September 2017, Reza made apparel was introduced at the New York Fashion Week by Lalita’s group Daksh. It was a rare occasion when an ancient Indian textile was rolled out on an international fashion platform. It was much appreciated and loved by all. This has led to Daksh launching various ensembles and collection of apparel made from Reza fabric. The future of Reza now looks as bright as the full moon.

The story of revival of Reza is not of personal triumph alone but also of public – private partnership where all played their roles perfectly.

 

Author – Ranbir Singh Phogat

He can be contacted at rsphaugat@live.in

    

Pochampally Ikat – A Journey

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

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.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

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.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

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.

handloom mark

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.

asulaxmi

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.

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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.

Also watch this video

 

Author – Vaijayanthi Chakravarthi

She can  be contacted at vaiju7@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective

There is an old Gujarati proverb on the Patola that goes something like this – “PADI PATOLE BHAT, FAATE PAN FITE NAHI”. This roughly translates to ‘ The design laid down in patola shall never fade even when the cloth is torn.’

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A Patola Pattern

With a guarantee of lasting close to 100 years and a design that can be worn any side, Patan’s famous Patola are no wonder a prized possession, a wedding trousseau essential, a heirloom and definitely one of the finest silk sarees of our country. It is the only form of the painstaking double ikat weave available in the world!

Some Common Patola Designs

One of the oldest forms of textile weaving is ikat – a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles. The word ‘ikat’ is derived from the Malay-Indonesian word ‘mengikat’ which translates to ‘to tie’. Among the different forms of ikat, the most impressive and tedious to weave is the double ikat. Patola sari of Patan is one such example, which for nine centuries now has remained as a proud icon of Gujarati heritage.

Patola  Making  in  Process

According to a legend, Anhilwad Patan was founded by Vanraj Chavda in 746 CE. It was the capital of medeival Gujarat till early 15th century, until Ahmed Shah decided to shift the capital to Ahmedabad. Kumarpal was a Jain king and always wrapped fresh patola fabric while performing his daily prayer. The patola worn by Kumarpal was specially imported from South India. But one day, he was told that the patolas he draped around his body were impure as these were used by the king of Mugapatnam before sending them to Patan. Kumarpal got annoyed and immediately invited 700 Salvi families to Patan so that he could be assured of fresh fabric.

Geometrical Designs in Rani ni Vav and in Wooden Havelis  

Patola was a major trade item on all the trade routes and was also used as a high denomination currency by few. Historical sources suggest that among the Dutch merchants, Patola was a symbol of aristocracy and power because of its high price and exclusivity and used them during the 17th and 18th centuries AD for establishing trade posts in Surat and Ahmedabad. It is also referred to in the travel accounts of Ibn Batuta (14th century) and Tavernier (17th century). Ibn Batuta mentions that Sultan Ala Ud Din Khilji had received a patola from Deogiri, identified with modern Daulatabad in Maharashtra. Patola is also depicted in the murals at Mattancheri Palace in Kochi in 17th century CE. Indonesia, the birthplace of ikat, was a large importer of Gujarati patola till World War II.

The Salvi familes of Patan are well-known for their contribution to patola weaving. They were Jains originally belonging to the Digambara Sect in South India. After moving to Patan, they converted to Shwetambara sect. Though Patola weaving was exclusive to them, in recent years families from other communities too developed skills and expertise in the fine art of patola weaving. One such family are the Sonis which runs a studio-cum workshop under the brandname of Madhvi Handicrafts. Though a new entrant in the field, Mr. Sunil Soni, its founder has created a niche for himself as a master weaver, in a short span of 25 years. His relentless fight for patola’s revival ended after Patola received geographical indication (GI) for Patan. His work received a shot in the arm when his son Shyam, a software engineer by profession, left his lucrative job to join his father in promoting this exclusive art which is fast fading.

On my recent visit to Patan, I got a chance to interview Shyam. Do watch the video for more on the story of the saree, its varieties and the meaning of the symbols printed on it

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

The author can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com