A Brief Story of Handloom
The story of handloom isn’t something that can be traced through your usual methods of archaeological evidence but is one that has a past that details its growth over the years! The earliest humans used plant fibres and animal hide to cover and protect themselves from nature’s harsh conditions. With the invention of the wheel, humans soon realised that fibres spun through wheels, can be woven together to form protective cloth in beautiful patterns. Indian handspun cloth, through the famous Charkha, was soon a sought-after commodity across the globe. With a perceived history of over 5000 years, the Indian textile industry is a jewel on top of the nation’s crown. In more recent times, the rise in its popularity has to do with the Swadeshi movement during the struggle for independence. Mahatma Gandhi’s urge to be self-reliant and move away from the Manchester-spun cotton clothes led to a new interest in Khadi, a self-spun coarse cloth that was made in India.
With the investing interest in fast fashion and the growing population, the handloom industry has fallen behind and is thus a threatened tradition for all Indians. The overwhelming waste it generates in making these basic clothing is a necessary evil, as perceived by the industry. The skill and technique in creating something unique are no longer sought after for the painstaking effort it takes to make one. But, the genuine purpose of textile is lost in it. The role a piece of cloth plays in your life is no longer the protection it provides but is simply a symbol of your individuality and personal sense of carrying oneself. Handloom is the solution for the future where we each achieve to establish ourselves as leaders and individuals who are unique beings in this world.
Art and the Artisan
The spread of the handloom industry is in fact not limited to mainland India. With its ancient landscape being true to the history of the region, neighbouring regions of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, are also part of the handloom heartland. Bangladesh in fact is at the centre of the textile industry of the world, due to its skilled workforce and large population. In India, communities used to rely on weaver communities for their clothing needs. But since handloom industries have taken control over the indigenous Khadi-based industries and have been at the forefront of the premium Indian clothing industry. Handloom employs a range of materials to weave cloth into the beautiful styles of the various forms of hand-woven cloth. Silk, cotton and jute are the primary materials that are woven into the clothes that are much prevalent in the industry today. Weaving patterns and techniques differ again, based on the region from which the weavers come from. The traditional large loom is mostly used by weavers today with a few still using the Charkha to practise their trade.
Weavers in India, have their very own unique style and traditions, passed down through generations, from one weaver to another. Some of the styles include plain weave, twill and satin weave. In the subcontinent, the styles are differentiated based on the region of their origin. Paithani from Maharashtra, Bandhani from Gujarat, Kunbi from Goa, Muga Silk from Assam, Kullu Shawls from Himachal, Mysore and Kanchipuram silk from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively, Kalamkari from Andhra and Chanderi from Madhya Pradesh, are some of the traditional styles and techniques of Indian handloom industry.
Culture and Handloom
The history of handloom is woven into the fabric of Indian society. Its significance reigns supreme when it comes to its role in our festivals and events of cultural importance. Since its inception, handloom has always been at the forefront of a sustainable way of developing and maintaining the growing demand for our clothing needs. Without the need for heavy machinery or fuels that make them run, handlooms are an effective method of maintaining the ecology of the region. The intricate cultural importance of handloom in the essence of Indian society is another reason for its relevance in the modern world. From the gorgeous sarees worn on every occasion from Indian weddings to celebratory events of every religious event, handlooms are the very lifeblood of our culture. The smooth feel of the silk and the many fabric count of these clothes are major selling points of these beautiful fabrics. Albeit they come in various colours, patterns, and feels, handlooms create a special connection with every Indian. These weavers, with their unique ability to craft these gorgeous fabrics, are an integral part of our lives and are the focus point of a historical resurgence in its interest. Their role in making the textile industry an eco-friendly and sustainable space, capable of growth, is a special source of inspiration to all markets.
Handloom in Modern India
With a rich history of providing the basic necessities to the grandiose attires that made the Indian textile industry world-renowned, handloom is one of the crafts that face the onslaught of globalisation and industrialization. While the weavers have retained their history of skill and style, the public has moved further away from the handloom industry due to the availability of cheaper, simpler outfits. But, with the onset of a more ecologically conscious society, people have started to realise the potential and importance of handlooms. Clusters of handloom weavers are identified by the government and by supporting the industry, we work towards a better lifestyle for these artisans. Furthermore, these artists face discrimination and ridicule for their caste and face social prejudice due to their lower economic status. By encouraging the use of these fabrics, there can be a positive change in making the lives of these handloom artists better. Several agencies, some associated with the government and those that work independently, work closely with these communities, lobbying for their rights and several schemes that benefit these clusters. On course towards a better life, these communities are now being given the respect and love for their skill, that they clearly deserve. Handlooms, despite their slow rate of production, are the future.
Handloom and Tomorrow
An industry as old as civilization, handlooms are of immense importance to the lifeblood of the Indian economy. These small clusters of creators work in tandem with several sections of society and create a special bond that weaves a thread of cooperation through the country. Their relevance from a cultural standpoint makes for an innovative addition to their role in the world. But due to the lack of resources, the industry has faced a massive decline and is being reviewed with the efforts of several groups. As a collective system, we must strive to retain this heritage that has played a role in making our lives comfortable, stylish and easier.