Narayanpet – a small town in Telangana;
Dusty roads with decade old shops, rural women carrying the luggage bought in the local market on their head, men sitting in front of chai shop discussing the crops/business/politics and what not; Families waiting at the bust stop to travel back to their villages, government buses bringing people from neighboring villages to town. The town holds nothing much to attract the strangers visiting the town like most of the towns in rural regions of India.
Our team was little bit surprised to see the condition of the town as we had heard so much about the town and its history which dates back to 15th, 16th centuries. On the way, one by one started getting in our car, the last one who got in had to sit the lap of his friend, even though it was little bit uncomfortable we couldn’t say NO to the enthusiastic people who wanted to show us around the town.
We started conversing in Hindi and other people who didn’t know hindi were speaking in their native language telegu and someone started translating it to us. It took us three hours to search and decide on one person who could give us information about the once popular handloom hub of south India.
Before the big boom of powerlooms in Rabkavi banahatti, Narayanpet was filled with thousands of handlooms, at present hardly 400 handlooms are surviving in and around Narayanpet.
Narayanpet sarees have a checked surface design with embroidery and the border or pallu have intricate ethnic designs. The borders and pallu of the Narayanpet Silk saree are given a contrasted look with small zari designs, Narayanpet saree weaving is a unique process where eight sarees are made at one go on a loom. Thus instead of the standard 7 yards of fabric being mounted on the loom, 56 yards of Silk are mounted on the loom at a single time.
Sneak peek into weaver’s lives:
- Raw materials: Weavers purchase silk from Bangalore, cotton from Semandra, jari from Surat.
- Varieties of sarees: cotton, silk and sico (silk and cotton) with 2 inch to 12 inch border.
- Pricing: Rs500 to Rs3000
- Weaving time: 2 – 5 days
- Marketing cities/States: Tamilnadu, Bangalore, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Kolkata.
- Due to cheap import of silks predominantly from China and rise of power looms in Karnataka (Rabkavi and Banhatti), have led to closures of 10,000 or more handlooms leaving weavers in utter poverty.
- The grievances are: no subsidized electricity, raw materials or basic health cards.
- The ‘master weavers’ have taken over the designs, supply of raw materials and production control. They have become the ‘middlemen’, taking away the creativity and income from the weavers.
- The salary provided for the weavers at present ranges from Rs. 1200-11,000 according to the intricacies of the design. Averaging the income is about Rs. 6000/month.
- The Master weavers buy the saris from the weavers at rock bottom price and sell it at 600-1000% profit to the retailers, who jack their prices on top of it, leaving the weavers poor, curbing their future economic growth.
- Inadequate lighting leaves them blind by the age of 40.
- Frame looms let them at least stretch their legs every now and then. At present they are using pit looms that were used by their ancestors. There is no back support, and with new designs ‘Jaquard’ materials have to be loomed with heavier weights.
- Poor health care and malnutrition.
- No educational scholarships or support available from public or private.
- The master weavers also loan them money for their immediate needs, but deducts the amount with interest each month from their salaries, leaving them utterly poor.
- High illiteracy among the entire community.
- Poor sanitation and hygiene.
Gaatakatha is working hard towards improving the traditional weaving art by supporting the handloom weavers and trying to improve their economic growth in turn a better life for the weavers and their future generation.