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Home > Textiles in India > Textiles of South India > Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh

Sari Border WeavingChirala is a village near the coast of Andhra Pradesh, between the rail junction of Vijayawada and the city of Madras. Here were produced the square double-ikat clothes known as telia, or Asia, rumals. These were produced for the Muslim market (to be used mainly as head clothes by Muslim men), sold in what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh and exported to the countries of the Middle East, East Africa and to Burma. In Chirala, telia rumals were dyed with traditional alizarin dyes, which left an oily smell from which their name derives.

Designs were either geometrical or figurative, sometimes of clocks and airplanes. Today, the few surviving weavers supply local customers such as fishermen, who use the telia rumals as lungis, or as turbans. After the partition of India in 1947, the market for telia rumals in Pakistan and Bangladesh was lost, and in the second half of the twentieth century demand for them from the Middle East vanished completely.

Whereas, ikat weaving (known as chitka in Andhra Pradesh), is apparently in terminal decline in Chirala. It is flourishing in Pochampalli and surrounding villages.

Pochampalli is a large village about fifty-five kilometers from Hyderabad, the historic capital of Andhra Pradesh. According to the head of the society of co-operative weavers at Pochampalli, weaving there was originally dedicated to the production of plain dhotis and saris, with simple patterned borders. The weaving of telia rumals was then introduced, most probably from Chirala, and the techniques of ikat, once learned, were then applied to the weaving of saris, dupattas and yardage. Pochampalli uses only modern synthetic dyes, unlike Chirala, which still uses alizarin dyes.

Pochampalli and its surrounding villages have very active co-operatives and private master weavers. The main bulk of private sector production is of saris, and the co-ops produce both saris and yardage. Probably because of the comparative youth of the ikat industry, the Pochampalli weaving centres are some of the most outward looking of all traditional textile producers in India.

Kalamkari - The Art of Southern India
Kalamlkari WorkerThe Coromandal coast of India, stretching from Masulipatnam to the north down to Nagapatnam in the south, was historically the source of some of the most beautifully colored and delicately worked cotton fabrics produced and exported by India. Unlike the Gujarat area, the other great historic source of Indian export textiles, where printing with blocks was the main means of patterning, on the south-east coast dyes, mordants and resists were traditionally applied with a brush or pen. Figurative and floral designs of great fineness were possible using this method of drawing and painting.

The Europeans, whose main purpose was to obtain spices in South-East Asia, soon realized that the spice islanders were more interested in Indian cloth than in precious metals as a medium of exchange for their spices. Consequently, the European merchants began to use their limited stocks of gold and silver to buy in bulk the beautiful and inexpensive textiles of the southeast Indian coast. The ships would arrive from Europe, anchor in such ports as Masulipatnam for up to a year, fill up with cloth and then set out on the second leg of their three-part trip to pick up spices. If they could manage to get back to Europe safely, they would indeed make more than handsome profit.

Masulipatnam was then under the rule of the Shia Muslim Qutbshahi dynasty of Golconda (near modern Hyderabad) which had links with the Safavid of Persia. It was probably around this time that cloth from Masulipatnam started to be exported to Iran. The painted cloth of southeast India had been known as pintado by the Portuguese and chintz by the English. It was, however, the Persian link that gave the painted clothes the name of kalamkari, by which they have been known in India from medieval times to the present day. Kalam is a Persian word, meaning pen, and kari means work.

Due to dietary changes in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was a decline in the European demand for spices. This led to less dependence on salted meat as a winter staple; and so the English, French and Dutch East India companies began flooding the European market with cottons of bright and fast colors. The Europeans, hitherto restricted to a narrow range of fugitive colors, had such an appetite for this new material that from the mid-seventeenth century through most of the eighteenth; European demand kept the kalamkari workers of the coast at full stretch.

Around the mid-nineteenth century, printing blocks were introduced, and from then on very little freehand kalam drawing was done. Large figurative kalamkari wall hangings for both the foreign and domestic markets were formerly made at Pulicat, near Madras, and Palakollu, near Masulipatnam.

The small temple town of Sri Kalahasti in the extreme southeast corner of the modern state of Andhra Pradesh only became an important center for kalamkari in the nineteenth century.

Local legend has it that a kalamkari worker from Nellore, who was partial to drink, was plied with liquor for days until he had divulged all his secrets. Be that as it may, Kalahasti was well placed for kalamkari work, as it lay on the river Swarnamukhi, which was favorable for dyeing operations and could enjoy the great patronage of the famous temple town of Tirupati.

Kalamkari DesignThe kalamkari workers of Kalahasti worked under the patronage of local temples, which demanded strongly figurative and narrative components, with all the different gods and goddesses and accompanying figures. Certainly there is a religious color code for the decoration of kalamkari clothes - all gods are blue, female characters are golden yellow, bad characters and demons are red. This free style of pictorial expression called for the use of the kalam. Its minimal use of repeats was never suited to block work.

Production at both Masulipatnam and Kalahasti fell into steep decline at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1924, Persia prohibited the import of Indian kalamkari. The period from 1924 up to Independence and beyond saw the near disappearance of the industry at Masulipatnam. At the same time, at Kalahasti, temple patronage declined and the local landlords lost wealth and powers of patronage. In 1952, kalamkari was revived at Masulipatnam at the instigation of some local textile lovers and with the aid of the All India Handicrafts Board, the kalamkari, as used and made in Iran, was taken as a model. The use of indigo was eschewed, as the painting on the wax resist was so time-consuming. A minimum of color was used, with an emphasis on the filling-in of fine details with a kalam after the pattern had been block printed.

In Kalahasti, in 1958, the All India Handicrafts Board set up a training course and school for kalamkari workers, drawing on the skills of the few remaining workers. Production in Masulipatnam is now aimed mainly at the domestic market and in Kalahasti at the foreign
tourist market.

Banjara Embroidery
Banjara Wedding ShawlThe Banjaras are a tribe of north Indian origin, who moved south into the Deccan plateau during the seventeenth century in the baggage train of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The Banjaras had to abandon their ancestral profession due to the British railway- building during the nineteenth century. They now live in small villages called tandas throughout the Deccan plateau, and work mainly as casual laborers. Banjara women always wear their finest clothes and jewelry, even when doing hard manual labor on building sites or breaking up stones for public roads.

Banjara embroidery is noted for its lively decoration cowry shells, coins, cotton and woolen tassels weighted with lead and glass beads and mirror-work are all used to adorn their textiles. The Banjara women of Andhra Pradesh wear gaghras, cholis and odhnis in bold applique and mirror work; subtler is the work of the Banjara of Madhya Pradesh and adjoining areas in Maharashtra and Karnataka. The Banjara to be found in Malwa and Nimar districts of Madhya

Jalgaon produce beautiful work made up of squares and rectangles of cross and stem stitch contained within a grid laid out in closely worked herring-bone stitch. Designs are either geometric or angularly zoomorphic. The most common articles produced are the square, tasselled rumals (kerchiefs) edged with cowries, which are used for presentations at ceremonies and in ceremonial dances; purses (batua) for money or areca nuts; and cholis, gaghras and odhnis are also embroidered.

Banjara Waist BandOther Banjaras make beautiful, quilted rumals, bags and purses, usually on brown or sometimes blue cloth. Patterning is sometimes confined to quilting stitches, but more usually cotton threads are laid on in contrasting geometric patterns, and then couched down. Further south, the Banjara work is done using woolen or cotton thread and a great repertoire of stitches. These are used to make bags, purses, waist bands and a rectangular piece of embroidery edged with cowry shells, which hangs down from a head ring called an indhoni on which the women balance pots of water.

Eastern and southern India both have very strong weaving traditions. In common with other parts of India, in many of the villages the weavers produce simple handloom fabrics for the needs of the rural population. Regardless of whether the weaver lives in Bihar or Tamil Nadu, he will be weaving cloth for the same purpose for saris and shawls, dhotis and lungis. The colors and style of embellishment of these textiles are dictated by climatic and cultural factors, and in areas, which heretofore had rich and courtly patrons, sophisticated, textiles of complex technique and design have evolved over the centuries from the original, simple style.

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