This is part of our series The Great Indian Textile Trail
Back in the 90s and early 2000s, every other week, a middle-aged man with a huge neatly piled stack of sarees used to come to my house in Hyderabad where I grew up. He would open his stack, neatly spread them all out on the carpet of my living room and slowly explain to my grandmother about where he bought all these sarees from; and my grandmother in turn would pick out the best ones for herself, her children and her sisters while I looked on with great interest. This is where my passion for handloom began.
Over the years, fast fashion and power looms have overtaken the market but my love for handlooms and indigenous textiles have only grown. On my travels, I always try to find and buy authentic handloom of the particluar state. Here are some of the authentic handlooms from Andhra Pradesh you should look out for when you visit.
Located in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Pedana is 10km from the district headquarters Machilipatnam, and 2.5 hrs from Vijayawada by road. The second you enter this little hamlet, you'll know what's special about the place. It is home to the ubiquitous and my favourite textile design: Kalamkari; and this becomes evident very soon because every house in the village has a Kalamkari cloth curtain blocking its entrance.
The design on the cloth is made by printing with vegetable dyes and these dyes are essentially available only in basic colous: red, black and blue. However, more colours are being bled into the cloth now. The cloth itself is first dyed in a basic colour, dried out under the sun and block printing is done on it later. The designs tend to be small motifs of flowers, leaves, etc.
Where to buy: Pedana Kalamkari is the most easily available textile in India. However if you want to avoid the fake ones produced in power looms (which is almost everywhere due to the huge demand for this cloth), make a trip to Pedana and you won't regret it. Here, you can walk into any workshop-cum-home and ask the warm people to show you the process of the cloth dyeing and printing, and then head to the main road to buy the cloth from among the umpteen shops that flank the road - Varlakshmi, Srinivasa, and Devi to name a few. The Andhra Pradesh State Emporium in various parts of the country also sells original Kalamkari.
Pro-tip: The easiest way to tell power loom Kalamkari from the original one is by the softness of the cloth and the bleed. The cloth used in the original is a soft cotton that feels very comfortable to touch and easy to fold. The power loom one is rough and stiff; and the design bleeds more in the original cloth.
Sri Kalahasti Kalamkari
Kalamkari's lesser-known but more marvellous, colourful, expensive and vibrant cousin is the hand-painted Kalamkari from Sri Kalahasti, a village near Tirupati in southern Andhra Pradesh. Here, artisans take months together to paint beautiful designs, mostly of gods or scenes from Hindu mythology, in vibrant colours, and over cotton and silk sarees and dupattas.
Where to buy: The Srikalahasti Kalamkari is much harder to find when compared to the Pedana one. In Srikalahasti, there is a Kalamkari Research and Training Centre that you can visit. There are also stores such as Chittibabu Arts & Crafts and Chakri Kalamkari that sell the cloth. Elsewhere in Delhi, there is a permanent stall (which changes place every 15 days) in Dilli Haat that sells sarees with beautiful Kalamkari designs on Mangalagiri cloth. The Surajkund mela also hosts artisans who bring the Srikalahasti Kalamkari.
The true care of address of cotton sarees in Andhra Pradesh, Mangalagiri is a small town in the Guntur district, and the handloom sarees made here are eponymously named. The Mangalagiri cotton often comes in double colours, with a thin border (which is generally golden; although many newer colours exist now). The town is home to a Laxmi Narasimha Swamy temple which has one of the longest gopurams. On the locally produced Mangalagiri saree, this gopuram design is replicated on the borders, while the rest of the saree generally remains plain. Weavers adopt the pit loom technique (where they sit inside the pit dug inside the ground while the rest of the apparatus is on ground) to make these sarees.
Where to buy: Like Kalamkari, Mangalagiri is also easily available, if not to the same extent. Mangalagiri town has several workshops and stores selling the loom. Dhanalaxmi, a store near Masjid road in Mangalagiri is one of the best stalls to buy this loom. Andhra Pradesh Emporiums, Nalli's, and other such famous stores across the country stock this cloth, as do places such as Dilli Haat in well, Delhi. The Andhra Bhavan in New Delhi is another great place to buy Mangalagiri sarees and dress materials.
Uppada and Peddapuram
Ask any handloom connoisseur in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana what they think of when they first hear the words Uppada and Peddapuram, almost all of them will say ‘exuberant and colourful’. Undoubtedly, the sarees that are woven in one of the most picturesque and friendly regions of Andhra Pradesh, in a sense, reflect the beauty of their surroundings and the warmth of their people. Uppada and Peddapuram are two small towns located in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, which is characterised by endless groves of coconut trees, backwaters of the Godavari river, and various shades of green, all making it one of the most fertile lands in the country known for rice cultivation. The people are cheerful and its handloom comes in bright shades of pinks and purples woven in silk. The weavers often dip silk thread in gold to create the intricate zari of the saree, which is otherwise known for its geometric patterns on the rest of its body.
Where to buy: Again, the best place to buy these sarees is in these towns itself. Many weavers make these sarees in their houses and will be more than ready to show you the process. They also directly sell these sarees from their homes for a much more economical price than is available in bigger stores in Hyderabad or other cities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Cotton and Khadi
Dharmavaram in southern Andhra Pradesh, and Chirala and Venkatagiri near Nellore, are famous for cotton sarees. Ponduru, in Srikakulam district, is renowned as the land where the finest khadi is woven, so much so that even Mahatma Gandhi is said to have preferred khadi from here.
Where to buy: You can buy most of these sarees from the towns itself or from the many saree shops in Vijayawada, Visakhapatanam, Hyderabad and other cities in the twin states.