India as a country is home to so many beautiful and rich handlooms and textiles. The country produces roughly 85 per cent of the world’s handwoven products, so we have the most diversity and depth in this sector.
"Our contribution to this landscape is unmatched. Each state has its own unique language and aesthetic signature. This makes us a powerhouse in this space and with a cultural legacy that is truly unparalleled today," designer Payal Khandwala told Outlook.
The art and craft of these handlooms and textiles have been handed over from one generation of weavers to another. It’s the need of the hour to help preserve the heritage and create platforms for our handlooms and craft net to flourish.
All of us Indians have to make a continuous and conscious effort to support and embrace ‘our handlooms’. India has always marvelled the world with its traditional crafts and hand-woven fabrics. Here is a look at what the designers have to say on National Handloom Day.
Designer Anavila Misra says, “It’s a pity that we have come to a stage where we are talking about revival but it's still not too late. While the handloom industry comes second to agriculture in terms of the number of people employed, just like agriculture the new generation in the craft clusters does not want to continue the family craftsmanship and tradition. The artisan families are shrinking and with them, the weaves, the techniques and the art is getting lost. Hence, it’s very important to revive the beautiful weaves and toys to make them commercially more viable for meaningful and sustainable employment of artisan families.”
While there are many countries that can boast of having a tradition of handlooms, nothing compares to India. The country is many cultures rolled into one and therefore when one looks at the sheer range and breadth that our handlooms have to offer, it’s unparalleled. Anavila adds, “Indian handlooms have travelled to almost every continent and are amongst the prized possessions of many museums across the world. The most beautiful part is that we still continue to create these beautiful textiles in various craft clusters of India.”
India’s rich heritage in crafts and handloom is what makes us stand out from the rest of the world. It is an industry that is deeply rooted in our social and cultural traditions. The diversity of the textiles and the skills of the craftsmen add to the artistic essence of the country. The artisans have a rich heritage of techniques and talents which need to be preserved, perpetuated and promoted. Handlooms are a depiction of the Indian culture and it is our responsibility as designers to sustain these crafts and provide the artisans with the recognition they truly deserve.
Designer Archana Jaju says, “Many weavers and craftsmen have migrated to other cities and have left their professions in search of a better one as they aren’t earning well. It is essential that weavers are given the dignity and appreciation they deserve in order for these rich crafts and handlooms to survive and in turn to be passed down over generations as heirlooms. There is an urgent need to ensure longevity for these artisans so they don’t have to switch their professions and the artistry can thrive in the coming times.”
The Indian handloom sector holds a unique position with a diverse range of handwoven fabrics representing the skills and handiwork of the many Indian artisans. The power of skilled craftsmanship is inherent in every work of craft and brings out the royalty and timelessness present in these intricate and finely crafted handloom pieces. What makes us stand out is the genius technique of creating these, the ability to blend in these crafts with any fabric type and the addition of the smallest of details.
Designer Payal Khandwala says, “The plight of our artisans is shameful, most barely make enough to make ends meet. Their numbers are shrinking rapidly each day. It is a scattered rural economy that needs our help. Handlooms are being replaced by power looms and natural yarns are being replaced by synthetics at an alarming rate. As a duty to the textile heritage of this country and to the talent of these craftsmen, we must understand that if this continues, the rich and varied topography of this art will ultimately die a slow death. It’s up to us really to make the difference, to make the right choices and spreading awareness is the first step in that direction.”
Talking about her collection, Payal Khandwala mentions that in the Rigveda - an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit Hymns - Benaras is referred to as ‘Kashi’, derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘kas’ literally meaning 'to shine'. Kashi is also the spiritual name of Benaras, one of the oldest cities in the world, located on the banks of the river Ganges. Apart from being a centre of Hindu pilgrimage, Benaras is also home to several Jain, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist holy sites, and several prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers and musicians. A hotbed of cultural and artistic activities, it is often referred to as the ‘city of light’, ‘the luminous city', celebrated as an eminent seat of learning.
Talking about her latest collection Khandwala says, “Our festive edit focuses entirely on our continued commitment to the unparalleled skilled craftsmen of Benaras and the artistry of their silk handwoven brocades. Our newest explorations focus on intricately engineered brocade garments that require a distinctly complex process of graphing and weaving on special looms. The research and development spanned eight months, from the conception of design to the realization of the textile, and finally to the stitched garment. The challenge was to maintain the design of the necklines, the length, the borders, and the repeats of the motif so as to allow us to size up and retain the integrity of the original pattern, whether the final product was a blouse, jacket or a kurta.”