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BALARAMAPURAM HANDLOOM- A TRIP TO THE AWAKENING

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Balaramapuram, on NH 47, around 15 kms south east of Trivandrum city is the hub of traditional varieties of handloom textiles meant for the contemporary cloth wearing style of Kerala.

It was on last Saturday that we (team rareitis) embarked our journey to this small hamlet, and little did we know how splendour the day would be. We had informed in advance of our visit to our friend Kichu and also our intent to meet and spend a day with the weavers of this exquisite traditional art. This was our second meeting with Kichu as we had already met last week and discussed about rareitis and the need to organize the weavers of the various variety of handloom products like Kasavu saree, Mundu, Settum Mundum, Neriyad, etc. under an organised platform and enable them to sell their proceeds directly to the end users across the globe.

We had enough and more reasons to meet these weavers and synergise them and their efforts to a more meaningful conclusion. It was a chance reading an article last year about the Indian Handloom Industry that gave us the idea of rareitis. It was a revelation to us when we knew that handloom sector is the largest generator of non-farm rural employment in India, after agriculture. However this traditional Indian industry is facing a very high threat of being extinct. The next generation of these weavers are seldom into this profession. The kind of remuneration they get for their hard work and craftsmanship is hardly any.

The thought to revive this dying traditional art prompted us to start rareitis, an online marketplace which the weavers and artisans of India can proudly call as their own. Today India needs more people like Kichu (Kiran Kumar) who is an engineer by profession. He is one among the weaver community of Balaramapuram and has taken the responsibility on him to ensure the craft survives this test of time and flourishes for the next generations to come. He is taking every effort to get a better bargain for the weavers and also continuously working on modernisation of the weaving techniques and new designs.

It was very kind of Kichu to take us to many of these traditional weavers of Balaramapuram who are mainly from the Shaliyar community. During our in depth discussion with them, we understood that it was His Highness Maharaja Balaramavarma, (1798 to 1810), who brought seven weaver families from Tamil Nadu to produce fabrics for the members of the royal family and made them settle at Balaramapuram. Today, the descendants of these seven families over the generations, has grown to more than six hundred families, mainly settled in Balaramapuram. Over the centuries, there evolved a product called Balaramapuram Kaithiri which so very distinct and unique from all other handloom products made elsewhere.

    

We also went to their houses which are like a sort of row houses constructed adjacent to each other, mainly in four streets called Single Street, Double Street, Vinayagar Street, and the New Street. We found weaving or activities associated to weaving in all the houses there. The weavers use a primitive type of throw-shuttle pit looms for the production of exclusively cotton fabrics with pure zeri. They do not use any type of improved appliances such as Dobby, Jacquard, Jala, etc. for the production of designs for cloth with extra warp and extra weft. Identical appearance of designs, including warp and weft stripes on the face and backside of the fabric is obtained by this technique of weaving. These streets when you walk through can smell a distinctive aroma of cotton in the air and hear the jingle sound of handloom which makes it no less than a holy place to visit. A walk through these streets is an experience of its own where you can feel the history and the tradition of this small hamlet and the need to bring them to the mainstream.

As anticipated, where ever we went, we required no introduction as Kichu had already done that as a precursor of our visit. He had already explained to them the humble beginning of rareitis and how we wish to have them as partners in this new journey. They took ample time and immense interest to show us the beautiful work they do and one can see the sense of pride they have in their beautiful piece of art while showing to us. When we met them, we could see the beaming faces of the weavers with anxiety, excitement and hope…. A hope for reaching the customers directly which can fetch them better proceeds to their hardwork, which we have promised to ourselves and will make sure no stones unturned to bring it to them. While coming back after a long day at Balaramapuram, we had the blessings and support of those humble people who are continuously weaving a great masterpiece which the world loves to wear, and are oblivious how they have contributed to our heritage and culture in keeping this rare art form alive. Now it’s our turn to join them in this journey….a journey which is rare it is, www.rareitis.com.

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