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MANGALAGIRI SAREES: A STORY OF OLD TECHNIQUES AND TIMELY REVIVAL

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This January, on a cool winter morning, I boarded the flight from Hyderabad to Vijayawada. The air-hostess in the flight greeted us with a beaming smile and ushered us to our respective seats. Since it was an early morning flight, most travellers were either getting cosy within their seat compensating for their lost sleep or were neck deep into the fresh morning newspaper. I had booked for a breakfast though the flying hour is very short between these two ancient cities. The same air-hostess with the smile served me with hot Idilis and Vada which bore the trademark Andhra style aroma and taste, just melted into my mouth. And I knew i will have a great day today.

My driver was waiting for me at the airport. I had discussed the purpose of my visit to my travel agent, and he had particularly sent a driver by name Raju, a native of Mangalagiri. Soon we were on NH 5, and it took us almost an hour to reach Mangalagiri with a halt in between, that was planned by Raju for me to collect a bottle of water and snacks just in case necessary for the day. My driver Raju told me that the new Andhra Pradesh Capital Region spans up to Guntur district, which Mangalagiri is a part of. He took me around to all places of Mangalagiri and kept on explaining about the peculiarities of the various places we went, reminding me of ‘Raju Guide’ from R K Narayan’s “The Guide” which was epitomized on the Silver Screen by one of India’s most popular matinee idol of yesteryear, Dev Ananad Sahab.

      

Mangalagiri a hilly terrain and the town has it’s existence since 225 BC. Mangalagiri which means the Auspicious Hill, was frequented by Krishnadeva Raya during the 15th century after his general Thimarasu had won it for him from the earlier Gajapathi dynasty. It is believed that it was during this period the place saw a growth in weaving of handcrafted dyed fabric which has been the town’s economic mainstay ever since. Mangalagiri today, has a population of around 80,000, of which about 50 per cent originally depended on the handloom industry for their livelihood directly and indirectly.

The Mangalagiri fabric Known for its superfine yarn with a silky feel, high count and fast colours, is weaved in pitlooms from combed yarn by warp and woof/weft interlacing. The fabric then undergoes the process of dyeing. A traditional Mangalagiri cotton saree is characterised by a plain body with contrasting zari border. Mangalagiri’s signature cotton saris have a peaked ‘Nizam’ border and a ‘missing thread’ weave for improved ventilation. However, the fabric and its design has seen many innovations and changes over the last few decades. The weavers have incorporated motifs of elephants, parrots, florals and even dancing women in Kalamkari style. The weavers mostly stay together in clusters on either sides of the streets. One can see shops on either side of the streets showcasing Mangalagiri fabrics and Sarees. The shop owners predominantly from the weaving community stay behind these shops, which are sometimes an extended workshop of these sarees where they have the pitlooms installed. The mild sound of the pitloom weft oscillating from one side to another can be constantly heard in the back ground in most of these shops.

          

The handloom business was heavily affected by the recession which forced many weavers to leave their traditional skill and look for alternative source of income. Many of them even left for bigger cities for their earning. The middle men in the business further adds to the toll who take away the weaver’s worth giving very little for his produce. However, timely initiatives from the government has benefited a lot to these weavers and also to this dying art. Mangalagiri Sarees and Fabrics was registered as one of the geographical indication from Andhra Pradesh which has ever since given it a global appeal. Designers and self-help groups associated with this art form has helped it further revival. They had been instrumental in spreading awareness about the product and the comfort it gives to the person who wears it. In the past, handloom material was worn mainly by older people. A notion prevailed that it suited only the people of this age group. The trend has changed. The younger generation nowadays feels that wearing handlooms is fashionable. This belief has been strengthened by the introduction of trendy designs and prints.

Today, there is no recession in the handloom industry. Weavers who were forced to abandon their looms and move to other professions, has joined back to their traditional work. Mangalagiri fabrics and Sarees today has found a place of it’s own on the world textile map. It is widely used by Indians across India and other parts of the world. My visit to this historic place and close interactions with the weavers here got rareitis further close to this rare fabric. We had many master weavers registered with our website who will be selling their rare art directly on our website for its connoisseurs from across the world.

          

And while leaving back, I had few weavers to thank who were kind to show me their product and looms. I also had Raju to thank who was with me all day and at times was my local guide and translator. And I had the morning Idili and vada to thank, as that’s what kept me energetic the whole day in an otherwise starving day as I had no time to grab a quick meal or even those snacks which I bought on my way to Mangalagiri.

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To know more about Mangalagiri Sarees, please click here.

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