Preserving the famous legacy of weavers in Balaramapuram in Kerala capital

A designers’ collective and Thiruvananthapuram-based designers are becoming a member of arms for the initiative

Sunshine kasavu caught in the warp and weft of pure white cotton has been the trademark of Kerala handlooms. The GI-tagged high quality mundum-neriyathu with gold kasavu or colored kara borders, woven by nimble fingers of conventional weavers of Balaramapuram, has a particular place in all festive events.

During Onam, which additionally occurs to be the wedding ceremony season, the weaving hub of Balaramapuram, about 20 km from Thiruvananthapuram, is normally bustling with patrons from all throughout the world.

Weaving in Balaramapuram goes again to the period of Balarama Varma (1798 to 1810), ruler of erstwhile Travancore. His Dewan Ummini Thampi settled seven weaver households of the Shalia group from Valliyoor, in Tirunelveli district, in Thiruvananthapuram to weave garments for the royal household. Eventually, in the reminiscence of the ruler, the place got here to be known as Balaramapuram.

Bespoke saris from Usha Balakrishnan’s ANKA in Thiruvananthapuram showcase the splendour of Balaramapuram weaves  
| Photo Credit:
special arrangement

However, this Onam, the 200-year-old weaving custom of Balaramapuram is hanging by a thread in consequence of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. “Not a single set has been sold in the last four-five months. Onam is when we have our biggest sale of mundu-neriyathu sets, dhothis and saris, which is around ₹10 to 15 lakh in a good year. In fact, that is when we make enough to sustain ourselves during the rest of the year. Unfortunately, that has taken a beating because of the present circumstances,” says Sudhakaran J, a conventional weaver using eight girls engaged on pit looms.

Taking word of their difficulties, city-based designer Alan Alexander Kaleekal is launching an initiative, Travancore Design Co. to assist them promote their merchandise at his retailer RAHÉL alongside along with his label, KALEEKAL. Usha Balakrishnan of ANKA and Kochi-based Shalini James (Mantra) and Sreejith Jeevan (Rouka) will be a part of him in the subsequent section the place design intervention will happen to reimagine the conventional weaves. As powerlooms and low-cost branded merchandise utilizing a mixture of artificial threads invade the scene, the designers worry that the pit looms is perhaps silenced ceaselessly if they don’t act now.

  • The solely weaver from Kerala to be honoured with the Padma Shri, Master weaver and octogenarian P Gopinathan is the delight of Balaramapuram. “We received the GI tag in 2010 for our handwoven cloth.. We use solely the most interesting cotton and the finest zari from Surat. Even now, girls, educated from childhood, apply rice starch and coconut oil to shine the threads which can be used for weaving. The girls are paid a pittance. But it’s their ability with the threads that offers the fabric its sturdiness and polish. However, a lot of expert, handbook work pushes up worth and when cheaper units and saris, masquerading as Kerala saris, flood the market from neighbouring States, we regularly get a uncooked deal.
  • Immediate steps should be taken to deal with this as this cheaper stuff is commonly offered together with the real Balaramapuram weaves. As it’s, the lengthy hours, low wages and poor gross sales have stopped many children from following in their mother and father’ footsteps. The pandemic has worsened the blow.
  • For our work to get a good worth, prospects should have the ability to differentiate between the actual Balaramapuram weaves and the duplicates.”

“Balaramapuram weavers produce some of the finest traditional Kerala kasavu fabrics. Their motifs and designs have an identical appearance on both sides of the fabric. It is too precious a legacy to be lost. Our aim is to request each Malayali household to buy at least one Balaramapuram sari or mundum-neriyathu to bring the Onam spirit into the homes of the weavers,” says Alan.

The collective plans to acquire merchandise from the weavers and promote them by way of on-line gross sales or by appointment at their shops together with their very own labels.

ANKA has been at the forefront of tweaking the Balaramapuram weaves with recent designs and a contact of color to the pristine cottons. Although the pandemic has been a troublesome time for them as properly, the begin of the pageant season has ANKA reviving their classical line of ivory-gold and ivory-silver.

“We also have a new range that will have a mix of gold and silver kasavu to give the gold a different sheen. Our wedding range has kasavu with fabric woven with counts of 120 and 100,” factors out Usha.

RAHÉL’s curated assortment has vibrant Balaramapuram saris and set mundu with kasavu and kara. “Since Thiruvananthapuram had several containment zones, work has just begun for the festival,” says Alan.

Shobha Viswanath of Weavers Village has a vibrant assortment of set mundu and saris with shiny and broad karas. “I feel that karas in shades of yellow and bright colours with lines and borders will appeal to a clientèle looking for traditional wear that is trendy too. This is in addition to the sets with gold and silver kasavu borders,” she says.

Karalkada, maybe the oldest model in Kerala promoting Balarampuram weaves, is aiming at the wedding ceremony and pageant season. The kasavu with puliyilakkara (motif of tamarind leaf) is one of the specialities of Balaramapuram and Karalkada has a premium assortment of these.

In the meantime, Kasavukada, with branches throughout Kerala, is highlighting their bespoke weaves for bridal put on. Hailing from a weaver household himself, Nandu VS, managing accomplice of Kasavukada, says proudly that though many of their retailers have been closed resulting from the lockdown, they have been nonetheless weaving on the different days throughout this attempting interval. Their USP is a ‘Thali’ assortment that’s geared toward the wedding ceremony market. “It is pure zari and costs between ₹30,000 and ₹60,000,” says Nandu.

He says the weavers have moved to locations like Peringamala, Manchavilakam and so forth in Neyyattinkara as Balarampuram had reworked from a weaving village to a centre of commerce.

Sunil V of Motherland

  • (co-founder, Motherland and creator, Make In India marketing campaign)
  • “We need to rewrite the narrative for the weavers. Instead of projecting them as people who need help, we need to ensure that they, especially the younger generation, see their work as ‘cool’ and feel pride in their legacy. What we see now are pictures of them looking tired and helpless. Why can’t we see them as artistes creating magic with threads; as custodians of a legacy that only they know.”
  • “The total ecosystem has to work collectively to result in that change. Instead of making insurance policies for them, make them provide you with insurance policies that spotlight their craft.

As the countdown to Thiruvonam begins, designers, weavers’ collectives and retailers assert that except the weaving business adapts to the modifications they usually get a serving to hand quickly, the proud legacy of Balaramapuram would possibly fade away.

Shalini says that if weavers are prepared to adapt to designers and work with them, it will not be troublesome to seek out new prospects. “Without any skill upgrade or loom upgrade, they can bring in these changes in designs that will usher in a new product profile,” says the designer.

Sunil Sethi, president of Fashion Design Council of India, has provided to purchase the shares from the beleaguered weavers of Balaramapuram.

Speaking on the cellphone, he says: “I consider weaving an art and it is important to support every art and craft of India.”

Weavers Village has chosen to highlight the magic of karas woven by weavers of Balaramapuram

Weavers Village has chosen to focus on the magic of karas woven by weavers of Balaramapuram  
| Photo Credit:

He feels that the youthful era, even when they could not comply with the household custom of weaving, should be made digitally savvy to assist their households to achieve out to the world market. “Innovative use of the same textile can also be done, for which it is imperative for designers to work with the weavers and find ways of adapting the weaves for modern lifestyles.”

He asserts that the State authorities and Central authorities should act in tandem to make sure that the weavers are conscious of the quantity of schemes and initiatives to assist them.

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