The Six Yard Tale The life of a gadwal silk weaver

Chinnu Nagraj weaving in his machine

“This is my God and my Religion.”

Fifty year old, a mole on his face, finely trimmed hair and a glitter in his eyes, Chinnu Nagraj is a Saree weaver in Gadwal, Telengana.

Threads being put in the machine

Sixty kilometers from Kurnool, Gadwal is the hub of business for all the nearby villages. On one side of the town lies the Ragavindra Colony, a small village of weavers who specialize in Gadwal silk sarees, one of the most costly silk sarees in the country.

Started at the age of 15, Nagraj has been weaving sarees for over 35 years now. Born and brought up in Mallampalli, a village in Gattumadlam, his family has been in this profession for over ten generations. “I learned weaving from my father and my children have learned it from me,” said Nagraj adding how the business runs in the family of all the people from his village.

Before shifting to Gadwal, his family members never had any education. Nagraj said that there was neither any school in the village and nor did anyone think of becoming anything else than a weaver. With a happy face and a nostalgic voice he said, “My childhood was all about running and playing in the open fields and coming back home in the evening to learn weaving.”

While, it was clear on his face how much he remembered his village, Nagraj told that he shifted to Gadwal with his wife for his children’s education. He has two sons and a daughter. “My daughter has been married and my sons are pursuing engineering from a college in Gadwal.” Nagraj further told that although his family has now shifted from the traditional business, his sons and even his wife weaves whenever they have free time.

Elaborating on his work, he explained how the machine works and how the process is carried out. The most important and difficult thing is to put the threads and it generally takes 3-4 days to put the threads. Next is the rigorous process of weaving with hands busy in tying the threads while the push on the paddle from the leg keeps the saree moving. “It takes nine to ten days to complete one saree and it varies with the design.”

The demand is mainly by the intermediaries who provide all the raw materials for the sarees. It is roughly Rs 4000 for one saree and the middlemen give Rs 3000 to the weavers as a salary for the work. The same saree is then sold in big markets for over twenty thousand rupees. Nagraj said, “The demand has gone down especially after the demonetization as there is not enough cash for the raw materials, which are mostly acquired in cash.”

A picture of the house of a weaver in Gadwal

Since the dawn of civilization, handlooms have been associated with excellence in India’s artistry in textiles and fabrics and saree has been considered as the most ancient piece of clothing, which has inspired generations of artists and craftsmen to weave their dreams and vision into creating handloom sarees. However, with the passage of time, just like the clacking sound of looms, the dreams and visions of these weavers too are fading away. With a heavy heart, Nagraj explained how the number of weavers has gone down in the last few years. The drop is almost 50 per cent. A lot have left the job for the less pay and started alternative livelihood, he added.

In the last 20 years of his career, he has worked for a lot different Industries. He stared the career with weaving for middlemen like his father but soon moved to the city. “I worked three years in Bangalore Sarees, a silk saree industry in Hyderabad and then I moved to Khaddi, where I worked for five years,” said Nagraj adding that Gadwal Silk is the most difficult to weave.

Blessed by the weaving power of the great ‘Jeevaswara Maharaj’, weaving sarees is not just a profession for Nagraj, but a way of life. Talented and adept at making wonderful cotton, silk and pure silk Gadwal sarees, Nagraj like a lot of other weavers in the village can weave sarees up to six yard in length that can be folded down to the size of a small matchbox.

Filled with such rich cultural history, it is indeed sad to know that talent such as that of Nagraj is a dying art today. “My only wish is that this tradition does not get lost in time,” said Nagraj before he started working on his machine again, still having the glitter in his eyes.

Created By
Dyutiman Basu
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