Art,  Heritage,  History,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 10

The tenth edition of my saree stories features the story of the revival of the Patteda Anchu, details of Kathiawari embroidery as well as information about the art of Srikalahasti Kalamkari. All of course, shared in my style where learning goes hand-in-hand with laidback musings— infotainment is what they call it these days!

Saree #91: A red and mustard Patteda Anchu

Sometimes the story behind a saree is so intriguing that you are compelled to own one of these treasures. Today’s saree is a Patteda Anchu in red with a bright mustard border, worn with a contrast blouse. The saree has thick and thin yellow stripes woven through the pallu.

The correct name for this saree in Kannada is Patteda anchu seere (patte= thick or thin lines, anchu=border, seere=saree). This is a saree woven in the villages which constitute the handloom hub of Karnataka, around Gajendragarh, Belgaum, Raichur, Bidar, Bellary, Gulbarga and Dharwad.

The credit for reviving this lost weave from the 10th century should go to Dr Hemalatha Jain. As part of her PhD on weaves of India, she had heard of the Patteda Anchu, but no one seemed to have a sample of this hand-woven saree. After two years of struggling, she managed to find a saree which belonged to a devadasi from the Yellama Saundatti temple. The elderly lady’s granddaughter led Dr Jain to her, but the lady wouldn’t part with her red and yellow saree. Nevertheless, Dr Jain managed to obtain photographs and measurements of the treasured hand woven saree.

Patteda anchu is also called dundina seere or devaru seere or Laxmi seere. The ancient custom was that before a wedding, these sarees were usually offered to the local goddess, Yellama, following which the bride wore the saree as a blessing from the deity. The traditional saree had red checks all over the body and a yellow border, as these colours were considered auspicious. Black was not used as an offering to the goddess.

The traditional Patteda Anchu had small or large checks all over the body with a broad border in a contrasting colour. The original saree was short– measuring 43 inches wide and 6 yards in length. The saree was specifically designed for women working in the fields, so that the edges of the saree wouldn’t be soiled with dirt. The fascinating part about this weave is that it is a reversible saree. You can wear it both ways. There are many varieties of these sarees based on checks and colors like: kempukaddi, kavali hoova, raagavali, gejjetagi, rathavali, elluhoova, aidumani, elumani, elluhoova, kondichikki, kaddigekannu, chowkaani, kumkuma gani and kadichaapa, but not all have survived.

In an attempt to revive the lost art of this weave, Dr Hemalatha Jain launched Punarjeevana, which translates into ‘rebirth’. Punarjeevana has not only helped in recreating this lost art, but also created livelihood for the weavers. Dr Jain started with one weaver in 2013, and now almost 45 weavers are associated with this initiative. These traditional sarees are woven in pit looms called kuni magga. These sarees are woven using 20, 40 or 60 count yarns procured from Coimbatore. Each saree takes around 45 days to complete. While the traditional sarees were in hues of red and mustard, Dr Hemalatha has started experimenting with a limited palette of colours. The colour combinations I spotted, besides this traditional red and mustard were: black with red, black with blue, magenta with yellow, purple with yellow, brown with purple, green with purple, and, blue with black. Ecofriendly natural dyes are used in these sarees. Dr Jain has also worked with the dimensions of the saree, making it more convenient for contemporary use. Now, these are being woven with widths of 44 inches and lengths of 6.25 yards. Being a researcher, Dr Jain has also developed a new process of colour fastness. She uses a natural mordant called lodhra which is derived from the leaves of an Ayurvedic plant called Symplocos racemosa.

So what are the special features of a Patteda Anchu? These are thick coarse cotton sarees, which are ready-to-wear. Meaning, you do not need to wait to add a fall or get beading done. I have worn this saree all day today, and found it extremely comfortable and elegant. Once draped it stayed in place, without moving or slipping. I would recommend buying a Patteda Anchu. They aren’t very expensive, and you are helping preserve a part of our heritage.

Saree #92: A pink and green Kota Doriya

This saree is a silk-cotton Kota Doriya from Rajasthan in bright pink and a contrasting mehendi green pallu. These sarees from Rajasthan have square patterns called khats.  One of those days when you want to wear something lightweight and feel relaxed. Accessorized with simple strands of pearl.

Saree #93: A Noil saree with Kathiawari embroidery

For my birthday, I chose to wear a Noil saree with Kathiawari embroidery. Gujarat is the epicentre of the richest and most varied types of Indian embroidery. The word Kathiawar means land ruled by Kathi Rajputs.

There is an amusing legend about Lord Krishna. There was once a demon who had captured a thousand women from all over the country. Krishna killed the demon and freed all these women. These were then the gopikas who were enraptured by his divinity. It is said that each of these women came with the knowledge of embroidery of her culture. And hence Gujarat, especially Saurashtra, has so much variety in embroidery and needlework.

Kathiawari embroidery is lavish in its use of bright colours and mirror work. The commonly used stitches are interlacing stitch, darning stitch, herringbone stitch and chain stitch.

There are six distinct types of Kathiawari embroidery. The first is Heer Bharat where untwisted silk floss (called Heer in Gujarati) is used. Bharat means embroidery in Gujarati. Geometrical designs like squares, rectangles and triangles are used. These are filled with long stitches around an inch long. The second is Abhla Bharat where small mirrors (abhla) are fixed using button hole stitches. The embroidery surrounding the mirror is done using chain stitch or stem stitch. This is typically seen in torans or ghaghras. The third style which is typical of Bhavnagar is chain stitch embroidery in white colour. The fourth is the interlacing Sindhi stitch embroidery. The fifth is applique work and the sixth is Moti Bharat or bead work embroidery.

Saree #94: A simple starched Khadi saree

This saree is a simple pista green handloom cotton with brown motifs which I wore to work yesterday. I prefer these starched cotton sarees for the formal look.

Saree # 95: A Himroo Silk saree to dazzle the Aussies

Well, I was in Darwin, Australia at the Towards Unity For Health (TUFH) Conference. That morning I had to give my TUFH talk. This is modelled on the TED Talks. The challenge is to deliver your message in all of three minutes. The other challenges of this format are: to speak in a language which is understood across different specialities, to grab audience attention, to get them thinking and to inspire them to replicate your work in their own settings. I was a wee bit nervous as it was Friday the 13th! Never know what could go wrong.

Going by audience reaction and questions, the talk went well. And helping me ‘grab the attention’ was my silk Himroo saree embellished with tiny mirrors. I have previously written about Himroo sarees previously (Saree #12)

I had fun too over the weekend. Doing boring things like holding a baby crocodile and a baby python! Then went off to Cairns and did scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Also went on a hot air balloon ride.

Saree #96: An understated classy jute silk saree

Some days come as a pleasant surprise. One afternoon I was working in the department when I received a parcel from Medha Joshi Ma’am. We hadn’t discussed about any academic activity together in that phase and I wondered what she had sent me. Such a warm feeling to know that she had sent me one of her sarees! Made me so emotional.

We share the same taste in sarees. Sober, understated and elegant formal sarees. And this jute silk saree was just what I would have picked. As I took it out to wear this morning I remembered the crazy times our trio of Sucheta Dandekar and both of us have spent scouring saree shops together in Coimbatore to pick the right stuff. Some fantastic memories of managing to get the undivided attention of the salesmen! You don’t get such demanding customers everyday, do you! And invariably be served tea as we were so discerning in what we wanted!

Thank you again Medha Ma’am for that super surprise.

Saree #97: A turquoise Kovai cotton saree

The saree I wore to work this morning is a crisp Coimbatore cotton in turquoise with tiny thread work bootis all over, and edged with blue and purple. The colour just made me feel upbeat all morning.

Saree #98: A white georgette saree

It was a quiet Diwali for us this year. We have lost several loved ones in quick succession. And we are not celebrating the festival of lights this year. A few years ago, I had written a poem on Diwali when I lost my mother. The same feelings of gloom amidst the glitter resurface.

This is a saree which has been lying in my cupboard since more than a decade now. Am not very fond of wearing georgette. But felt like wearing something subdued today in sync with my pensive mood, so picked this one.

Saree #99: An Uppada Cotton Saree

This saree is a beige Uppada cotton with little white thread work bootis. I particularly like the contrast white lines on the border. I first mistook it for a Chanderi. Extremely soft and light weight these are 120 thread count sarees which weigh about 100 gms. Really comfortable to wear at work.

Saree #100: A Srikalahasti Kalamkari Saree

Today’s saree is a Kalamkari. Kalamkari involves hand painting or block printing using natural dyes on cotton or silk fabric. The word Kalamkari (or Qalamkari) is derived from the Urdu words, ‘Qalam’ meaning pen and ‘Kari’ meaning craftsmanship. This art form originated in India around 3000 years ago. Some evidence such as pieces of dye painted cloth have been found in Mohenjodaro and Harappa which dates back to the 17th and 18th century.

Kalamkari art is essentially done in three distinctive styles: Machilipatnam style, Karuppur style, and Srikalahasti style. So, what is the difference between these styles?

The Machilipatnam style is also called Pedana Kalamkari, and is done in Machilipatnam in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. It involves block printing on fabric using vegetable dyes. The name kalamkari was given by the Mughals and the Golconda Sultanate who patronized this art during their reign in the Deccan region. Inspired by the Persian style, these designs have prints of flora and fauna, especially the animals such as tigers, peacocks and deer.

Karuppur Kalamkari is also known as Chitra Padam or figurative drawing. In 1540, the first Nayak ruler of Thanjavur, Sevappa Nayak, is said to have brought a group of Kalamkari artists from Karuppur in Thanjavur in Tamilnadu to work in the palace and temples. These artists later settled down in Sickalnayakenpet in Thanjavur. Karuppur Kalamkari art is used to paint temple hangings (called vasamalai), door frame panels and tubular hangings (called thombai). Kuralams are ornamental cloths adorned with Kalamkari art that are hung from either side of a chariot. In all these cases, the themes are drawn from religious texts.

Srikalahasti is a town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, close to Tirupati. The Srikalahasti style is also called Pen Kalamkari. The pen used here is a bamboo stick which is wound with a thread which has been dipped in dye. One of its ends is sharpened to the desired thickness. Pure cotton cloth is wound around it, and tied tightly with cotton thread in a criss-cross manner. This is to ensure that the cloth stays in the desired position. Cotton is preferred as it absorbs colour and makes it easy for the artist to draw precise sketches.

The saree which I’m wearing is done in the Srikalahasti style. Here, the kalam or pen is used to make freehand drawings and these are filled in with different colours. The themes of these drawings are usually drawn from the Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as the Puranas.

Srikalahasti lies on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi. Kalamkari is being practiced here for nearly 200 years now. Ancient techniques of textile dyeing have been passed from one generation to another. Bright and vibrant coloured vegetable dyes are used.

The process of kalamkari involves around 23 to 25 steps. First cotton fabric is washed and scoured in plain water to remove the starch. After drying, it is washed and soaked in a solution of cow dung, milk and myrobalan (called karakha pindi) for 1-2 hours. This is dried. Following this, the basic outline is drawn in black with a burnt stick of tamarind, which acts like a piece of charcoal. The cloth is dried, washed and treated with milk. Alum is applied, and treated in alzarine. The outlines are filled with a single colour using the kalam, and the fabric is then washed in plain water and treated in milk. If maroon colour is desired, the cloth is soaked in boiling water. Then the next colour is applied, and the process of washing is repeated with milk treatment. For example, indigo will be applied in the first cycle, followed by yellow, and finally by green. This is done again and again until all the colours are applied. If the design requires five colours, it takes around 3 weeks to complete the process, as each cycle of drying, washing and milk treatment takes 3-4 days. Finally, the fabric is washed, ironed and packed.

The beauty of Kalamkari is that the artists often attempt to reproduce the beauty and richness of temple sculptures on fabric. The elaborate designs and the bright colours catch your eye, and they are full of little details. It is art of the highest order. Since real Kalamkari tends to be expensive and not affordable to everybody, fake prints of Kalamkari are passed off as the real thing at low prices. This has left the artisans struggling for survival. However renewed interest in sarees and awareness about this art, has helped in renewing the patronage to these craft. Thanks to innovative designers, Kalamkari patterns are now seen as chic.

I have been hesitant to wear a Kalamkari saree for two reasons. One is that I find the print too busy, and given my taste for more plain looking sarees. I tend to avoid these, wary that they will make me look more rotund than I already am. The second is the peculiar stale smell of milk and ghee that emanates from these sarees. I first thought about buying Kalamkari printed sarees instead. But then succumbed to the thought of acquiring one specimen of the real thing just to complete my collection.

This saree is a pen Kalamkari done on Chennur silk. The pallu has a vividly depicted Vishnu lying on the Shesh Nag with Bhudevi and Laxmi Devi next to him. While the pallu has a series of apsaras. All of these are done with vibrant, bright colours using vegetable dyes.

Catch up with my other saree stories, if you haven’t done so already!

My saree stories: Part 1
My saree stories: Part 2
My saree stories: Part 3
My saree stories: Part 4
My saree stories: Part 5
My saree stories: Part 6
My saree stories: Part 7
My saree stories: Part 8
My saree stories: Part 9

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