Extinction looms over Gollabhama weavers

Why it’s important to reinvent these globally famous sarees to keep them from fading away.

By Author   |   Published: 25th Dec 2016   1:00 am Updated: 26th Dec 2016   4:59 pm
Gollabhama Weavers
Weft and Warp: Rajesham weaving a Gollabhama style saree at Siddipet. Photo: Kota Saumya.

The steady sound of the shuttle moving across the warp fills the warehouse at Peddakodur village in Medak district. At one end of the room, women sit at the spinning wheel preparing bright red yarn and on the other side, an old man is repairing a broken panel of one of the frame looms.

At the 30 looms here, weavers are busy making cotton sarees in vivid hues of yellow, red, blue, and green. But not one is making a Siddipet Gollabhama saree. Reason: it takes half the time to make regular cotton and silk sarees compared to the four days needed for a Gollabhama saree.

Meticulous Art: A typical Gollabhama motif. Photo: Kota Saumya.

Bold patterns

Gollabhama (milkmaid motif) woven onto the border of the saree refers to women of Golla community. Lore has it that in the Dwaparyuga, milkmaids would carry pots of milk and curd to offer to Lord Krishna. The bewitching silhouette of these women in bright ghagra and choli inspired weavers to replicate it leading to Gollabhama weaving style. “Mostly, the saree is a single colour with a flower pattern interspersed throughout the body. It is the intricate motifs on the saree border which is the defining feature,” says Satyam, a master weaver involved in preserving the style. There are mainly three motifs used in the saree are Gollabhama, Bathukamma and Kolatam, with Gollabhama being the most popular in the lot.

When it comes to creating the motif, the weaver needs to meticulously pass the coloured thread through the warp to get a clear design which is time consuming. “All this while pulling the looms strings thousands of time and swinging the pedal down simultaneously. It takes more time using a single thread, so weavers generally use the double thread technique. But the motif is less clear in this method,” explains Satyam.  Though Siddipet Gollabhama sarees have a geographical indication tag, it hasn’t led to any boost in sales for the weavers. Sustaining this art means getting the weavers to incorporate the motifs in stoles, dupattas and scarves and use new colour palettes which is happening slowly.

Once upon a time, the Gollabhama weavers numbered to 2000, but now at the 250 looms in Siddipet, a measly six are engaged in weaving Gollabhama sarees.  In Chinnakodur mandal, only two weavers remain who know the technique.

For Madduri Dubba Rajesham, having watched his father weave one saree after another at the pit loom in their house since he was 10, taking to the family profession was a given. “I studied till class 8, after that I started learning the technique from my father. From making the yarn to the final motif, everything is done by me. Usually the entire family lends a hand in making the saree, but I like to do everything on my own,” says Rajesham, who turns out one full saree in a week.

Working on an order basis, he shows us one saree which is almost finished. Woven in subtle colours of dark pink and blue, the bright yellow Gollabhama motif brightens up the saree.  Ask him if he remembers the number of sarees he has woven? He smiles, “Honestly, I don’t remember. There are so many.”

Tough times ahead

Recalling days of yore, Madduri speaks of the time when the entire street near his house would reverberate with sounds of street warping. But like everything else, that tradition has perished. In a month, Madduri may sell two-three sarees, most being special orders. “With sarees like Gollabhama, I make Rs 4,000-5,000 a month. I sent my son to work in a private company where he gets a tidy sum.  It’s more than what I make in a month.” Indeed, it’s a tough call for the weavers who leave this age-old tradition for more lucrative professions. “With the way things are, it seems to be the right decision, don’t you think?” says Madduri wistfully.