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Ethnic elegance on show

Thursday, May 24, 2018
Pics courtesy: Crafts Council of Karnataka's

Vastrabharana, the Crafts Council of Karnataka’s annual flagship event, begins tomorrow in Mumbai

If you are looking to add a touch of ethnic elegance to your wardrobe, take time off this week to visit the Coomaraswamy Hall, Prince of Wales Museum. Starting tomorrow, May 25, and going up to May 27 (10.30 am – 7.30 pm), the Crafts Council of Karnataka (CCK) is holding its annual flagship event, ‘Vastrabharana’.

“The mission of the CCK is the promotion and support of the crafts of Karnataka and sustainable livelihoods of its crafts persons,” says Bharti Govindraj, chairperson, CCK. “Its objectives are to provide a bridge between craft communities and source markets, facilitate design intervention and product development that will meet the needs of the contemporary consumer, upgrade technologies used by crafts persons and revive and preserve languishing crafts of Karnataka.”

In the words of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, doyenne of handicrafts in India under whose patronage CCK began, the crafts person “is the unbroken link in the tradition that embraces both the producer and the consumer within the social and religious fabric. Art and aesthetics are deeply rooted in function.”

Conceptualised by Vimala Rangachar, the then chairperson, Vastrabharana showcases handcrafted handloom textiles, handcrafted embellishments through needle craft and natural dyed yardage and sarees.  Handcrafted jewellery from across the country is also on offer.

CCK is a not-for-profit organisation that was started in Bengaluru in 1967, under the patronage of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. “Vastrabharana is a felicitation of our weavers—the link between our heritage and our sustainable future,” says CCK.

Over the years, the Council and the organisations that it works with have helped transform the lives of many women. For instance, Julekha behn lost everything in 2001 because of an earthquake. She is now leading a group of more than 150 women who work as tyers on Bandhani; the quality of the bandhani depends on how skilfully the tying is done (Turn to page 12 for her story).

The handloom sector, which employs over 6.5 million families, is the second largest cluster of labourers after the agriculture sector, and it is a tremendous source of employment particularly for women. In December 2016, at a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) conference, Alok Kumar, Development Commissioner – Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, had observed that with structured interventions in skills, technology, design and innovation, branding and marketing, the sector had the potential to scale up to a market size of about `4 lakh crore in six to seven years, from the estimated size of 1 lakh crore at the time.

He had also pointed out that this would lead to provision of higher wages to artisans to the tune of five to seven times, and with proper branding and publicity, exports in the Indian handloom sector could be scaled up by at least four to five times within five years.

Traditional Indian textiles are certainly recognised the world over. Between October 2015 and January 2016, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London showcased a major exhibition, The Fabric of India, exploring the “dynamic and multifaceted world of handmade textiles from India from the 3rd to the 21st century”. The Museum pointed out that the technique of mordant dyeing, which gives intense colours that do not fade, has been used by Indian textile workers since the second millennium BC. “Until at least the 18th century, India was able to produce technically much more advanced textiles than Europe could,” it said. The Museum also noted that Indian textiles were traded in ancient times with China and Indonesia, as well as with the Roman world.

What makes the world of Indian handloom so exciting is the fact that there is so much variety. While Gujarat was the main centre for more than 500 years, every part of India has its own weaving traditions—from the Kalamkari of Andhra Pradesh to the Apatani of Arunachal Pradesh; from Bhagalpuri silk of Bihar to Paithani of Maharashtra… each of India’s 29 states has its own special weaves and techniques.

At the Vastrabharana exhibition, 34 weaves will be showcasing a range of Indian textiles. They include MARM, which specialises in Chanderi handwoven fabrics for contemporary fashion; Malavika, recipient of the UNESCO Seal of Excellence Award and the World Craft Council Award for Chikankari; Bidisha Bahaduri, a Kantha and Batik revivalist; and Dwaraka PLUS (Peoples Livelihoods Upliftment Society), which has been reviving Kalamkari. Several other award-winning participants are also showcasing their work.

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