Friday, August 7, 2015

An ode to kai thari (hand loom)

As a child I often remember I would snuggle into the soft drape of my grandmom or my mom. I would enjoy the softness by rubbing my nose and love how the sari smelt….an earthy soothing smell perhaps of the dyes. It cloaked me in comfort and security when I hugged, snuggled and felt that drape.

As I grew up, I would often wander with a soft cotton worn out saree of my mom. The softness of the cloth acted like a tranqulizer, gave comfort and security just like some hold their teddy bears, I would feel my mom in those soft cotton hand woven sarees  when she was’nt  around.
That soft feel of the mull cloth must have sown seeds for my love for  handlooms or what is called “Kaithari” ( kai is hand and thari is loom) in tamil.

My mom often relied and bought her sarees from  those  Salem weavers who would bring their "kai thari" products in bundles like bedsheets, sarees, blankets towels  and sell home to home. It was so popular in Bangalore those days. So, it was with my grand mom who always bought from  the Rangachari store in Mylapore. She would even buy and send it across to her children and grandchildren. After multiple home wear,  the old  jaded sarees which turned ultra soft but never tore would then double up as baby mattresses for the brood of cousins. Some would even end up as quilts where 4 or 5 sarees stacked up would be handstitched and then fixed with multiple color pieces of cloth. And finally the tattered ones would be sanitized and used as baby nappies also. Those were times when nappy rashes were unheard of. Even thatha's  veshtis (dhoties) were never spared. 

 So many Indian motifs, designs and colors most of them specific and indigenous to their regional clusters holding the weaves,some were loosely held while some were tightly held. Each one had a story to tell about the warp and weft and each one had a liking different to others .  Even now, when my elders like mil, aunts, and mom get together they start talking about the clusters they know of , the weaves, the region, the motifs, the thread counts, etc..and about how the kai thari differs from power loom products. Sometimes, I think their knowledge on such subjects could be material for dissertation on the same.

They have all patronized and still patronize “Kai Thari” and so their love has rubbed off on me.
That is why it is disturbing  to hear that some of the clusters are closing down since it is not viable for livelihood for the weavers. We are loosing traditional master artisans and weavers along with that our heritage too. Unable to make a livelihood, they end up as unskilled labour in cities. With many MNC’s setting up their companies close to the clusters, it is disappointing to read these  traditional weavers  gennext  do not carry on the family tradition and end up as security guards in some nearby automobile company or as   sales staff  in the MNC’s or malls. Some have even turned towards  powerlooms  where the automated machinery cannot recreate the “ heritage textile” and this is no substitution for the cottage industry where one generation hands over the trade to another.

But today with the world concerned about sustainable livelihood, environment friendliness and terms like  fair labour and trade, it is heartening to note that many NGO's and the government too is turning attention to hand weaving after all this occupation leaves possibly very little carbon foot print. This infact is one of my interest. I am mostly present in all these handloom-handicraft expos to encourage these weavers and artisans.

So on our first " National Handloom Day" a salute to all the weavers of our nation who by their magical weaves give us such lovely fabrics which supports our environment. It is my wish that we all unite to buy more products "Make in India" and help the sector to save from extinction.
 So Glad to celebrate National handloom day #Nationalhandloomday today on August 7.

                Photos taken at Dakshichitra 


  1. Dear Asha, I loved reading your post. I too grew up, surrounded by kaithari fabrics. My mom and grandmother love those soft cotton hand woven sarees. Your post takes me back to those beautiful years of simple living and high thinking. Like you mentioned in your post, the old jaded sarees would end up as diapers, bedsheets or quilts. Nothing was ever wasted. The richness of varied Indian motifs, that cultural linkage - all of it made "kaithari" a part of of our daily life. In my parents home in Kochi, "kaithari" is still very much a part of my life at home.

    1. Thank you Dear Swapna! Glad that the post resonates with you:) kaithari is so apt for our tropical climate, Aint it?

  2. Is there a National Handloom Day ?

    I understand the sense of loss when a traditional art or craft starts to decline and die, but that is the inevitable order of things. Kaithari resonates with us because we grew up with it . For today's generation it may possibly be something they may not relate to. For them it may be something else they will lament fading away. The old has to make way for the new sometimes.

    Is the Rangachari Kadai still there ?

    1. Like other things that change with times, kaithari has also changed to suit the gennext Ramesh. Today the khadi, ikats, ilkals, chettinads,bandinis, lehariyas, ajrakhs, jamdani etc.... have adapted to suit the current generation. But the point they are sold at fab stores at heavy prices while the weavers get paltry amount which almost drives them to close down or look out for outside jobs. Retaining those crafts and weavers would stop them from migration, help balance the environment and also may be if we are enterprising enough promote craft or culture tourism also. If not everything will be lost and we may end up seeing those fabrics in museum. That was my point.

      Rangachari kadai is moving with times and is now an online store too:)