An exhibition of vintage handloom saris of South India at at the DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum near Chennai will bring into focus some intriguing histories and contemporary challenges of weavers

At the DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum, handloom saris of South India will be taking centrestage for a month. A curated collection of 50 silk saris, each distinct and representing different weaving styles of the five southern states, will be showcased in an exhibition titled A weaving journey: The story of the South Indian Sari.

Gita Hudson, the exhibition’s curator, says that a huge collection of vintage saris have come in from various donors. “The oldest sari is from the year 1930,” she says. Silk saris hold a significant position in any ritual or event in the life of a South Indian woman, which is why silk saris have a special memory associated with them.

“While we will be showcasing some classic heirloom saris at the event, we will also be focussing on the plight of the weavers and how the powerloom has thrown handloom weavers out of a job. We have made a film to highlight the life of weavers,” says Gita.

The film, made by Gita, focusses on 78-year-old textile researcher and scholar Sabita Radhakrishna and her Weaver Initiative. Sabita talks about how she strategised and set out to systematically help the weavers sell their products during lockdown in the film.

The Kodali Karuppur sari, revived and recreated by Sabita in collaboration with the Kalakshetra Foundation, will also be exhibited at the event. “A catalogue with the weavers’ names and contact numbers will also be put up at the event, so that visitors can directly get in touch with the weavers and place their orders, and this will go a long way in enhancing the livelihood of the community,” says Sabita.

Kumbakonam’s Maratha connect

  • Kodali Karuppur saris evolved under the patronage of the Maratha ruler Serfoji Raja Bhonsle Chhatrapati II in 1787-1832, and were made exclusively for the ranis of Tanjore till the 19th Century.
  • The saris were produced in the village of Kodali Karuppur, near Kumbakonam, in Thanjavur district. The weavers’ ancestry comprise about 400-500 families who migrated from Saurashtra to Madurai, Salem and Kancheepuram.
  • Karuppur cloth was worn only by the Tanjore nobility, who gifted some as khillat or clothes of honour. In some Maratha states like Baroda, Kolhapur and Satara, the Karuppur sari was an essential part of the bride’s trousseau, as was the Karuppur turban for the groom.

Visitors can observe how fabric is woven in a loom, and interact with the museum’s in-house weaver Kesavan, who will set up his loom and explain the nuances even as he weaves yards of textiles. Many events are planned around the exhibition such as block printing activities, talks, ramp walks, a sari photo booth and a book exhibition on saris.

A Weaving Journey is on till January 4, 2021 at Varija Gallery, DakshinaChitra, from 10 am to 5 pm. The centre is closed on Tuesdays. For details, call 9841436149.

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