While the temple town of Udupi is well known for its famous Krishna temple, its mouth watering cuisine and other interesting sites as welll as nearby towns, did you know that the town once boasted of a rich legacy of handlooms? The GI tagged Udupi sarees are famous for their superior quality cotton and are available in 60 counts and 80 counts. Known for their colour fastness, most sarees have a body that is of a light colour while the pallu and border is of a darker shade.
A thriving industry which took birth in the 19th century, Udupi handlooms prospered till the late 1980s after which it saw a steady decline due to the introduction of power looms. However, the last few years has seen a steady revival of these handlooms, thanks to the efforts of Mamtha Rai, president, Kadike Trust, Karkala who has been actively working towards the cause of the revival of Udupi sarees.
The history of Udupi sarees goes back to 1844 when frame looms and industrial training was introduced by the Basel Mission. Soon weaving became very popular with close to 5,000 families involved in the profession. This growth was propelled by developments like the Swadeshi and the cooperative movement. By 1930 there were at least 8 major cooperative societies set up in the South Canara region making handloom weaving a flourishing industry.
All this changed with the emergence of the power looms and by 1990s the number of weavers started dwindling rapidly. “The sarees made on powers looms were sold at very low rates which translated to very low earnings for handloom weavers. Also, there was no recognition for their skill as the locals did not appreciate the value of the handloom saree” says Rai who added that the number of weavers had reduced to an abysmal 42 about three years ago with most of them being above 65 years in age.
When Mamtha Rai first heard about the decline of Udupi sarees through Prasanna Heggodu of Desi Trust, she was determined to take on the challenge of reviving this legacy through her charitable venture, Kadike Trust.
Some of the ongoing efforts of Kadike trust include facilitation of skill development and training programs in association with NABARD for new weavers, providing design inputs, devising an attractive packaging and rebranding the sarees with a picture of the weaver on each saree. Weavers are motivated periodically by felicitating top performers with awards and cash prizes. Kadike Trust has been actively using social media including FB, Instagram and Twitter to promote the sarees globally.
From a mere 8 weavers in the Talipady Weavers Cooperative Society in Kinnigoli, Mangalore, four years ago, the number has increased to 24; many of them having returned to weaving after several years and some starting afresh after giving up other professions.They have also worked with the societies in Brahmavar and Shivahalli to give the traditional Yakshagana (Kase) sarees a contemporary look. These sarees have seen an unprecedented increase in demand.
This article was originally published in Arts Illustrated.