Bengaluru, a treasure trove of diverse weaves
I am a ‘Trishanku’, by which I mean that I stand between Chennai and Bengaluru with respect to my allegiances.
The much-loved Vastrabharana is coming — this year to be held between September 29 and October 3 — at Chitrakala Parishad. This is the time when saree-lovers of the city will throng the exhibition to buy their sarees for the year.
I am a ‘Trishanku’, by which I mean that I stand between Chennai and Bengaluru with respect to my allegiances. Which city is better is an unruly and ultimately unsatisfying exercise. I love both places. There are areas where Bengaluru trumps Chennai, the weather, for instance, and yes, I know that it is a tired cliche. In fact one of my favourite Twitter posts from last year was: “Hey Bangaloreans, is everything all right? Nobody has boasted about your city’s weather in the last 24 hours.”
But there is one area though where Chennai stands head and shoulders above us, and I use this metaphor with a reason. It is textiles. Recently, I learned that the original Vishvakarma exhibition that was held in New Delhi in 1983 had a full 50% of textiles from Tamil Nadu. The remaining states were lumped to the other 50%. Called Pudu Pavu, these Tamil textiles included the amazing Kodali Karuppur, Sikalnayakanpet, Dharmapuri, Tirubuvanam and other weaves. Listen to Sreemathy Mohan and Anita Ratnam talk about the lesser known weaves of Tamil Nadu on Ratnam’s Instagram account to know more about these weaves.
In contrast, Karnataka’s silk weave, the Molkalmuru, is not even worn by Kannada brides, who prefer Kanchipuram to Molkalmuru. Sure, we have our Dharwad drapes and our khadi weaving clusters championed by Prasanna and others, but Bengaluru lacks a community of crazy-textile-ladies beyond the Crafts Council of Karnataka members.
In Chennai, gallerist Sharan Apparao does the Yarn Club lectures. Here, we have the Registry of Sarees but not (yet) a community around it. We have our annual pilgrimage to Vastrabharana but beyond that the Crafts Council of Karnataka is not a strong presence in the Bengaluru “scene.” Is it because doyennes , including Vimala Rangachar, Bharati Govindaraj, Chandra Jain, Geetha Rao, Mangala Narasimhan, Uma Rao, and others like them are not “organisers” who are active on social media? These are quiet, elegant women with a ton of expertise. But in the traditional Indian fashion of guru-shishya parampara, you have to interact with them one-on-one in order to gain entry into their world of textiles. Today, many of us, me included, get our highs from watching women in beautiful drapes post photos on Instagram. There are folks who write about sarees like Kaveri Ponnappa and Anju Maudgal Kadam. The 100-saree-pact originated in Bengaluru. But beyond that, textile talk is a one-off event not a recurring feature in Bengaluru. There is no community of (younger) women who gather to share expertise, listen to speakers, sell sarees and patronise the weaves.
How to change this? One way would be for many of the city’s saree lovers to join institutions like the Crafts Council of Karnataka, which hosts Vastrabharana. The other is for hoary saree brands in the city to create communities around these weaves. Beloved Bengaluru brands including the House of Angadi and Vimor are making attempts in this direction. Vimor has created a foundation and a museum of living textiles. The House of Angadi has created events that foster a community by inviting speakers to its store. Both these efforts need to go further. I would happily pay to attend textile lectures (that end with some simple Oota) that are run like a club. It could happen with a brand or a store like Nalli’s which is in Central Bengaluru. Newer entrants like Taneira have the clout of the Tata name behind them and a lovely space in Indranagar. But none of the big saree brands in Bengaluru (including the old ones on MG Road) do anything consistently. Six events a year at minimum is required to build a community. It doesn’t have to be celebrity names. There is a wealth of knowledge within the city. And the point should not be sales – even though that may well happen. It should be to foster and expand a community of women and men all of whom are crazy about our woven heritage.
There is some hope. Recently I attended a talk at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. It was put together by sisters Mala and Sonia Dhawan who tirelessly work in the crafts sector under their banner A Hundred Hands. The panel included Bangaloreans and textile enthusiasts Pavitra Muddayya and Prasad Bidapa (who captured Martand Singh in his last video interview). Their enthusiasm and knowledge were inspiring. The Director of NIFT, Susan Thomas is dynamic and full of ideas. She and the NIFT team recently put together a fantastic exhibit titled “Vignette: Visvakarma Textiles: Art & Artistry,” at the National Gallery for Modern Art (NGMA). When I visited the exhibition, it was heartening to see groups of students walk through and pore over the pieces on the walls. Who knows? Perhaps it was the beginning of a lifelong love story between a young Bengalurean designer and the handmade textiles that mark this land.
(Shoba Narayan is Bengaluru-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.)