A sieve for the breeze - Kota Doria

Much to my glee , I had another opportunity of interaction with weavers. Post my explorations at Upasana in Madurai and my all too short interactions with  weavers in Saiha, Mizoram  , I had conveniently put these explorations on the back burner and made a dive into enjoying all that Saiha came with.

Back in Delhi now and Crafts Revival Trust was undertaking a documentation exercise on crafts clusters and I happily jumped into the bandwagon and worked on Kota. My last memories of Kota were of over 8 years ago. Me and my sister had decided to make some trips that year and Bundi was where we were headed. Fascinating waterfalls and lovely blue homes  that we  watched from the fort dominate my memory of the trip.This time however I was headed for Kaithun, a town about 20km from Kota , known for Kota Doria fabric or Kota Masuriya as it is locally known.

Sizing and a sluggish monkey
One of my first interactions was with the young son from a home of Master Weavers. We spent our day meeting with with  government officers and talking about the the various processes involved in the making of the fabric. At the end of the day I found myself being led into what I thought was a clump of some nasty thorny bushes. I couldn't see too far into the thicket  and my uneasiness subsided only when the bushes cleared  to reveal  a cool shaded but relatively open patch with several rows of yarn stretched out on rods.5 odd families were working on sizing the yarn , a process that renders it strength. Parvati a woman I met there was most welcoming and we met twice over my visit to speak about the work she does. Parvati and her girls worked juggled multiple kinds of work - as domestic helps , cooks and paan workers (the process of sizing). Paan work seemed to be bringing in the least to their purses.

Mashing the wild onions

Sizing needs thorough application of starch onto the yarn and the Koli community in Kota was known to do this in their own unique way. A wild variety of onions was collected during the monsoons from the forests (it cannot be cultivated they tell me) around Kota. As  Kota and smaller towns around it grow , the forests become further from the Kolis and collection doubly difficult with forest guards intervening.Paan work is extremely tedious , more so for the Koli community to whose basket of work collection and storage of the wild onions is added.

This Koli Kanda as the onion is locally known is stored for the whole year in their homes during the monsoons and used as per need. They are first boiled and brought to the site of work and mashed into water . This solution is  applied to the dyed yarns propped up on wooden supports through the length of this little space in the park.

A Brush from the far north

The brushes  used are a story in themselves. Weighing over a kilo in the least these brushes are not made locally. Parvati cannot seem to remember which place the brush makers come from , but she's certain its very far and the trees that provide for its bristles don't grow in Rajasthan. The brush makers visit Kota annually, though this frequency now is dwindling. I later read more on the process and realize they come from Kashmir.

Through the couple of days that i spent in Kota , was  able to meet with not just the weavers themselves  but graph designers, women engaged in the warping process, dyers and my sense of wonder on how many hands a Sari passes through before it gets made was constant.

At another point in the trip I was able to watch an old woman and her grandchild work on the warping or Taan. The yarn was wound around these Nallas and mounted on a frame. The ends of these yarns were hooked onto a paddle of sorts which was held by the grandmother. The duo made rounds with the frame and paddle around a poles and prepared the warp for 5 saris. I understand that close to 2800 yarns are required for the warp in one sari. While i flipped through some of the studies on the process of Kota Doria, i realized that this process of warping was considered quite dated and attempts to mechanize some parts of it were not taking of too smoothly. I recalled the soft and cautious tread of the woman and  her grandaughter around the poles. I wondered whether she could play a part in the new innovations proposed or whether the easier retired life would bring the kind of joys one assumes it would.
Women on the Loom
The working of the loom is largely left to the women of the Ansari community. Traditionally  most members of the family were engaged with the loom or the pre loom processes but with declining income the men of the household moved onto other work. The loom for many is no longer the only source of income. Women however are unwilling to let go of the loom, shares Bashiran a member of a a local weavers organization. Among various other reasons , she feels a strong one is the independence that weaving brings with it. Independence to travel and interact with different people, get a steady income in her control etc. Young girls prefer marriage within the community where there is a appreciation for her skill and independence to use it.

These were just some of the processes that i was able to skim through during my visit. On the way back , I recall being overwhelmed by how many hands yarn went through before this fabric emerged. A fabric as light as this , filtering the breeze and making the harsh summers more bearable. Reflections continue - on the people, the weave and the interactions.

Thanks Aamir, Sunny, Yash and Sharmilla  for your help on this and Ritu for remembering that I'd be interested in something like this.