Kota sari weaving is at the crossroads. At least I think so. With my recent visit to kota sari weaving clusters in Kota, Bundi and Baran Distt, I have come to conclusions which are very different to those I previously had. One, the battle between handloom and powerloom Kota is clearly one-sided in favour of powerloom. In clusters it is a battle between master weavers and labourers. Kota has started adopting techniques of Chanderi saris in a big way. With influence of retail chain and designers, the Kota is being experimented on different bases. With all that at background, the uniqueness of Kota sari weaving is still prevailing. With the continuous increase in the price of traditional raw material and labour, and with decreasing prevalence of saris, the road ahead for Kota weaving is quite bumpy.
Handloom weaving in Kota Sari has shrunk itself in tiny clusters around the district. With about 2000 handlooms in the ten or so clusters around the towns, the handloom weaving is struggling to survive the onslaught of powerloom fabric being thrown in from Varanasi and from Kota itself. The difference in the price is staggering. A plain handloom sari of 5.5 meter will cost you 1200 whereas the same sari in powerloom you can get under 300 or so if you are a good bargainer. Real zari prices will sky rocket the MRP whereas in Tested Zari they become affordable. And go to Bhairo Gali in Kota, the shops are brimming with powerloom material in tested zari at prices that will take your breath away. The only solace for Kota handloom weavers is the traditional Jamdani technique which can only be done on a handloom fabric. In fact the entire village of Kaithoon is surviving on this. However, go to markets and you get a cutwork variety of the fabric in both pallu, body and border. Number of Khats are shrinking to about 240 in powerloom whereas they are still 290-300 in the handloom fabric. Talking of Khats, I happen to see a sari in 400 khats with one of the master weaver in Kaithoon. In Kaithoon, they have stopped producing the plain poth or simple Kota material without buti, as the workers do not get enough margins. This can directly be tracked to the powerloom version of plain poth saris.
2. Master Weavers vs. Labourers
The rift is evident. Some clusters like Kaithoon has a plethora of master weavers whereas the others such as Kotswan have all laborers. They even said that they are being exploited by the master weavers and would like to become independent. But they don't have the marketing wherewithals. The difference is also evident in their life styles. Whereas master weavers are living in plush lifestyles, the laborers are facing destitution. Even between villages the difference in the lifestyle of master weavers is stark. A master weaver in Kaithoon is much more rich than that in Ratoda. As indicated in the previous paragraph, the weavers in villages other than Kaithoon are ready to do even plain poth.
3. Chanderi influence in Kota
It is not clear if the motifs and techniques are originally from Kota or from Chanderi. However the difference is minimal. Using the same "Jala" technique ( In Chanderi they call it "Nakka") they are putting motifs in the pallu using "Tillis". In powerloom, they are using Jacquards and producing motifs in the cutwork technique. The motifs are so similar to Chanderi that it is difficult to guess who is copying whom. However, one difference in handloom separates Kota from Chanderi. Apart from texture, in Kota they are still using real zari. The looms are also much smaller than chanderi.
4. Experiments on New Bases
With the powerloom rapidly gaining ground, new bases are being experimented upon. Using Silk with Katan makes the Kota texture very soft and lightweight. Using china silk with Silk gives a medium stiffness. However they are using China x china and that gives Kota sari a very unique finish. They are also using zari to make tissue saris out of it. Use of Dyed yarns will give a very different textures to the saris.
5. Different Areas Different Emphasis
One observation while visiting clusters I made is different clusters are specialised in different techniques. In Kaithoon, they specialise in Buti weaving using Tillis. In Kotswan they are working on plain poth using different bases. In Ratoda, they are working on Kota saris with zari checks for traditional Rajput wedding. In Mangrol, they are working on different bases.
6. Uniqueness Still Prevails
All said and done, the texture that Kota sari produces in inimitable. With options of so many bases using yarn dyed and butis with border options, they become a language in themselves.
7. Road Ahead
Handloom in Kota is dyeing like any other handloom cluster. The progeny of the handloom weavers doesn't want to work on traditional looms. With designs being copied by everyone else, and powerloom option coming the second day with half the price, weavers are dyeing a slow death. Buti option in Jamdani technique still makes the saris unique. With GI in place, and government supporting Kota weavers, it makes the life of the weavers somewhat comforting. However this incentive is artificial and until some unique design interventions are done in Kota saris, the handloom extinction is only an arm's length away.
Thanks for your attention. Did you find the information you were looking for ? Please leave a comment. Do you need to know more ? Please suggest a topic in the comments. You can also join the Forum for your specific queries.