A hand-woven sari is not just a garment, but a six-yard long tale. The story begins in the hands of the weaver who threads together this beautiful piece of art. It is thereon passed on to the market, where it changes hands across multiple traders before it finally finds its place in our wardrobe. After taking us on a ride to the handloom clusters Gadwal and Venkatagiri through her previous features, Rajeswari Mavuri, a handloom and handicraft enthusiast from Vizag, is here to share interesting anecdotes behind the making of Mangalagiri saris.
Millennials. That is a buzzword, right? But, wait. Think about this: 90s-kid. Well, that’s not a word. It’s an emotion. We have a billion memories about sports, cinema, school, books, greeting cards and birthday parties. Let me add one more to the list. Our beautiful mothers, aunts and teachers. Wonder women who sported a colourful – more often than not starched – saris. What of it?
How can we forget the mysterious man that would come home with a pile of saris just before the festival session began? Like James Bond in Casino Royale, the sari-man would open the stack of sarees, spread them on the mat, as the ladies of the house and much-loved neighbours watched on with joy and amusement. Touching the saris with reverence, the man would explain to the cohort: these are from the holy town, Mangalagiri. May Goddess Lakshmi enter your house. The innocent kid in the home would walk into the scene and ask: “Uncle, from where?”
The temple town of Mangalagiri is famous for its simple cotton handloom saris. The word Mangalagiri in Telugu translates as the auspicious hill. It is believed that Goddess Laxmi practised her penance on the hill. The legend goes that Yudistira, the eldest of the Pandavas, installed the main deity. And in so many other ways, the weave of Mangalagiri is closely connected to the temple town. Initially, the weavers came to the town to make saris to the deity. Later, to those pilgrims that visited the shrine. As a result, religion found its context in the region of Mangalagiri.
Ever since, the Mangalagiri earned its reputation for producing fine, simple cotton saris (80-120 count). This was at a time when coarse cotton saris were widely woven. Subsequently, the town attracted many more skilled weavers. In the past, Mangalagiri experienced a jolt when Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah levied high taxes on the products. This led to higher prices and lower sales. As a result of this infamous tax regime, many weavers left their profession. Before it was too late, Qutb Shah realised his mistake and rolled back the taxes.
Over the years, Mangalagiri saris have been worn by women from all walks of life. Mangalagiri’s plain body with dark colours makes a sari suitable for women that work in the agricultural fields. More so, the fine weave makes it appropriate for the tropical weather of Andhra Pradesh and the surrounding regions. Over the years, the brilliantly creative weavers experimented with several patterns such as missing checks. Mangalagiri, as we know today, has distinct features such as plain weave without any extra wefts, saree without border or at the most a small zari border, and zero design body. Most saris are woven with the same colour. Rarely, however, the weaver decides to work on a shot. This is a result of different colours for warp and weft, thus giving the garment a different colour altogether.
It is interesting to know that it takes only one highly-skilled weaver to work on a Mangalagiri sari. The mission is accomplished in just a day or two. The weaver works with fine cotton, by using a simple or a missing weave technique. The choice of the motif may be anything from Nizam border, tilakam, cross button, bulb. Interestingly, until the 1950s, Mangalagiri used only natural colours. But later, when the dyeing units were established in Guntur, the weavers started to experiment with a myriad of colours. Thus, making Mangalagiri weave as beautiful as a rainbow.
Mangalagiri, today, is one of the few handloom clusters that boasts a high demand in the market. In recent years, surprisingly the sale of salwar kameez fabrics is outnumbering the sari sales. The fabric is easy to maintain and is not exorbitantly priced. Like a filter coffee, Mangalagiri is one of those few instances when cheap and best can be said in a single breath. How can we forget the breezy sight of our mothers and teachers flaunting their Managalagiri drape? You don’t need to take our work. Go and ask them whether they faced any difficulty maintaining it. They’d smile, and if you are lucky, they would even present you one.
Number of weavers to weave a sari: One
Number of days to weave a sari: 1-2 days
Technique: Simple and missing weave
Type of Loom: Pit loom
Speciality: Fine cotton (80-100 count)
Border: Small zari border
Motifs: Nizam border, tilakam, cross button, bulb (only for borders)
About the Author: Rajeswari Mavuri is an active member of the Crafts Council of Andhra Pradesh. She endeavours to make a difference to the Indian art and artisans alike. She is just a message away on Instagram: @rajeswarimavuri