Visit to: Kota Doria Sari Weaving in Kaithun, Rajasthan, India
Words & photos by Ruth Clifford
Kaithun is a small weaving village, approximately fifteen kilometres from Kota in Rajasthan. With the help of Victoria Singh, a local resident and founder of the Kota Heritage Society, researcher Ruth Clifford visited several weavers in the village and the market, examined and admire the gossamer weave fabric that is unique to the region – kota doria.
The majority of the 1500 weavers, mostly from the Muslim Ansari community, in Kaithun are women. Weavers in Kaithun are still using the hand-throw shuttle, while most centres in India began adopting the fly-shuttle from the early to the mid 20th century. The loom without the large frame that holds the fly shuttle, takes up very little space and can be packed away quite easily.
Real gold in zari (metallic thread) is essential for the cloth to be considered a true kota doria - one of the criteria of the GI (Geographical Indication) mark given to the fabric in 1999. The kota doria, like many other handloom fabrics, is often imitated by power looms and passed off as handloom. Sometimes a power loom piece is even hand-printed and then labelled as 'handloom' product.
Weaver Badrun Nisha
We first met Badrun Nisha, the secretary of the Women’s cooperative Kota Women's Weavers Organisation (KWWO). The women members used to work for master weavers or middlemen, but are now mostly sourcing yarn and handling marketing by themselves. Badrun also has her own small business and sells directly to high-end designers. Bibi Russell is one of the designers Badrun has worked with, and who has strongly promoted the kota doria fabric.
Like many other women, Badrun works part-time and fits weaving around her domestic chores. Kaithun women value the work of weaving as they don’t need to leave home to do the work. If there is extra income coming from their husband's work, such as Badrun's husband working as a tailor, this removes some of the financial pressure and weaving can be done around other household tasks. However, Victoria strongly emphasised that weaving is purely a job for these women – as they consider themselves weavers, there's no sense of boredom and aren’t necessarily interested in creating their own designs. They will happily weave according to what a designer asks for.
Badrun showed us a sari with an all-over floral lily pattern with gold zari. The piece, which took three months to complete, was woven for the government’s national award for expert artisans, but didn’t get chosen in the end. The award was given to a ‘master weaver’, demonstrating the (potentially gender and status) hierarchies that exist in weaving.
She also showed some plainer saris and dupattas, with simple checks in the weave – khat, which is the traditional characteristic of the kota doria. Small butis are often woven in the fabric body using extra weft. Dobby and sometimes jacquard are used for the more intricate patterns. Zari, is commonly used in borders and pallu.
Workshop of Azgarbhai
We also visited Azgarbhai, a master weaver and national award winner, whose large family of five brothers and their sons are all involved in the weaving business. Azgarbhai’s workshop has 150 weavers, 90% of whom are women. His son joined a workshop at The Handloom School in Maheshwar a few years ago for design, business and technical training. Azgarbhai showed us a range of intricately patterned, expensive kota doria demonstrating his highly-skilled weavers, production capacity and diverse market. He also showed some heavily patterned saris, which are relatively new designs and popular among the Marwari community or in South India, where the coolness of the cotton is preferable.
In comparison with other weaving clusters in India, Kaithun has little promotion and documentation. The main problem Kaithun weavers face is the competition with power loom. I wondered whether introducing the fly-shuttle would help this, as well as catching up with the volume of production and promotion. Yet, it would change the unique nature of kota doria, and possibly affect the achievement of the fineness of the fabrics. Further, would increase in promotion be beneficial or would it provide a breeding ground for more power loom imitations? These are just a few of the many complex but important questions to explore in the search for effective ways of developing handloom as a sustainable craft and livelihood in India. View the original field note on Travels in textiles and learn more about local heritage work with the textile through Kota Heritage Society’s kota doria project.