Siddipet district in Telangana is popular for its beautiful temples and even prettier saris. But it is not just any regular sari that is woven here but the one of a kind Gollabhama sari. These saris are popular for their inlay figure work and iconic motifs. Woven in pure cotton, only natural colors and complimenting blends are used in weaving this sari. The uniqueness of these weaves lies in the transfer of the distinctive design and color onto the warp and weft threads that are then woven together. The weavers here are extremely proud of their exclusive weaving traditions that had at a point in time brought a lot of fame to the town of Siddipet.
The figure work is inspired by the name “Gollabhama” that translates to “milkmaids” in the local language. Cattle’s rearing was a popular profession by the community called “golla”. Sights of the women of this community carrying pots of milk on their heads donned in bright skirts and veils were common, and it is this rural scene that has been captured in the saris. According to folklore, during the Dwaparyuga, milkmaids would carry pots of milk and cream to appease Lord Krishna. The bewitching silhouette of these women was the original inspiration for the weavers who replicated them on the saris.
The iconic designs are now created on cotton and silk. The fact that makes this design exceptional is that the images aren’t printed or embroidered but woven meticulously on the pallu of the sari. Initially the design is drawn on a graph and later woven in a pattern using 80-100 threads. There are three designs namely “Kolatam”, “Bathukamma” and “Gollabhama”, the last being the most popular of the lot.
To create the motif, the weaver has to carefully pass the colored thread through the warp to get a clear design. Pulling the loom strings and swinging the pedal down simultaneously is both a time-consuming and demanding process where the perfection of the weaver’s skill determines how clear and clean the finish is. Ideally the motif should be designed using a single color thread that will make the design distinctly stand out. However the weavers sometimes use double colored threads that fasten the process but blur the image to an extent. To make the design stand out even more, the body is usually in a single color contrasting to the thread used for the motif.
Gollabhama saris have a GI tag attached to them. Despite being one of the best handwoven products of the world and various efforts made to grant subsidies on the yarn stock, the art of weaving Gollabhama saris is sadly on the verge of collapse. It takes half the time to weave a regular cotton or silk sari as compared to a gollabhama sari. Each sari earns a revenue of only 350 rupees to the weaver. The time and effort taken to weave one is not at all feasible for them to carry on with their trade. The weavers express great concern for themselves as well as their dying art, as the current scenario has forced the craft into becoming defunct. They fear it may as well be seen by future generations only in pictures or artifacts. In a bid to boost the dying art, the iconic weave is now being created on more fashionable items like stoles and scarves, using new color palettes to appeal to younger, trendy consumers.
Siddipet was once home to over 2000 gollabhama weavers with 250 looms, a number that has dwindled down to a mere six that actively weave Gollabhama saris at present. In Chinnakodurmandal, only two weavers who know the technique remain. With the situation being so bleak, traditional weavers struggle to gain the strength to continue and not succumb to greener pastures. The government believes that such a precious folk art needs to be preserved, however despite its measures to help out the weavers by providing subsidies and buying out the existing stock, they are able to do little in restoring the weave’s past glory.