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Guledgudda Khun

Equal parts opulent and resplendent, Guledgudda Khana seems obscure, but is steeped in history.

Hailing from Guledagudda village in the Bagalkot district of North Karnataka — and spanning a hundred years — this eponymous weave predominantly finds patronage in select regions of its home state and Maharashtra. The fabric is often collectively known as Guledgudda Khana, with "khana" being a prominent blouse fabric of the state. In fact, so revered was the blouse in earlier times that it went on to become one of the most widely worn pieces of clothing by the women of Guledagudda and surrounding villages.

Alternatively, the weave is also simply known as khun. One among many stories that enshroud it establishes that "khun" translates to "sugar" in Marathi; the sari was named so as it was predominantly worn by those living in the sugar-growing regions of Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka.

A traditional swathe of Guledgudda Khana comprises a rich amalgamation of hand-spun and handwoven silk and cotton, which is further accentuated by contrastingly colored dobby weaving on either of the sides, along with fine polychromatic motifs commemorating cultural and religious icons such as tulsi pan (the leaf of tulsi plant), theru (a chariot), Suranarayana Mukta (the Sun God) and ane hejje(elephant footsteps) among many others.

In ancient times, the fabric was predominantly woven to craft sari blouses which blend in effortlessly with the equally revered Ilkal saris. Silk yarns are used as the warp with varying counts and widths, while cotton yarn (usually ranging between counts of 40S and 60S) are placed in as the weft. The fabric is woven with techniques such as ground warp, border warp and extra warp, with each requiring a different yarn count. An array of designs (with color and motif variations) can be produced using these techniques, some of them being Kolu Teru, Navalpari, Kalawar Balli, etc.

The yarn is dyed, wrung, dried and combed before it is taken to the loom for weaving. The fabric originally measures 31 inches; but adapting to changing times, weavers have expanded the size to as much as a meter. As sturdy as it is beautiful, khun keeps its sheen even after several rounds of washing.

Today, the village is home to a mere five dyers, two of whom are Motilal and Ambalal Ghanshyam Shah Chavan. On the contrary, the weaver count in the village is relatively well off — Guledagudda houses thousands of weavers, brothers Jagannatha and Siddharamappa Mallagi being two of them. Residing in a rustic home which doubles as a handloom set-up, they are extremely dedicated to the craft, using only natural dyes and the purest of cottons and silks. The result? Bales and bales of unadulterated fabric awash in eternal shades of red, magenta, yellow, green, among others, with an almost transcendental intricacy.

However, Guledgudda is not foreign to the inundation of power looms, a phenomenon which has been throwing the authenticity of many of the country's indigenous weaves into disarray. A number of private firms today have been attempting to leverage the mushrooming call for the cloth. To meet with this demand, weavers are now on the lookout for more financially feasible fiber such as polyester and artificial silk. And with power looms sizeably speeding up the process (a power loom takes up to 2 days to churn out 40 metres of fabric, while an unpowered one would require as many as 30 days to produce the same quantity), many weavers are turning to the former. While this may provide the fabric with substantial traction, it mars the bona fide allure of the weave and takes away the spotlight from its original makers — the weavers of Guledagudda – in a bid to commercialise the craft.

But Guledgudda Khana still has a silver lining going for it, no matter how attenuated. Today, the weave prides itself on its GI (Geographical Identification) tag. The fabric also finds itself in the center of many cultural references and is making contemporary headway. Noted textile revivalist Hemalatha Jain, who is involved in the restoration of an array of Indian-origin weaves, has been unwaveringly striving to bring the signature motifs present in Guledgudda Khana to life.

Although traditionally incorporated in sari blouses, the weave now lends itself to more innovations than one. Indian fashion blogger Abhilasha, for instance, offered the khun fabric a newfangled spin by donning it in the form of vibrant, violet trousers. On the other hand, Kai Crafts, a Bengaluru-based initiative that empowers the artisans and craftsmen of North Karnataka, boasts a stellar line-up of pillows (collectively known as Khana Cushions) made from khun, and adorned with quintessential Kasuti embroidery. KaleNele Design Studio, yet another Bengaluru-based venture that seeks to showcase the dying crafts of India, extensively focuses on Guledgudda fabric, interspersing it with many of its home decor collections.

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