Nestled in southern Rajasthan, Kota is a town which is a teeming hotbed of the eponymous weave. The word doria is believed to have been derived from the Hindi and Gujarati words dori, which translates to “thread”. Kota, the town, is one of the three regions in Northern India that produces cotton with a fine count.
What is particularly intriguing is the geographical trajectory that the weave has followed through the decades. Believed to have been woven in Mysore earlier, the textile was widely known as “Masuria”. Its weavers were then brought to a small town near Kota under the order of the then-Mughal army general Maharao Kishore Singh. Eventually, between the early 17th and late 18th centuries, these weavers were moved to Kota, due to which the weave came to be regarded as “Kota Masuria”.
Traditionally woven on a pit loom, Kota doria is extensively used to craft saris. Before the loom is set in motion, the yarn is brushed with a mixture of onion juice and rice paste, in a bid to strengthen it, so that once the textile is weaved, it need not be finished further. The textile is ideally a mixture of pure cotton and silk, interweaved on the loom in such a way that they produce fine checks called khatsthroughout the sari. Each khat ideally comprises 14 yarns, of which eight are cotton, and six silk. Weaving is usually done using the shuttle technique – a shuttle is a wooden tool which holds the weft yarn in place. This tool moves back and forth between the warp yarn in order to weave in the weft yarn with it. The warp and weft yarns are prepared by an expert.
The subsequent result is a translucent swathe of fabric which is as refined to the eye as it is to the hand. This, perhaps, is one of the many attributes of the weave that endears it to the weaver and wearer alike. Kota doria is wispy and weightless, making it an ideal choice for the summer.
Vibrant, natural and azo-free dyes are used, and, to lend variety, it is printed with techniques such as dabu and kalamkari. Features such as jacquard, dobby, butties (motifs/patches) as well as jaali (fine grids) are also annexed to the weave. The colours used in the weave vary from primary to jewel shades and everything in between.
Kaithoon, a quaint town not too far from Kota, is home to nearly 3,000 families which are involved in handloom weaving. One of the villages producing the highest number of Kota doria weaves, it is home to 2,500 looms as of 2012. While the village harbours 45 male master weavers, it also has the Kota Women Weavers Organisation (KWWO), which comprises of 155 members. Apart from the weavers, there are also those who, although not directly a part of the actual weaving process, are involved in roles such as loom management, designing, dyeing of yarns, etc.
Noor Mohammed is one such weaver who hails from Kaithoon. Noor boasts a long lineage that has been involved in the weaving of Kota doria. For him, the weaving profession is generational. He now stages many Kota doria-centric exhibitions, such as “The Weaves of Kota”, which took place in Chennai in 2012.
Badrun Nisha, Secretary of KWWO, is another such weaver who dedicates herself wholeheartedly to the art.
Today, with power looms taking over, the true essence of the weave has diminished, what with the usage of artificial zari, and cheaper, inauthentic yarn being brought in from different parts of India, and even China.
However, the handloom sector still remains hopeful. In a bid to reinvent the wheel and emerge stronger, weavers are now improving their craft, and committing themselves to weaving paper-thin saris for a target clientele who hail from southern India. Given the craftsmanship and purity, each of these saris take nearly a month to weave, but the weavers are not complaining; they would not have had it any other way.
Kota Heritage Society