Deep in the heart of Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district resides a little town known as Gandhigram, the homeland of one of the most iconic khadi initiatives in India.
As the name rightly suggests, Gandhigram khadi stems from Mahatma Gandhi’s Swaraj (self-rule) movement, which apolitically professed increased holistic dependence on oneself; and thus spinning one’s own clothes became a rather integral part of the same. With Swaraj came the idea of Swadeshi, which encouraged the countrymen to be defiant and stop subscribing to the offerings of the Raj. Ever since, khadi came to be known as the symbol of “sartorial integrity” throughout the nation and beyond.
Politically speaking, the more people began to spin the wheel (charkha), the more it stabilized the economy without the dependency on the British. As Gandhian educationist M.P. Mathai writes, “Gandhi wanted an internal cleansing chiefly through self-motivated voluntary action in the form of constructive work. He, therefore, dovetailed them into his movement for freedom. Swaraj of his dream was to be built from below, brick by brick. It meant the elimination of all forms of domination, oppression, segregation and discrimination through the use of active nonviolence and a simultaneous economic regeneration of rural India through programmes like the revival and propagation of khadi and other related villages industries.”
The legacy of khadi lingers on till today. Thriving under the aegis of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), Gandhigram khadi is giving a new lease of life to Swaraj. Not only does the trust keep the nation’s heritage alive but it also provides a source of livelihood to nearly two thousand people, by employing them directly and indirectly in the process of khadi weaving.
In Tamil Nadu, khadi is widely known as khaddar, and is made using fine hand-spun cotton yarn, which is later woven using a single-spindle charkha. However, what sets Gandhigram khadi apart is that, in addition to plain textures, it is also often woven with geometric patterns which consist of checks and stripes, among others. Weavers of this type of khadi also make use of natural dyes, which further endears it to patrons.
In fact, much to the khadi connoisseur’s delight, a little poring over reports evinces headways and innovations that the trust is integrating into the weave. In 2017, for instance, KVIC introduced Gandhigram and surrounding villages to the eight-spindle charkha which not only marked an improvement in technology, but also proved to be monetarily viable to weavers, as it enabled them to produce up to twenty five hanks of khadi per day, as compared to the traditional charkha which would churn out a mere five. The eight-spindle charkha is especially used to weave coarse khadi, also known as moti khadi.
On the other hand, the weaving department of the trust also organized a sale centred on the khadi during the same time period. It was a potpourri of color and creation, to say the least. With the aim of encouraging the youth to wear the fabric of the nation, the event boasted vibrant renditions of Gandhigram khadi (dresses, kurtas, shirts, dhotis as well as unstitched fabric), all handwoven and naturally dyed.
The town is also home to the Gandhigram Institute, which encourages students and faculty to occasionally wear dresses woven from khadi, whereas chief guests here are felicitated with richly made khadi shawls.
All this, and more, goes on to validate how the appeal of the khadi metamorphoses into a crucial ingredient of everyday living, and a modest allegory of a close-knit, self-reliant community.