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Meet the Weavers and Dyers of Ikat

Within India, ikat is prevalent in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, (which declared its independence from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014), Odisha (Orissa) and Gujarat. For millennia the market for Indian ikat has been sizeable both locally and internationally. As in earlier times, ikat fabric continues to be in high demand and is readily exported. Today, the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation of India (HHEC) exports ikat fabrics across North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

The Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation
The Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation

The process of ikat dyeing and weaving continues to occur at home, and the craft is practised by all members of the family having been taught to each new generation. The Padmashali and Devangula communities are engaged in ikat weaving, which occurs in up to 40 villages in the Nalgonda district of Telangana. Each village in the Nalgonda district has undergone specialisation of specific processes of Ikat production, catering to various definitive market segments.

For instance, weavers in Pochampally, Puttapaka and Choutuppal specialise in the production of silk or cotton sarees, shirting material, bedding and furnishings of single warp, weft or double ikat. These areas are also known as the home of the most skilled artisans of ikat dyeing and weaving. Weavers in Koyyalagudem, Siripuram and Velanki specialise in the production of cotton and silk yardage and furnishings for both the domestic and export markets. There are up to 800 active ikat weavers in the Nalgonda district alone.

An artisan from the Padmashali community at work
An artisan from the Padmashali community at work

The Bhulia Meher and Gandia-Patra castes dominate ikat weaving in Odisha (Orissa). Individuals such as Radhashyam Meher, Kunja Bihari Meher, Chaturbhuja Meher and Krutartha Acharya, who are some of the most skilled and respected ikat artisans, are credited with perpetuating the survival of craft in the state. Today’s main hubs of ikat production in the Odisha (Orissa) are Sambalpur, Bargarh and the districts of Sonepur and Boudh.

Father and son working on weft ikat with a chitiki frame. The technique ikat is passed down from one generation to the next
Father and son working on weft ikat with a chitiki frame. The technique ikat is passed down from one generation to the next

In Gujarat, where double ikat known as Patan Patola is prominent, the Salvi community are pioneers of this textile art form, and have been for centuries. Today, Patan Patola is still widely recognised though artisans are few, with a recorded total of only two families expertly practising the craft. This minuscule number illustrates the prestige of Patan Patola and confirms that each completed item is truly unique and produced in the most authentic manner.

An artisan of the Salvi community working on double ikat, Patan Patola
An artisan of the Salvi community working on double ikat, Patan Patola

All forms of Indian ikat have always had global appeal. Today, government and non-government organisations and cluster developments ensure the continued livelihood of the traditions of both the craft and its artisans. Ikat techniques and prints have also been integrated in the production of contemporary items including handbags and footwear.

Ikat employed in the production of contemporary items, such as a handbag
Ikat employed in the production of contemporary items, such as a handbag

 

Images: Outlook Traveller, Laura's Loom, The Hindu, The Bombay Store