Gadwal Sarees

During these testing times of lockdown and restrictions in movement, technology not only keeps us sane but also fuels our dreams. We are told that we will soon be able to take a tour of all the most exotic locations on earth and visit the so-called seven wonders of the world. 

I dare you! 

Think about the experience of taking a stroll in a temple.  For instance, let us think of the temples of Chennakesava and Jogulamba, when the thousand splendid Suns are galloping towards us. Lest we forget the sounds of dawn. The interplay between the rustling of leaves and the Gadwal saree is literally an experience beyond reality. Let alone virtual. 

The small town of Gadwal is beautiful in more than one way. The fort, the temple and the saree have countless stories to offer. One of many is the trilogy of Gadwal, a tale of cotton body, silk border and zari pallu. And guess what? Imagine a million stories in your pocket. No. Again, we are not talking about a gadget. We are referring to a finely weaved Gadwal saree that fits into a matchbox.

(A saree that fits into a matchbox! But unfortunately, no longer weavers in Gadwal work on a saree that fits into a matchbox. The above saree is woven by a weaver in Sirisella, Telangana.)

Not so long ago, there lived a king in Gadwal

Although the town of Gadwal was a vassal under the Nizam dynasty, the sarees received patronage from local kings. Back in the day, Raja Seetaram Bhupal sent three weavers to Benaras in 1922 to learn different weaving techniques. Though these weavers were trained in Benaras, there has been no influence of Banarasi weave on the Gadwal. Later, Maharani Adilakshmi Devamma encouraged the cotton body saree with the kuttu technique (attakatam - to join) attached end-piece or the pallu.  The weavers continue this technique to this day. 

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(A vintage kuttu saree that is almost 30 years old. It still remains in tact.)

 

(The other side of the kuttu saree. Here the silk pallu has been attached (kuttadam in Telugu) to the cotton field/ body.)

 

(Finely attached silk border and to cotton the body. The backside of saree is seen here.)
God’s own weave

Gadwal, situated near Maharashtra and Karnataka, has strong design links to the Kornad sarees of South India and the silk border-cotton field sarees of East Central India. Every year, Lord Venkateswara Swamy’s Brahmotsavam is officiated with an offering of a Gadwal sari to the deities. Gadwal sarees are considered sacred, and are worn during auspicious ceremonies and festivals. No wonder, it is a must-have piece of every bride’s trousseau.

Usually, Gadwal sarees are woven as fine cotton sarees with either mulberry or tussar silk pallu and border. On rare occasions, pure-silk sarees are woven too. The speciality of the Gadwal sarees is their bright and contrasting colours, Kotakomma (Temple) technique, and the kuttu or Kuppadam or Tippadam (the interlocked weft) technique.

Today, in contrast to the original cotton Gadwal saree, silk sarees from Gadwal rule the roost. This can be majorly attributed to the lack of demand for cotton sarees that cannot be priced as high as their silk counterparts. Consequently, the number of weavers that take up cotton sarees in Gadwal is decreasing.

(A pure silk saree without a cotton body. Here, we see the use of kumbham or temple technique. Note: A three shuttle loom is required to achieve this.)

The making of Gadwal saree

The dyed yarns are sourced from Chirala. The weavers of Gadwal use the kuttu technique to magically weave these yarns into a beautiful saree. And it takes at least two expert weavers to work for 4 to 8 days (depending on the complexity). The fashion designers of a Gadwal saree build motifs by drawing inspiration from nature: peacock, paisley and swans, and temple architecture, while the field/ body of the saree is either checks or buttis. From the dancing peacocks, and exquisite swans to the intricate paisley, all of them come to life on a beautiful canvas. That is the story of a Gadwal saree. 

The temple bells can stop ringing but we continue to hear the sound of the divine. It is either the anklet of the Goddess. If not, it definitely is the rustling of Her Gadwal saree. 

About the author

 Rajeswari is a handloom, handicraft enthusiast. As an active member of the Crafts Council, she endeavours to make a difference to Indian art and artisans alike. She is just a message away on Instagram: @rajeswarimavuri