In the quaint town of Uppada, Andhra Pradesh, from the earth-lapped verandah of his home Appanna has been weaving art for about 40 years. Just like his father did before him, at that time the loom spun floaty fibres of cotton while Appanna’s loom weaves rich silk.
“My father passed away in 1985. At that time there was no silk, only cotton. Silk needs a stronger weave.”
And so, under his ministrations, Uppada Jamdanis (or Pattus) come to life. Yet, the strands are fast slipping out, and a clutch of weavers like Appanna are holding on fast to help revive this craftsmanship.
What makes the Uppada sarees stand out is the meticulous thread count—a 100 threads lengthwise and 120 sideways—that gives these weaves their light texture and lustrous look.
There is refined luxury in these weaves, perhaps why it was favoured by the royals of region once. Sometimes referred to as the Uppada Pattu Cheera, the silks are more often known as Uppada Jamdanis. Named after the 300-year-old weaving technique that travelled to this part of the country from modern-day Bangladesh, it has taken on its own essence since the time that immigrant weavers came to settle here and continued nurturing their craft. Today, it has a distinct identity separate from the Dhakai Jamdani, and even a Geographical Indication tag of its own.
The story of the Uppada Jamdani is much like that of many invaluable handlooms around the country. Every other home in the coastal town is a weaver’s workshop, and it is the combined effort of these remaining sentinels, along with a hopefully growing revival of handloom arts that keeps the tradition alive.
One saree can take days to weave—Appanna says he manages to weave about eight a month—while the more intricate patterns can take weeks. A cherished art, it remains under threat from the fast machine-spun knockoffs, often supplied in excess by middlemen and an increasing disinterest in the craft owing to lesser financial returns that other livelihood choices.
Perhaps, there is, like with some other crafts across borders, some hope still. Clienteles from cities are now expressing interest in acquiring their works of art. The Uppada Jamdani is finding its patrons, steadily.
“After food, cloth is quite important for us humans. It will be around in one form or the other.”
These words keep weavers like Appanna going. And what a beautiful form it is for cloth to take.
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