Nestled in the heart of Kerala’s Thrissur district, the picturesque Kuthampully saree weaving village stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and artistic craftsmanship of the region.
About 50 km from Thrissur town, in the quaint and unassuming gramma panchayat of Thiruvilwamala lies Kuthampully, a treasure trove of craftsmanship in the handloom industries.
As you navigate the narrow lanes of Thiruvilwamala, twisting and turning all the way to Kuthampully canal of Bharathapuzha, you are greeted by a line of clothing stores boasting of the best Kuthampully handloom sarees. Alas, none of them is “original.” Traders from the neighboring districts and states found Kuthampully to be a great marketing opportunity to sell power-loom sarees of all kinds.
This is why it is more than important to know how to and where to find the original Kuthampully handlooms if you want to play a part in keeping this tradition alive.
In this blog I will take you through the history of Kuthampully handloom, the relevance and specialty of Kuthampully sarees, the crisis faced by the Kuthampully weavers, and the way forward for the community and handloom tradition.
History of Kuthampully Saree Weaving Community
The forebearers of Kuthampully handloom tradition have passed down their exceptional craftsmanship through generations, keeping alive the art of handloom weaving.
The weavers of Kuthampully are the descendants of Devanga weaving caste who hails from Karnataka and Andhra. During the reign of the Vijayanagara empire (1300s-1500s) in South India, weavers of the Devanga community migrated in large numbers to Tamil Nadu to set their roots down.
It is believed that the Cochin Royal family brought 600 families of Devanga community to weave garments exclusively for the royal family.
According to the Devanga tradition, weaving the loom is done by the male members of the family, while the women spin the thread and dye the yarn.
Over time, the community grew smaller and smaller. In 1972, when Kuthampully Handloom Industrial Co-Operative Society was registered, there were only 102 members.
In September 2011, Kuthampully sarees got exclusive Intellectual Property rights trough Geographical Indications (GI) Act.
Kuthampully Handloom Tradition
The pride of Kuthampully lies in its remarkable creation—the Kuthampully saree. These sarees are a masterpiece of artistry and craftsmanship, captivating all who lay their eyes upon them. Woven using cotton or silk, Kuthampully sarees are adorned with a stunning golden border known as “Kuthampully Kasavu.” The golden threads intricately woven into the fabric reflect the skill and precision of the weavers.
Crafting a Kuthampully saree is a labor-intensive process that requires expertise and patience. The journey begins with dyeing the threads to achieve vibrant hues. Next, the threads are skillfully warped onto the loom, creating the foundation for the saree. The weavers then employ their deft fingers to weave the fabric, meticulously incorporating the exquisite golden border into the design. This intricate process results in a timeless piece of art that exudes elegance and tradition.
Kuthampully sarees hold immense cultural significance, not only in Kerala but throughout India. These sarees are often worn during auspicious occasions, festivals, and weddings. They symbolize the grace and beauty of Kerala’s traditional attire. The allure of a Kuthampully saree lies not only in its aesthetic appeal but also in the stories and traditions it carries, connecting generations and upholding the heritage of the land.
While Kuthampully sarees have gained immense popularity, the village’s artistic prowess extends beyond them. Kuthampully is also known for its production of traditional Kerala clothing such as mundu (dhoti) and set mundu (two-piece saree). These garments, crafted with the same level of dedication and skill, showcase the versatility of Kuthampully’s handloom industry.
Where can I buy original Kuthampully handloom sarees?
If you want to be absolutely sure, there are two ways to buy an original Kuthampully handloom saree. First, buy it directly from one of the weavers. Not all weavers sell it themselves, but they can guide you to the houses of the weavers who sell them. Second, buy your Kuthampully handloom saree from the Co-Operative Society.
A typical Kuthampully handloom saree costs Rs. 2000 and upwards. If you are looking for a grander saree with wide kasavu, colored threads, and intricate designs, expect to spend Rs. 4000 and upwards.
How to find the Kuthampully Weavers?
If you are driving to Kuthampully, do not stop until you reach Sri Ramalinga Sowdeshvari Amman Temple. This is just after the Co-Operative Society and at the last bus-stop in Kuthampully. You can approach anybody here to direct you to the homes of the weavers.
The Kuthampully saree weavers face several challenges and crises that threaten their livelihoods and the continuation of their craft. Some of these crises include:
Declining Demand: With changing fashion trends and the rise of ready-made garments, there has been a decline in the demand for traditional handloom sarees like Kuthampully sarees. The younger generation often prefers modern clothing styles, which has led to a decrease in the market for these handwoven textiles.
Competition from Power Looms: Power looms can produce textiles at a faster rate and lower cost compared to traditional handlooms. This has created stiff competition for Kuthampully weavers, as power loom sarees can be produced at a fraction of the price, attracting price-sensitive customers.
Economic Hardships: Weaving is a labor-intensive process that requires significant time and effort. However, the income earned by the weavers is often inadequate to sustain their families. Many weavers struggle with financial hardships and live in poverty, making it difficult for them to continue their craft.
Lack of Infrastructure and Resources: The weavers of Kuthampully often face challenges due to the lack of modern infrastructure, such as proper weaving facilities, storage facilities, and access to raw materials. Limited access to credit and government support exacerbates their difficulties.
Changing Demographics: The younger generation is not as interested in taking up traditional weaving as a profession. Many weavers’ children are opting for alternative career paths, which leads to a shortage of skilled weavers and a potential loss of the art form. Most of the Kuthampully weavers today are over 40 years of age.
Limited Market Exposure: Despite the inherent beauty and craftsmanship of Kuthampully sarees, limited marketing and promotion efforts have restricted their reach to a broader customer base. Weavers struggle to find markets beyond their immediate vicinity, limiting their income potential.
Addressing these crises requires collective efforts from various stakeholders, including government support, marketing initiatives, access to credit and resources, and raising awareness about the significance of traditional handloom textiles. By recognizing the challenges faced by Kuthampully saree weavers and actively working towards their preservation and promotion, we can help sustain this invaluable cultural heritage for future generations.
Way Forward for Kuthampully Saree-Weaving Community
To ensure a brighter future for Kuthampully saree weavers and the preservation of their craft, several steps can be taken:
Promoting Awareness and Appreciation: Educating the public about the cultural and artistic significance of Kuthampully sarees is crucial. Efforts should be made to create awareness about the craftsmanship, heritage, and uniqueness of these handwoven textiles, both within Kerala and on a national and international level.
Developing Market Linkages: Weavers need access to broader markets beyond their local vicinity. Establishing market linkages through collaborations with designers, fashion houses, and online platforms can help expand the customer base and increase the demand for Kuthampully sarees. Exhibitions, trade fairs, and fashion shows can also provide exposure and create opportunities for the weavers to showcase their creations.
Empowering Weavers Through Cooperatives: Forming weaver cooperatives or self-help groups can empower the weavers by providing them with a collective voice, access to resources, and opportunities for skill development. Cooperatives can also help streamline production, marketing, and distribution processes, ensuring fair wages and better working conditions for the weavers.
Improving Infrastructure and Technology: Upgrading the weaving infrastructure, providing better access to raw materials, and adopting technological advancements can enhance the efficiency and productivity of the weavers. Modernizing the looms, introducing improved dyeing techniques, and facilitating access to credit and capital can help the weavers meet market demands and compete effectively.
Government Support and Policy Intervention: Government initiatives, such as providing subsidies, financial assistance, and skill development programs, are crucial for the survival of traditional handloom weavers. Policies aimed at promoting and protecting handloom industries, along with incentives for weavers and favorable trade regulations, can create a conducive environment for the growth and sustainability of Kuthampully saree weaving.
Encouraging Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Nurturing entrepreneurship among the weavers can help them explore new markets and diversify their products. Encouraging innovation in designs, experimenting with new color combinations, and incorporating contemporary elements while maintaining the essence of traditional weaving can attract a wider customer base. The power looms of Kuthampully are now experimenting with printed set sarees which have become a rage during Onam celebrations in the past years.
Creating a Sense of Pride and Identity: Local communities, educational institutions, and cultural organizations can play a significant role in instilling a sense of pride and identity among the younger generation regarding their traditional heritage. Encouraging them to take an interest in the art of weaving and providing training and mentorship opportunities can help ensure the continuity of the craft.
By implementing these strategies and fostering collaborations among various stakeholders, Kuthampully saree weavers can overcome the challenges they face and pave the way for a sustainable and prosperous future. Preserving the art of Kuthampully weaving not only benefits the weavers but also contributes to the cultural heritage and identity of Kerala as a whole.
In conclusion, the Kuthampully saree weaving tradition is a true gem of Kerala’s rich cultural heritage. It is a testament to the skill, dedication, and artistry of the weavers who have painstakingly preserved this ancient craft through generations.
Despite the challenges faced by the Kuthampully saree weavers, there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Efforts to raise awareness, expand markets, empower the weavers, improve infrastructure, and receive government support can provide a pathway towards sustainability and growth.
The Kuthampully saree weaving tradition represents more than just a piece of clothing; it encapsulates the essence of Kerala’s traditions, customs, and identity. It is a symbol of pride and craftsmanship that deserves recognition and preservation.
By cherishing and supporting the Kuthampully saree weaving tradition, we contribute to the livelihoods of the weavers and ensure the continuity of this remarkable art form. Let us celebrate the beauty of Kuthampully sarees and honor the dedication of the weavers who keep this age-old tradition alive, weaving threads of cultural heritage into the tapestry of our lives.
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