Sari Safari: The streets of Chikkodi, Belgaum | Milaap

Sari Safari: The streets of Chikkodi, Belgaum

It's always quite something to arrive in a new town and go out to see what the markets offer. Right away in Chikkodi, Belgaum I saw that the hunt was not going to be easy. Only polyester goods hung in shop windows - not many of them looked very promising.
Weavers showing a foreigner the varieties of saris stored.
Wandering my ways into narrow lanes made me finally asked a police officer at the check post where I could get good handloom. Smiling & proud to serve his state, he pointed straight. With the name Priyadarshani handlooms in mind I walked ahead. Down the road I checked too many shops mostly the shops didn’t have stock or I simply didn’t like the colours and variations of sarees.

It was wonderful to turn-down a narrow lane onto a whole block of small scale cloth merchants. The foot-lane going through the middle of it was flanked by treadle sewing machines and tailors sitting at them beneath the stoops of small shops. What a perfect arrangement!

 As I walked through all handloom merchants and ladies looked stunned, not knowing what to do. Then a sales lady came up rather jolted and told the other ladies to back off her customer. I kept telling what I wanted but as it’s a common culture; the best of the best is shown. Hence, everything was shown possibly. All of a sudden it was firing saris at the counter! The men were climbing chairs to take out stock and ladies were showing the amazing designs. None attracted my eyes & much to displeasure I left the area.

Dejected, I gave a call to the Field Partner closest to Chikkodi and within no time Rekha Ma’am appeared. She showed me around the city. On the way I saw women wearing a distinctive style of sari. Asking about the sari, I was told that it was a Pune Sari.
many of the one woman who got clicked in Ilkal sari.
Pune saris have a similar shine of blended rayon and mercerised cotton and very similar borders - it is easy to see how they could be confused with one another.

Rekha Ma’am inquired “Madame, Kya dekhna hai apko?”
I replied “Mujhe aise sari dekhna hai jo udhar baithi Maam ne phena hai.”
Rekha ma’am asked “apko Sari pasand hai kya, kabhi phente hue dekhe nahi tumhe!”
“Pasand hai ma’am aur Mummy ko dungi”, was my quick reply.
As we walked Rekha Ma’am started talking about the sari worn in Karnataka and Maharashtra are simple. In this region a very famous and distinctive sari is worn called Ilkal Saree.
The color change of silk pallu requires a join in the warp. The technique is called "kondi" or locking, The threads are hand tied on end by end - there are 5000 plus ends in the sari.
As I’ve mentioned how the Pune sari is , the Ilkal sari is very similar but Ilkal Sari Has a very different ‘pallu’. The jaggy teeth of the edges of the bands instantly evoke a certain feeling of place. This aesthetic, draped over the head lends to glowing & lustrous look for face of its wearer, rendering her larger than life. Perhaps it is also the dusty and dry red earth landscape that adds yet more magic to the mood of this sari in this place.

On finding more about these saree i got to know their origins are from a small town called Ilkal. Many weavers I had met had migrated to the city in search of a new profession. Speaking to one of the weaver ladies named Ms Kamble I got to know how the style is vanishing & is on the verge of extinction. Many families in the areas are still engaged in weaving as they have a huge customer base in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka.

Another feature which makes it a classic of all times is its draping style. The interesting manner the pallu wraps with a series of loops, called Tope Teni according to locals.

From the blazing sun reflecting on parched buildings we entered a sort of an old society building. Tall wooden cabinets full of raw yarn, bundles of saris & various weaving supplies were scattered all around. Clerks worked at floor desks, sitting cross legged on floor pads with white pillows to lean back on. All the pillows had tikkas and swastikas and said "shubh labh" - wealth/prosperity.

Warping for big production.... 50 sarees woven on one continuous warp!
And the obvious, garlanded deities looked on from all walls. A few men in white dhotis and baniyans seated on white cushions looked up from their counting desks. The atmosphere is a place out of time.

In the cool damp back rooms of one society we could see the dying area. There were two fire pits and pots. One for colors and one for black. A large T bar with Shiva puja tikkas stood ready, for some serious wringing of the threads. Black cotton is the most used ground color, the reason I was told is that it goes with everything. The rayons come already dyed from the supplier. These particular sarees had more of a weft faced look than other Ilkals I'd seen and was told that this was the original aesthetic. Another fellow in Hospet told me that the sarees used to be woven in pure cotton grounds instead, which is a more balanced fabric so once again we might never know the truth of what is what in Ilkal.
The different styles of "teni" or spokes at the extremities of the white bands of the pallu are named after their shapes like "hanige" or comb tooth, "koti kammli" or fort ramparts, "tope-teni" or jowar( Staple) /sorghum-shaped and "rampa" or the shape of a mountain range.

The pallus are woven first and require much hand manipulation of the red and white silk shuttles to get the symmetrical saw blade edges of the stripes.

Somewhere in between the many visits a young man, called, Saija appeared who spoke very good english & seemed to have some more idea about the things happening so me & rekha ma'am were more than glad to have him join in, which also followed the following of the officers, weavers, curious kids and the random farm animals.

Towards the end we landed up going to his home & entered into a complex house which was jam-packed with an extended family of more than 30 people. There were four older brothers who were above 60 years old with all their kids and wives, plus the grandkids and wives and all the grandchildren. There was a young woman pregnant and a five month old being swung madly in a makeshift laundry-line cradle.

 They are of the ‘Padmashali’ weaver caste, so this is what they do and have done for as long as even the oldest son’s grandparents can remember. People came and went continuously. The house was open to everyone, and everyone came to get a look at us. We were offered a fresh lime drink and village lunch. I didn't eat enough in their opinion so they ordered fresh coconut water for us too. The food was very spicy!

As Saija kept talking on we sat not listening much to what he had to say, nodding mostly at correct intervals & I totally enjoyed the mood in this old house. Then suddenly from a corner of the room "Oh look - madam here is your website!" The young man got to know from my field partner I work with for Milaap; hence he quickly opened the site on his smart phone. The moment of happiness on his face was unexplainable & my surprise has no bound.

Small yet crazy paradise of really good saris!

The fine fabric of a finished Ilkal sari for my mother with a matching piece of neckpiece.