The cloth was woven in Pit Looms. A complicated machinery
made of wood stradled the pit while the weaver sat at the edge of the pit with legs hanging in. The loom rhythmically clacked away ahead, while the weaver, monotonously pulled and pushed the shuttle with the weft through the warp.
I was fascinated with the “design cards” … apparently the loom is controlled by punchcards with punched holes, each row of which corresponds to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched on each card and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order.
“Each hole in the card corresponds to a “Bolus” hook, which can either be up or down. The hook raises or lowers the harness, which carries and guides the warp thread so that the weft will either lie above or below it.
The sequence of raised and lowered threads is what creates the pattern. Each hook can be
connected via the harness to a number of threads, allowing more than one repeat of a pattern.
A loom with a 400 hook head might have four threads connected to each hook, resulting in a fabric that is 1600 warp ends wide with four repeats of the weave going across..”, thus said wikipedia, during my later reading on looms.
It takes 15-20 days to weave one sari. And an initial investment of Rs.10,000 to buy the silk threads, the design cards etc. The loom head costs around Rs.8,000-Rs.12,000. The loom heads are bought from Madurai or Bangalore, while the design cards are from Dharmavaram. The “silk route” of South India – Bangalore-Dharmavaram-Madurai….
The complexity of the activity was amazing. I wondered at the patience of the weavers and the skill of the master-weavers who “constructed” the threads through the hooks. Many times this connecting-the-strings gets done in the night, all night long, with an oil-lamp burning, its pungent smell permeating the atmosphere, while tired eyes concentrate on the intricate effort.
The Saris seem much, much more beautiful now. The cost of the sari seems nothing compared to the effort that goes into making it. Every thread, every waft, every weave, a tribute to the weavers of these small villages, their skills spent on the rhythmic clacking of these Singing Looms.
Kabir, the mystic and poet of the 15th century was a weaver himself. He sang this beautiful song about the cloth that he wove.
jhini re jhini re jhini chadariya, jhini re jhini re jhini chadariya
ke ram naam ras bhini chadariya, jhini re jhini re jhini chadariya
ashta kamal dal charkha doley, panch tatva, gun tini chadariya
saiin ko siyat mas dus lagey, thokey-thokey ke bini chadariya
so chadar sur nar muni odi, odi ke maili kini chadariya
das kabir jatan so odi, jyon ki tyon dhar deen chadariya
This is fine, this is fine cloth.
It is been dipped in the name of the lord
The spinning wheel, like an eight-petal lotus, spins,
With five tatvas and three gunas as the pattern.
The Lord stiched it in 10 months
The threads have been pressed to get a tight weave.
It has been worn by gods, people, and sages
They soiled it with use.Kabir says, I have covered my self with this cloth with great care,
And eventually will leave it like it was.