Situated between the rivers Tungabhadra and Krishna, is the small town of Gadwal that is noted for its harmonious coexistence of the cultures of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Famous for its handloom weaving industry, Gadwal produces the Gadwal saree with exquisite zari work that command great admiration and demand throughout the country. Woven by descendants of Jeeveshwar Maharaj – weaver of Hindu Devi-Devtas, the history of weaving of Gadwal sarees is as intriguing and enriching as draping one.
The Unique Features of Gadwal Sarees
The Gadwal sari is essentially a cotton sari with a silk border and silk pallu. The pallu is attached to the cotton body by hand wherein each and every thread is joined by hand, which makes it unique. The Horizontal joining or interlocking of the threads of the body with the threads of the pallu of the saree is what gives it its unique quality. There are two types of kattus or kuttus in the Gadwal sari: the horizontal kuttu, for the borders and vertical kuttu for the pallu.
The History of Gadwal Sarees
Initially Gadwal Sarees were called as ‘Mathiampeta’. As time went by the sarees produced here came to be called as “Gadwal Sarees”. The origin of Gadwal Sarees can be traced back to about 200 years ago. At that point of time the present township of Gadwal was the capital of a small Kingdom, locally called as a “Samasthanam”. Shri Sita Ram Bhoopal Bahadur, the king of Gadwal during the period (1807– 1840) was ambitious and wanted that the weavers of Gadwal to produce a valuable fabric, similar to Banaras. In 1822 three weavers from Gadwal were sent to Banaras to acquire the art of silk weaving. With committed efforts, they learnt the weaving techniques and on return to home started weaving beautiful sarees with imported tools and designs. This is the beginning of the silk weaving in the Gadwal cluster.
The present Gadwal saree is the result of innovations introduced by Maharani Adi Lakshmi Devi Amma. The Maharani of the Kingdom, ‘Adhi Lakshmi Devamma’ promoted the craft with help of a few weavers who had come to Gadwal from various coastal areas. She collected Venkatgiri sarees and advised the weavers to weave sarees in similar patterns. This development has led to introduction of fine count of yarns for weaving Gadwal Saree. The weavers of Gadwal and surrounding areas are highly skilled in weaving sarees with high degree of variation by applying the permutation and combinations of the colours, the designs, the motifs in Pallu, in the borders, by change of fibre etc.
The Process of Weaving a Gadwal Saree
The whole process of weaving Gadwal sarees is carried out manually where each and every thread is hand woven in a three-shuttle loom. They are traditionally woven in the interlocked-weft technique called kupadam or tippadamu locally and often with kotakomma also called kumbam in the borders and thus they are also known as kotakomma or kumbam sarees locally. This means that the top part of the sari, the body, and the lower silk border (kattu or kuttu) can be created as distinct sections, making it possible to have the upper and the lower border in a different colour each. However, the three shuttle loom requires the effort of two weavers working simultaneously which makes the weaving much more expensive, both in terms of time and effort.
Classic vs. Contemporary Gadwal Sarees
Classic Gadwal sarees are woven in a lot of neutral tones matched up with saturated hues, geometric designs, and high-contrast colour pairings. The Gadwal sari also has strong links to the Kanchipuram saris of south India. Both share similar techniques and designs including the interlocked weft technique used for the borders. Gadwal saris, like many across India usually carry a temple design locally known as a reku.
Designers across India have been trying to revive the techniques and reinventing them and although weavers face new experiments with reluctance, there have been few but positive efforts in this space. Today, the designs which were taken from temples, and the colors taken from nature, have given way to modern contemporary designs. The colors have advanced from earth colors to bright colors. Now, with the technique of dying, you get sarees with multitude of contrasting colors. Since cotton is the main fabric used, you can wear it in summer as well as winter months. The motifs of ‘Murugan’, i.e. peacock and the Rudraksha rule as the favourite pattern in Gadwal Sarees.