Purvi Handlooms – An Aficionado’s Delight

by tybmmjourno

Weaving magic with the skeins of the finest yarn into the finest fabrics, the weavers of the handloom industry have kept alive India’s rich textile heritage. The indigenous handloom cottage industry is the backbone of many a village economy in different parts of India. So much so, that villages and regions have been named after their famed handloom products. Most notably Benaras, Chanderi, Pochampalli, Kanjeevaram, Kanchipuram, Maheshwar, Mangesh, Bhagalpur and many others.

A modest village handloom.

India is the only country in the world that can boast of a rich heritage and spectrum in the realm of fabrics. Not only is the range of textures myriad, but the methods of sourcing, processing, dyeing and finishing the fabrics lay a proud claim to originality and continuity. In the arena of creating a rich legacy, the weavers continue to work diligently, untouched by the winds of modernity. Sadly, in many parts of India, impoverished artisans, like farmers, are leaving their centuries old vocation in search of greener pastures, exhausted and defeated by the mass-producing industry of fabrics that lack character and taste.

The advent of powerlooms along with apathy and lack of awareness have been contributing factors to the decline of traditional textiles. Amidst this dismal scenario, the Purvi boutique stands out as the custodian of our rich heritage in fabrics comprising the bales of running material, dupattas and sarees that vie for attention.

The Purvi boutique.

At a time when the current market is flooded with cheap, synthetic fabric, it remains a comforting haven for the more discerning buyers. The modest corner shop located at a turning in Seven Bungalows, Andheri (West), is a textile aficionado’s answer to the Bollywood-inflicted fashion.

Started around two decades ago by the (now late) Mr. Chandrasekhar Iyer, the enterprise continues under his son, Gautam Ganesh. Catering to women, Purvi aims to revive ethnic fabrics that have lost preference over the flashier pizzazz of recent trends. The store is swarming with regular patrons on a lazy weekend but invites casual browsers on weekdays.

Annie Mascarenhas supervises the transactions and the genial staff. Mr. Sanjay Mahadik has been working with them for fifteen years and is a repository of knowledge on the materials he proudly displays. He was patient and obliging with my queries, enlightening me as I examined the ethnic material in the shop.

They had a tremendous variety of handspun yarn, he said with pride, like Gichha, Noil, Tussar and Mulberry Silk. I examined an Ikkat dupatta he held for me. Pure fabric? I wondered aloud. “Of course!” he smiled in surprise. “We have our very own looms in the South, as well as in Indore and Bhagalpur. We have always ensured purity of fabric.”

Their extraordinary Banarasi weaves, however, are purchased directly from the artisans, he clarifies. He leads me to a counter at the end of the shop where he begins to spread out the wares. “We use spice and vegetable dyes,” he says quickly, giving me a crash-course in our heritage couture whilst attending to the other customers. He spoke quickly and began spreading the fabric on the table as he described them.

Ikkat,” he said. “from Andhra and Odisha. Different weaves dyed in different shades.”

Mr. Mahadik (left), attending to a customer.

In this manner, I knew in fifteen minutes flat, that Pochampalli was from Andhra Pradesh as well, that the pattern of Kalamkari sarees were created by block printing, that Kanthaa embroidery hailed from Bengal, that Bihar’s Madhubani sarees are hand-sketched.

The Chanderi and Maheshwari dupattas were aesthetics personified. The Bamanchi sarees and dupattas from the South were a rare find. The Mangalgiri and Venkatgiri borders shone bright in gold in a beautiful contrast to their backdrop in different hues. It was interesting to learn that vegetable dyes made from indigo, turmeric, spices etc were used in the printing of fabric. The hand-painted Tirupati dupatta had a motif of a man and a woman.

Tirupati dupatta with human motifs.

There was a fusion of hand-painted design on cotton Pashmina from Bihar. Jute dupattas from Bihar had beautiful block prints as did the cotton silk materials from Bhagalpur. The Batik work on the Maheshwari dupatta from Indore was a treat. The rich Kalamkari dupattas and material with block prints, all done by hand, were a sight to behold.

Block print on Bhagalpur cotton of Buddha.

Bamanchi sarees from South.

Combination Kalamkari on Ikkat.

Mr. Mahadik tirelessly reiterated the significance of the weaves even as he attended to the other patrons. The staff granted me the liberty of photographing the shop and the fabric on sale. There was also a pictorial chart on display above a wall, which captured the process and elements of the exquisite weaves. Still, no picture does justice to the actual texture of the finished product and the thread-like finesse of the patterns as they criss-cross under your fingers. 

Block printing.

Spice – a fascinating ingredient for fabric dyes.

A visit to Purvi left no doubt in my mind that this landmark modestly nestling in a non-commercial area has indeed been a sentinel of our cultural heritage in fabrics. But for an enterprise like this, the richness and purity of our handlooms would have been lost to the powerloom mixed fabrics that have inundated the markets. The keen eye and discerning taste of Purvi have ensured that our proud tradition lives on, also in the process gaining one more customer.