Ilkal saree is a popular traditional wear which is worn by women across India. The saree gets its name from the town of Ilkal in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. They have a unique process of manufacturing as they are woven using cotton warp in the body and art silk warp respectively for the border and pallu portion of the saree. Pure silk is also preferably used by weavers due to its high demand in the market. The town of Ilkal developed as an ancient weaving centre where the art of weaving took its firm roots during 8th century AD. Local chieftains provided due patronage to the growth of these sarees in and around Bellary. The art of making the saree is unique using the “tope teni” technique. Separate warps are prepared for each saree. Warp threads for the body portion of the saree is prepared separately and the pallu warp is prepared using art silk or pure silk as per the uniqueness. Usually the colour used for the border and the pallu portion of the saree remain the same. Further, the pallu threads and the border threads are joined in a loop technique referred as the Tope Teni method.
Megha Singri’s house in Gudur bears the ambience of traditional saree making where every woman member of the family is engaged in the art of saree making for generations now. Megha Vitthalsa Singri, a B. Com Final Year student narrates the story of her grandmother, Savitri Narayansa Singri, an old woman of 90 who could be seen weaving the spinning wheel as she wore a traditional green saree with a red border. With glitter in her eyes, Megha said, “My grandmother has been weaving Ilkal sarees after she attained the age of 12. She enjoys doing it. The raw materials are provided by us to the weavers who make sarees on a large scale and sell them at wholesale rates. The present rate of each saree is around Rs 950 to Rs 1000. The sarees are then sold to Siddanur, Gokak and Amingad. This has been our culture and our ancestral history. Our grandmothers and the old women of our family have been wearing them at functions with bright silk borders.”
Irfat Begum weaves Ilkal sarees at her home using cotton and silk threads. The entire family is indulged in the art of saree making as Irfat spoke about picking up the art from her husband’s family. On the process of saree making, she spoke, “We make four sarees on an everyday basis two on each side of the spinning machine, provided there is electricity. We fetch threads from Ilkal and after the sarees are made, my husband further distributes them to nearby markets.” Irfat pointed at the stacks of brightly coloured, yellow and green sarees as she spoke of their popular demand among the old women. Irfat said, “Sometimes, there is no regular electric supply and we have to wait for the electricity to run our machines. This way, we can make around eight to twelve sarees on a regular basis. Shopkeepers from the nearby villages come to fetch sarees from us to sell them at wholesale prices. With a steady flow of current and the machine running, one saree can be made in a duration of three hours.”
Similar is the story of Yakub Sa Aari in Gudur who, along with his wife and mother-in-law has been involved in the process of saree making for years now. In a rugged house with no lights, all one can hear is the constant blaring sound of the traditional spinning wheel at the back of the house. Threads of silk in bright red and white were rolled onto the iron rollers as Yakub pointed to the weaving threads he used to make sarees. He said, “The threads are used to make the pallus or border. We have eight members in our family, and we have been making these sarees from the age of ten. The kids in our family are involved in the process of furniture making. Three of us work at the spinning wheel for hours together, however, we make less money.” Yakub’s family spoke of the shortage of money and inadequate supply of electricity. Yakub’s wife Murtuz Bi narrates the incidence of years of hard work which the family has put together to weave every thread. She said, “The threads are woven by our hands, but the work is stalled during rains. The threads get moist and so the frame cannot be set.” Yakub’s family shows three generations of young and older women who join hands in this division of labour. Habub Bi of seventy joins the threads together and puts them onto the wheel.
Though rains dampen the saree thread and curtail profits for the family, but, they have not dampened the spirits of the family, who wish to continue the decade old tradition.
Thus, Gudur presents a rich diversified history of Ilkal sarees as they continue to throng shops. Almost every house in Gudur has a spinning wheel and residents cherish the art of drawing silk and adorn the sarees with bright resham (silk) borders. Among the host of problems including electricity and water supply, a thorough interest in art has kept the hopes of villagers alive who take an active part to keep their culture alive and flourishing.