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Monday, May 29, 2000

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Among Kota people


The chequered weave of a Kota sari is a prized possession of many women. Shona Adhikari visits Kaithoon in Rajasthan and is amazed that such a gossamer-fine fabric should come from such squalid surroundings.

They are the finest weaves in India -- so fine that they are almost weightless. The gossamer-fine Kota dorias come from the tiny town of Kaithoon, about an hour's drive from the city of Kota in Rajasthan. For years, Kota doria saris have been among my fa vourites, and on a visit to Kota recently, I was determined to find out more about this diaphanous fabric and the magical fingers that create it.

Despite the warm afternoon, my friend and I were determined to go; numerous friends and relatives, on hearing of our trip to Kota, had requested us to buy some saris for them.

Late in the afternoon we reached Kaithoon, a small town whose 40,000-strong population is evenly divided between Muslims and Hindus who live in harmony. The spinning, dyeing and weaving are done by the Muslim families while the Hindus bring in the purcha se orders and market the finished product.

Unlike the saris made here, Kaithoon can in no way be described as attractive. The lanes are narrow and very little sunlight filters through. There is dirt and squalor everywhere. Donkeys, goats, dogs and pigs roam freely, foraging in the m ounds of rubbish.

But the people of the town seemed not to care; they had their work cut out. There was the sound of temple bells ringing. On one end of the lane were women with prayer thalis heading for the temple while at the other end, some more women were winding thread on a complicated fencing of poles. A young girl worked away at a spinning wheel while, through another doorway, we saw an elderly weaver at his loom.

Everyone in town seemed busy at work, except some children, who decided to follow us around. In fact, their numbers grew so fast that we began to feel rather like the Pied Piper until our guide shouted at them to go away. They then stood watching us from afar.

As though to make up for the surroundings, the region's craft is exquisite in its perfection. The Kota doria weave is very special; the warp and the weft use a combination of cotton and silk threads. Each cotton thread is followed by a few f ine silk threads, again followed by a cotton thread. This creates a fine chequered pattern where the cotton provides firmness while the silk lends the gossamer finish to the fabric. The cotton thread comes from Madhya Pradesh while the silk, whic h earlier came from Karnataka, is now imported from Korea. Interestingly, the fabric is locally known as `Mysoria' as the original weavers had come from Mysore a long time ago.

Besides the chequered pattern, there are other weaves in complicated designs in a combination of silk and cotton. The standard Kota doria yardage, in sari width, is always woven in white and later dyed in different colours. Some of th e weaves also have a narrow border edged with gold. In the case of saris with designs, the threads are dyed prior to weaving. For economy, most weavers insist on producing a minimum of three saris of the same design as their looms can accommodate tha t many at a time.

A weaver normally takes a whole day to set up the threads, which is a very complicated process. It takes about a week to complete three saris in the basic doria. And when there are designs the finish time is nearly doubled; but so are the returns -- each fancy saree can fetch up to Rs. 3,501.

We watched the deft fingers of a young girl working on a huge loom and marvelled at her skill. She was probably not more than 13 years old but, at work, she was a veteran.

Dyeing of threads is usually done by men. The orders for dyed thread are placed by the weavers themselves or by wholesale dealers who then negotiate with the weavers for the finished saris.

Soon it was time to make our purchases. We entered one of the many wholesale shops and saw a bewildering variety of saris in all colours. The design saris were more expensive than we expected and we settled for plain ones, some with bor ders. We also learnt that the Kota prints commonly sold in shops all over India are usually procured as white fabric in large bundles and later cut into sari lengths and dyed or printed.

We were satisfied with a day well spent in learning about a very special craft. As we drove away with our spoils, I could not help wonder at the surprises constantly thrown up by our country. Beauty can be found in the most dismal surroundings -- f or had we not seen the creation of one of India's finest fabrics in surroundings of unmatched squalor?

Pic.: Weaving is mainly done by young girls such as this one; the chequered weaves of the Kota fabric.

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