Iconic Saree Weaving Clusters of India
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Assam
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
Craftsmanship means more than technical virtuosity. It is not only a profound understanding of materials, and of the tools with which materials are fashioned, but most importantly it involves a genuine pride which drives an individual to craft and weave as well as can be done, beyond what is required, beyond economic considerations of reward. An excellent example of such craftsmanship is Saree weaving in India. The Saree is undoubtedly distinguishable as the Indian woman’s traditional attire and is essentially a valuable Indian contribution to the world’s cultural heritage and diversity. Rooted in history and maintaining continuity as a contemporary garment, the saree survives as a living traditional clothing. Traced to the Vedic civilization, evolving with cross-cultural influences of trade, confluences of techniques and patterns, the saree still has innovations in its production processes. As an unstitched garment for women, it has no parallels in terms of versatility, richness of colour, texture, and variety of weaving techniques using different kinds of yarn, including cotton, silk, gold and silver thread.
However, the craftsmanship is not only limited to the final product i.e. the saree but also in the space in which they are produced. The houses of craftsmen are example of vernacular architecture, where the architecture has evolved over a large span of time. The Plan of a weaver’s house developed from the livelihood needs of the inhabitants. Built from local materials and available technology, they aptly cater to the needs of the craftsmen. This pan-India serial comprises of sites from five Indian states: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. It focuses on the tangible elements of saree weaving clusters irrespective of the popularity of the saree.
i. Chanderi, Ashok nagar District, Madhya Pradesh (24. 4312° N, 78. 748° E)
Known to have been a major urban centre since the 11th century AD, the town of Chanderi has a rich history that was shared between Pratihara kings, Delhi sultans, Mandu sultans, Bundela kings and Scindias of Gwalior. Located on the borders of the cultural regions of Malwa and Bundelkhand, Chanderi was on an important arterial route to the ancient ports of Gujarat as well as to Malwa, Mewar, Central India and Deccan. Chanderi’s setting made it into a natural bastion. The living tradition of weaving has been prevalent since the past six hundred years and continues to sustain almost half of the population of Chanderi.
The town of Chanderi is divided into mohallas or residential neighborhoods. The mohallas of the different communities of the weavers are important part of the urban morphology. The 13th century Moroccan visitor Ibn Batuta remarked: “it is a big city with thronged market places” like sadar bazaar. The sadar bazaar of the city is today stocked with shops of gossamer sarees. The three storied shops, projecting one over other, originally planned to be on the level with riders on elephants, on horses and on foot, give a unique profile to the street.
The spatial design of the weaver house was integral to the production of the cloth and its quality. The house form of weavers’ houses in Chanderi is determined by the saree weaving techniques and requirements. Platforms built outside the houses provide additional work areas and for stretching yarns. Architecture also serves as an inspiration to the craftsmen. The motifs on sarees are largely inspired by ornamentation on buildings.
ii. Banaras, Uttar Pradesh (25.2820° N, 82.9563° E)
Banaras is home to the iconic brocade saree. Built heritage of Banaras saree weaving settlement is intact to a large extent, with a large number of weavers still in their original homes and active looms. Designs and motifs are sourced from architecture. Weavers comprise almost 25 percent of Banaras city's population (about 110,000), who trace their presence in the city between three hundred and a thousand years. European and Indian royalty patronised the craft of Banarasi saree, and it flourished, absorbing influences from Islamic traditions and Hindu lore.
iii. Feeder town Mubarakpur, Uttar Pradesh (26.0900° N, 83.2900° E)
Cotton weaving started in Mubarakpur during 14th century. During Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlak's era there were 4000 silk saree weavers in Mubarakpur. Mubarakpur is known for making pure silk Banarsi sarees with zari work. Ninety percent of the working population is stated to be engaged in the task of weaving sarees of pure silk and zari, working on handlooms. Presently there are about 20,000 families of weavers in Mubarakpur. Thus, this village is known as weavers’ village.
iv. Paithan, Maharashtra (19.4800° N, 75.3800° E)
Paithanis comprise pure gold threads and yarns of silk spun in the 2000-year old traditional method. This form of weaving was developed in Paithan (Aurangabad district), historically called Pratishthana. The city was the capital of the Satavahanas of ancient India that ruled from 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. Paithan, at one time, was visited by Greek traders, between 400 and 200 BC, during the Satavahana era, for the Paithani weaves. In the distant past, Romans imported this Golden Woven Fabric in exchange for gold of equal weight. The weaver’s houses have the largest room dedicated for weaving. In this the weavers work side by side to produce a saree. The open spaces also witness some spill over of the weaving practices.
v. Yeola, Maharashtra (20.0420° N, 74.4890° E)
This art form soon spread to the other places in Maharashtra namely Yeola, Pune, Malegaon and Nashik. One can even see motifs from Ajanta cave paintings. The art of Paithani survived under changing rulers. In fact it flourished under Aurangzeb. After decline of Mughal influence, the Peshwas' of Pune once again took Paithani under their wings by settling weavers in Yeola, a small town near Shirdi in Nasik district, now with approximately 1200 weavers.
vi. Koyyalagudem, Andhra Pradesh (17.1167°N 81.3000°E)
The village of Koyyalagudem is near Pochampally and is representative of the architectural tradition of this region. The Plan of a weaver’s house developed from the livelihood needs of the inhabitants. Every member of the family is involved in the process of weaving and most of the time is spent in the weaving room, the largest of all the rooms. During construction, attention is given to details pertaining to functional needs, such as positioning of pits built into the floor of the house for placing of the weaving looms, and lighting requirement for the loom through window/ skylight. Wet areas for handling dyes are open-to-sky for sunlight. Similarly, details are incorporated for yarn preparation, such as a peg at the end of room for passing the yarn while weaving, niches at a low level for keeping weaving-related articles, and storage spaces for threads.
vii. Pochampalli, Andhra Pradesh (17.3861° N, 78.6433° E)
Pochampally Saree or Pochampalli Ikat is a saree made in Bhoodan Pochampally, Nalgonda district, India. They are popular for their traditional geometric patterns in Ikat style of dyeing.The intricate geometric design find their way into the hands of skillful weavers and make it to the market as beautiful sarees and dress material. The city is popularily known as the silk city of India. Weaver’s house contains both semi-open and enclosed spaces for saree weaving. The enclosed spaces have large openings in the wall so as to allow sufficient light and ventilation.
viii. Sualkuchi, Assam (26.1700° N, 91.5700° E)
Sualkuchi has a glorious history in production of muga and mulberry silk since at least fourth century BC and finds a mention in Kautilya's Arthashastra (referred to as Suvarnakunda of ancient Kamrupa). Of a naturally rich, golden colour, muga is the finest of India’s wild silks. The loom is a prized possession in every Assamese home. Weaving has been a way of life in the state since time immemorial.
Assam tribal weaver clusters: The Karbi, Mishing, Rabha, Singpho and Tai-phake tribes have a strong textile tradition. The Mech tribe is silk-weavers in profession. The Dimasa tribes are renowned for their expertise in silk-culture and weaving-prowess and are the producers of Endi. Weaving among the tribal societies of Assam is a home craft using the back-strap loom or loin loom, which is simple and portable.
The vernacular houses Assam provide maximum ﬂexibility and adaptability to the local environmental conditions as well as meet social and cultural requirements. The courtyard has multiple uses like drying of crops, winnowing, cloth weaving and children’s playing space.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Architecture of a region is shaped by many influencing factors such as climate, locally available material, construction techniques and needs of the inhabitants. This serial exemplifies vernacular architecture of the several regions of India where occuputational needs of inhabitants is the major factor influencing architecture. Essentially the clusters have existent tangible built heritage/ traditional settlement, as well as active traditional weaving practice in place. This includes traditional looms and technological advances in loom-making within the framework of traditional knowledge systems. The series highlights diversity throughout India and each cluster comprising at least one of the attributes as outstanding on its own w.r.t. the other cluster (in terms of settlement pattern, scale, category, loom types, woven fabric, process, community knowledge systems, continuity, etc).
In addition to these extraordinary skillsets, saree weavers also carry in their memories and hands centuries-old traditions of motifs, colours and design, linked to the art and aesthetics of the past – corresponding to the regional architecture and artefacts of each region.
Criterion (iii): The serial bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition of Saree weaving which influences the regional architecture.
Criterion (v): The serial is an outstanding example of traditional human settlements that developed in accordance with the occupational needs of the weavers. The vernacular form reflects the way of life and caters to the various functions of the artisan communities engaged in weaving and pre/post loom activities.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Essentially each identified saree weaving cluster has existent built heritage, as well as active traditional weaving practice in place.
Authenticity and integrity for the tangible element identified with weaving is assessed for:
• the vernacular architecture of the weavers’ settlements
• the modes of production (such as traditional looms)
This includes traditional looms and technological advances in loom-making within the framework of traditional knowledge systems.
Authenticity of the weaving practice lies in the continuity of traditions and techniques. The traditional weaving practices are inherited from one generation to the next. The skill comes naturally by virtue of families carrying out the ancillary activities along with the weaver, leading to learning traditional techniques. These settlements are intact and authenticity is maintained.
Comparison with other similar properties
Although there are many vernacular buildings on the World Heritage List, there are no weaver’s settlements on the World Heritage List or the Tentative List. However, the serial can be compared with the following properties:
La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning, Switzerland, (Inscription: 2009, Criteria: iv)
The planning and buildings of this World Heritage Site reflect watchmakers’ need of rational organization. Planned in the early 19th century, after extensive fires, the towns owed their existence to this single industry. Their layout along an open-ended scheme of parallel strips on which residential housing and workshops are intermingled reflects the needs of the local watchmaking culture that dates to the 17th century and is still alive today.
Similar to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the settlements in the serial developed owning to the occuptation. However, these are a part of much bigger town unlike La Chaux-de-Fonds. This serial comprises of settlements which are unplanned, organic and evolved over the years. Also, the settlements were formed much earlier than La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Historic City of Toledo, Spain, (Inscription: 1986. Criteria: i, ii, iii, iv)
The World Heritage City of Toledo exerted considerable influence, both during the Visigothic period, when it was the capital of a kingdom which stretched all the way to the Narbonnese region, and during the Renaissance, when it became one of the most important artistic centres in Spain. The metal working industry has historically been Toledo's economic base, with a great tradition in the manufacture of swords, knives and other products. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Toledo sword making industry enjoyed a great boom, to the point where it came to be regarded as the best in Europe.
Although the settlements in the proposed serial are important artistic centres, they had no political influence in the region. They also did not serve as an economic base.
The Maranao Settlement of Tugaya, Philippines, (Tentative List: 2006. Criteria: i, iii, vi)
This property has its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) residing in crafts. It is a good comparison for cottage textile industry. Almost every household specializes in some form of art or craft that is part of traditional Maranao culture (including weaving). This provides employment to most of the people who live in that town, and also compares favourably with this serial as most of the people in this medival town work within the town, largely being associated with weaving industry that forms the back-bone of the place. Textile weaving in Tugaya is still the Southeast Asian back-strap weaving, utilizing the okir decorative motifs which is indigenous to the area.
Tugaya represents a settlement of multiple artistic skills. However, this serial focuses only on one aspect i.e. weaving. The artistic skills of the inhabitants, in this serial, influenced the formation of settlement.