National Handloom Day: Remembering the tribes of India

National Handloom Day is observed On 7th of August annually in India. This is to commemorate the beginning of Swadeshi Movement which started in 1905, on this day, in pre-independent India. India has centuries old rich history of making and trading of textiles across the globe. Handlooms are age old in our country. To protect this heritage and artistry, the prestigious Geographical Indication or GI tag status is conferred to unique products and their place of origin by the government of India. We have quite a number of handloom destinations in India which are extremely popular all over the world. However, there’s a lot beyond these mainstream crazily popular handlooms. This National Handloom Day let’s take a sneak peak into some of the oldest indigenous handlooms, those of some of the tribes of India.

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Tribes of India & National Handloom Day:

There are 645 distinct tribes in India, comprising of 15% population of the country. These indigenous people are naturally artistic. They are in close contact with nature mostly and that is what is reflected in their art forms. From time immemorial they prepare handloom textiles organically from scratch for their own consumption. Today some of them are in tremendous demand after being brought out in the market through tourism department and/or NGOs working for tribal welfare. Every bit of the textile is handmade and organic which make it expensive in the market. Here I am sharing some of these special stories today.

Gonds of Bastar, Chattisgarh and Panika Weaves:

Gond Tribes is the largest tribe in terms of population. The panika weaves of Bastar, Chattisgarh, are becoming popular and deserves a mention on National Handloom Day. These weaves are influenced by folklore, nature and the surroundings like flowers, plants, animals and things. Peacock, lion, temple, bow and arrow, pitcher and plants are common motifs on the textile they call pata. Children from the age of 10-12 years start their training. The coarse hand spun yarns are hand coated with rice starch and dried. Then they are aal dyed. Aal is Morinda citrifolia or Noni. The entire process involves organic methods and elements.

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Chakhesang Tribes of Nagaland and their significance on National Handloom Day:

Nagaland has 16 tribes and each one has their specific attire/ textile. The weaves and the patterns and motifs are distinctive and simbolise social status and occasion. Chakhesang Tribe of Phek district of Nagaland has to be mentioned on the National Handloom Day for their age old looms. The red Naga Sarong, especially the ones with spear or lion or elephant head weaves take the world by storm. These shawls own the GI tag. The blood red dye is organic. Dyeing is done by old women. Most women are into this handloom activities and weaving.

The Chakhesang Tribe weavers use nettle plants and cotton to weave. They collect nettle plants and make threads from the fibre and cook the thread in ash water for strength. Then they dye in rice broth. These fibres are woven into textiles together with locally hand spun cotton threads. Their methods and looms are extremely traditional and ingredients absolutely organic. 

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Tripura's Rupinis and their weaving skill:

Rupinis are the oldest tribes residing in Tripura. Their close bonding with nature is reflected in their designs. Risa is Tripura’s traditional attire. The Rupinis prepare the textile by using organic cotton from the fields and colour the threads from 100% natural dyes. In today’s world when people are trying to shift to natural and organic options, these indigenous handlooms definitely find an opportunity of expansion. Hence it’s worth a mention on the National Handloom Day.


Konds of Orissa/Odisha, a must mention on National Handloom Day:

Kalahandi in Odisha/ Orissa, is known to the world for all the wrong reasons possible. Yet, the Kondha weavers of Kond Tribes of Chaicheguda, Kalahandi, are amazing weavers. Habaspuri cotton fabrics made by these weavers are built with organic locally grown cotton. The motifs or patterns are flowers, fish, temples or turtles. Habaspuri is a humble owner of the prestigious GI tag and Habspuri sarees are gaining tremendous popularity as a symbol of aesthetics and intellect. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is often seen wrapping  sophisticated Habaspuri sarees.

The Kond Tribe of Niyamgiri Hills of Rayagada, Orissa/ Odisha, create another sophisticated and GI tag adorned weave. It is the Kotpad which has taken the aesthetic handloom lovers market by storm. The patterns on the weaves are mainly geometric shapes. Spinning, weaving and dying all are done using the age old traditional methods. Dongriya fabric is also in fashion now. They are so influenced by and attached to nature that the process of weaving is also a function of nature. Weaving the textile begins ceremoniously with the first fruit of rice.

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Lepcha Handloom of Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal:

Lepchas are the first inhabitants of Sikkim. They still use their traditional handloom methods and styles. Their weaves comprise of coarse silk and fibre from nettle plants from moist jungles and yak wools. They are hand spun and coloured with natural dyes extracted from roots, barks, fruits, leaves and flower petals and even vines and walnuts. These hill tribes are deeply connected to nature. This National Handloom Day, cheers to their spirit of simplicity and natural detailing.


The Mizo Puan:

The weaving tools of these colourful textile was indigenously prepared after the Mizo tribes shifted from ‘siapsuap’ (a grass skirt) to fabric clothing. ‘Puanchei’ is the best and most  exotic of all the puans. They are prized possessions of Mizo women. Even though the traditional way of preparing the fabric using handloom is strenuous and time consuming, weaving is a part of school curriculum in Mizoram. The GI tag is accorded to the Mizo textile.


Kunbi Tribe of Goa:

The typical red check saree seen in every indigenous Goan tribal dance like Dhalo and Fugdi is one of the oldest handloom weaves of India. How can the Kunbis be missed out on National Handloom Day, from the list of tribal handlooms of India? The Kunbi textile is gaining urban popularity because of its light weight and soft texture.



Mising Tribes of Assam:

Handloom weaving is considered a household chore by the Mising Tribe of Assam. Almost every house has a traditional loom in the backyard where the women in groups weave in their free time. The eldest woman, the master weaver motivates the group by singing. These singing weavers maintain their age old tradition as they consider that a woman who doesnt know this art brings bad luck. Assam is popular for the rich, goldish, lustrous and sturdy muga silk. Mising tribes weave on Muga or cotton. The motifs are colourful rectangular patterns and different from the world famous Assam silk weaves. ‘Design’ of Mising textile is adorned with GI tag.


Remembering The Adivasis On This National Handloom Day

More than 60 kinds of weaves come only from rural India. The tribes are the adivasis, the oldest inhabitants of India. Their art of textile making using handlooms is ancient and and is passed on to generations through oral teachings. Generally the women take part in the process of weaving. Handloom products are intricate. Powerlooms or machinelooms can never match the quality and detailing of a design. Now is the ideal time for supporting the local and going organic. This National Handloom Day let’s focus on tribal looms which are organic, of unmatched aesthetics and absolutely original. Each piece sings a folklore.

Dipannita Bhattacherya

3 thoughts on “National Handloom Day: Remembering the tribes of India”

  1. Handloom,very famous & know form of clothing all over India…
    Beautifully portrayed by the Author..
    Lovely pictures…

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