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Venkatagiri – Place of Handlooms you love

Venkatagiri is a small village in Nellore district in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Venkatagiri is accessible from Nellore which 80 KM away, Chennai which is 150 KM away; Sri Kalahasthi which is 35 KM away and Tirupathi which is 50 KM away. Venkatagiri's old name is "Kali Mili Gobburi Jaggaraju was the king who was ruling Venkatagiri kingdom in the name of
"Kalimili". He was the father-in-law of the Chandragiri king Venkatapathiraju. He was defeated by Sri Krishnadevaraya's representative and Velugodu ruler Venkatadrinaidu .He renamed Kalimili with Vaishanava name "Venkatagiri" and ruled the land. Venkatagiri kingdom was established in Nalgonda Dist in Amanagallu village around 1120AD.

This is a small town which is famous because of the variety of handlooms. The village has a population of around 50,000. The main castes which are involved in the handloom industry are Padmasali, Devanga, Pattusali and Karnasali which accounts to 30% of the population. There are around 10,000 looms in this small village. The average educational level is around 8th standard.

Venkatagiri has got its own unique weaving excellence and one can specify and get a designer saree for a price. In fact in the earlier days these weavers used to weave very few sarees for the Kings, and the remuneration they got from them was very much sufficient for whole of the year. Two major communities Padmasali and Devanga are engaged in weaving profession in the area in Manulalapet and Bangarupet. Devanga community weavers are in this profession from 1600 AD onwards; all are migrated here from Kadapa district in 1600 AD. Venkatagiri is famous for
"Jamdani" design which was imported from Bangladesh. Four Venkatagiri weavers won President’s Award for weaving this design.

The weavers in Venkatagiri mainly produce sarees of Cotton, Cotton and Silk mix and pure Silk. The counts in the fabric give the softness to the fabric. More the counts softer will be fabric and lesser counts produce harder fabrics. The counts used in cotton are usually 100 (length) – 100 (breadth) and in silk it is 3 ply. One Pacham will make 4 sarees. Pacham is the length of the yarn loaded in looms. On an average a weaver will make 10 sarees a month and will earn an amount of `4000. The yarn is purchased by merchants and given to the weavers along with the designs. The weavers will turn the yarn in charka and load in the loom and weave the fabric as per the design given to them. The weaver receives their remuneration once the finished product is returned to the merchant. Venkatagiri handlooms specialty is Jamdani designs which costs from `700 to `15000 in the wholesale market. Venkatagiri sarees are not exported outside India from Venkatagiri. Usually it is send all over India and the merchants used to do the export. Sri S Verraih has received a national award for Venkatagiri design in the year 2000.

Dyeing :- First the yarn is washed and then dipped in the required colour which is in a boiler and the worker goes on turning the yarn so that the colour is evenly mixed in the yarn. The most important aspect in this process is the mixing of colours which will give unique and durable colour to the fabric. Then it is again washed and dried. These yarns are then starched. Starching of the yarn is where the colour in the yarn will get more permanent nature and gives the yarn a polished look. The starched yarn is brought from the merchants by master weavers and is distributed to weavers. (Master weavers are also weavers but they will be having a group of weavers under them). Then it is turned in a charka. The turning in charka is where the yarn will become thread, which is used for wept.

The loading of yarn in warp is the next process. Then yarn is loaded into the looms. The length of yarn which is loaded as warp is known as
Pacham. A weaver can make four sarees from one pacham. It will take a week to weave one Pacham of four sarees.

Weaving :- The looms used in Venkatagiri are mostly pit looms. Pit looms are looms which are fixed in the ground level and there will be a pit in which looms peddle will be placed and the weaver will sit on the floor and use his hands and legs to weave.

The weavers are into this profession traditionally. None of the weavers are trained but they have acquired this unique skill hereditarily from their ancestors. The art of weaving is passed on by way of vision and practice. There are no theoretical explanations or training for weaving. But unfortunately due to the low wages the traditional weavers are opting out of this industry. New generation is not interested in this profession due to the low wages prevailing in the industry. Since Venkatagiri looms are pit looms, during rainy season the looms are closed due to the rain water getting clogged in the ground.

The handlooms in Venkatagiri are famous for its softness and durability. The handloom fabrics are soft and comfortable to wear and also suites all the climates. Mainly Venkatagiri looms manufacture sarees, but now as per demand dress materials are also weaved.

The weavers demand that only if the government can provide a rehabilitation package similar to that which is provided to the farmers who have lost crops, then only handloom industry can survive. The weavers state that only if government also takes the responsibility to support the handloom industry by providing subsidy for yarn and  promoting the marketing, then only the industry will last or else the end of handloom industry is not far from near. The high cost of handloom fabrics is also limiting the marketability.  The handloom industry is searching for a break through for survival.