Once a symbol of pride and heritage, Pochampally sarees are on the wane due to various factors, including high prices, imitation designs flooding the market, and dwindling government support

Once a source of immense pride for many, Pochampally sarees continue to be cherished by women for their intricate designs and exquisite craftsmanship. Woven from pure silk in Pochampally, a weaving village in Telangana, these sarees embody elegance and heritage, making them highly coveted. Much like Kanchipuram silk sarees, Pochampally sarees hold a pride of place in the world of Indian textiles.

Their timeless beauty and exceptional quality have elevated their status as cultural treasures. The desire to drape oneself in a Pochampally saree cuts across class/economic barriers. Yet, the high cost often forces this dream to remain just that — a dream — for many women. Their steep price tag relegates them to a luxury accessible primarily to higher-income groups.

However, the glory of Pochampally sarees is fading as they struggle to keep up with the times. The primary reasons are their high prices, the proliferation of imitation designs, and the unavailability of quality sarees at lower costs. What’s more, the market is flooded with various competing saree types. Government support for handlooms has also dwindled, and the number of weavers is decreasing. The rise of power looms over the years has posed a considerable threat to Pochampally silks.

Consequently, the number of handlooms in Pochampally village plummeted from 13,000 to 3,000 by 2005. The current generation shows little interest in weaving, opting instead for jobs or other businesses after completing their education. Elders in the weaving community are also discouraging their descendants from pursuing handloom weaving due to the lack of sustainable prospects in the industry.

When it came to be known as ‘Bhoodan Pochampally’

About 73 years ago, Pochampally, now part of the Yadadri-Bhuvanagiri district, was a small village in Nalgonda. Named after the local deity, Pochampally gained prominence when Vinoba Bhave (1885-1982), born in the village, initiated the Bhoodan movement. Vinoba began a nationwide campaign to donate land to the landless poor, especially the Harijans. In 1951, during a visit to his hometown, he met with communist activists to discuss land reform.

Realizing there was no government land available for distribution, local landowner Vedire Ramachandra Reddy donated 100 acres of his 3,500-acre estate. Subsequently, another 800 acres were also donated. Vinoba distributed these 900 acres to the landless poor and Harijans. Since then, Pochampally has been known as ‘Bhoodan Pochampally’.

Creating a silk saree involves over 20 steps, such as selecting silk thread, weaving, designing, and dyeing. These processes are collectively known as tie-and-dye, and each step is performed entirely by hand.

Sita Narsimha, Karnati Anantaramulu, and Sita Somaiya families of the Padmashali community initiated the tradition of weaving silk sarees by handloom in Pochampally. Initially, they wove handkerchiefs, towels, and blankets, but later expanded to silk sarees. Weaving became especially popular early on because they used the tie-and-dye (ikat) method rather than the usual techniques. ‘Ikat’ is an Indonesian word, and this weaving technique was borrowed from Indonesia and established in Pochampally.

Creating a silk saree involves over 20 steps, such as selecting silk thread, weaving, preparing colours, designing, dyeing, and applying the coloured designs to the silk threads. These processes are collectively known as tie-and-dye, and each step is performed entirely by hand. This meticulous process takes weeks to complete a single silk saree, ensuring its quality and price. The 100% handwoven Pochampally sarees are highly valued, with the more expensive ones purchased by those who appreciate the labour involved. Even those who understand the effort but cannot afford to buy them still enjoy admiring their beauty.

How imitation sarees from Surat killed their demand

The Pochampally silk sari weaving industry, which was started by the above three families, once flourished. However, the industry saw a decline when imitation designs of Pochampally silk sarees started flooding the market. For example, while an authentic Pochampally silk saree might cost around Rs 25,000, an imitation with the same design could be found for just Rs 1,000-2,000. This created a situation where many people opted for the cheaper alternatives as the only noticeable difference was the quality of the fabric. Even a regular saree could mimic the look of a Pochampally saree.

Surat in Gujarat became particularly well-known for producing these imitation sarees. While Pochampally weavers would work hard for a week to create a single saree, factories in Surat could produce hundreds of similar-looking sarees daily. As these imitation sarees from Surat spread across the country, they gained popularity and people started buying them instead. As a result, the demand for authentic Pochampally silk sarees decreased, leading to a major drop in their popularity.

The 100% handwoven Pochampally sarees are highly valued, with the more expensive ones purchased by those who appreciate the labour involved.

A Pochampally silk saree weighing 700 grams with six or four ply silk costs as much as Rs 7,000. How many people can afford to buy a saree for such a high price? All the raw silk for the sarees manufactured in Pochampally comes from Bengaluru, while the colours and designs are prepared by the artisans locally. In contrast, a saree weighing 200 grams made with a power loom is available for just Rs 400. Given this significant price difference, many people are opting to buy the Rs 400 sarees, regardless of the weight difference.

‘Telangana government commitment to supporting handloom’

Speaking to The Federal Andhra Pradesh about the decline of Pochampally sarees, Yadadri-Bhuvanagiri district Padmashali Sangam General Secretary Ankam Pandu expressed concern that the glory of these sarees will soon disappear. The younger generation is being kept away from handloom weaving because it is not as profitable as it once was. The number of looms in Pochampally has dwindled from 13,000 to just over 3,000. Many people hesitate to buy these sarees due to their high cost. The tie and dye method used in saree making, along with the labour involved, justifies the price, but it is not seen as worthwhile. Fake sarees have hurt the market, and online shopping platforms like Amazon and Flipkart have dealt another blow. He lamented that while Pochampally may retain its name, the traditional silk sarees made there may become a thing of the past. He stressed that government support is crucial for the survival of Pochampally sarees.

Telangana Handlooms and Textiles Minister Tummala Nageswara Rao underlined the government’s commitment to supporting handloom weavers in an interview with The Federal Andhra Pradesh. He stated that a provision has been made to purchase 100% of the uniforms for government employees from Telangana State Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society Ltd (TCSO). Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has also assured that steps are being taken to ensure handloom weavers have a sufficient income throughout the year. On March 11, a directive was issued stating that all necessary clothing must be sourced exclusively from TCSO societies. Rao also mentioned that the government has requested the establishment of an Indian Institute of Handloom Technology (IIHT) in the state, a request that was approved by the central government due to the Chief Minister’s efforts.

He said that besides imparting necessary training to students through IIHT, they are going to provide training in technology, textile design, apparel design, marketing, and international trade. He added that the government is also considering strengthening handloom societies. Nageswara Rao mentioned that they are trying to support handloom weavers by setting up textile parks in different parts of the state.

(This article was originally published in The Federal Andhra Pradesh)

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