Thirubuvanam, Tamil Nadu, India...
Being a highly versatile product, ‘Durries’ have a wide variety of uses depending on its size, pattern and material. The smallest ones ranging 12 by 12 inches are used as table mats to keep flower vases, while a moderate sized durrie of 24 by 24 inches known as ‘Aasan’ is used as yoga mats and for meditation. A large durrie of about 20 feet by 20 feet is used for large gatherings like a political or social gathering. Traditionally, Dhurries were used as floor coverings, but due to their attractive and intricate patterns they are also used as wall hangings. Due to their low cost and ease of maintenance, Durries do not get infected by pests and insects like ‘silverfish’ that often affect carpets. Having versatile nature cotton durries helps in keeping warm during winters while it has a cooling effect during summers.
In the study of crafts, durries were earlier dismissed as a poor man’s carpet and undermined in its value. But with time it soon became popular due to its abstract patterns and contemporary design appeal. Being woven these durries have an advantage of being reversible, which enhances its functionality. In comparison with carpets, they are lighter and its weaving method provides better flexibility in creating more varied designs. The craft of durrie making is mostly practiced by women of the house. The craft requires a simple set up of a ‘punja’, a ‘pit loom’ or just two horizontal bars that are used to weave by hand. This basic set up enables them to practice the craft efficiently. Durrie making uses two basic techniques; the ‘punja’ technique and the traditional ‘pit loom with the fly shuttle’. The Punja technique requires a simpler set up than the traditional pit loom. Cotton is mostly handspun by women while yarns are dyed by men.
The origins of dhurrie can be traced far back to the ritualistic floor paintings in India. In the Hindu and tribal communities, drawing patterns on walls and home floors was believed to be a powerful religious charm that would ward off evil spirits and energies form their houses. These patterns were drawn as a prayer to invoke the deities and ask for protection from negative energies. In this way the merging of religious belief systems and a love of art and decoration gave rise to an intricate art where the homes became the canvas. Even in the Hindu religious epic ‘The Ramayana’, Goddess Sita is mentioned decorating the threshold of her home with religious designs. The Ramayana mentions Sita decorating the threshold of her home with sacred designs. Even today in various parts of India, these floor decorations are made as part of different religious festivals and are known by different names such as ‘Rangoli’, ‘Mandana’ and ‘Kolam’.
In many traveler accounts of the 13th century, there are descriptions of the floor mats of India. It is mentioned that palm leaves, reeds and other dried foliage were used to make floor coverings for their qualities like water resistance, cooling capacity and easy storage (they could be rolled up and stored in corners or shelves). A painting made in the late 18th century for Lady Impey, wife of British governor of Bengal, depicts a striped Indian dhurrie covering the floor of a nursery.
The ‘Sitalpatti’ mat of Bengal, Assam and Tripura was woven on a loom with cotton warps for the finest and most flexible mats. Animal skins were also used as floor coverings and were commonly depicted in Persian as well as Indian miniature paintings. Tiger and leopard skins were symbols of high stature and power. In many records of 19th century, ‘dhurrie’ is referred to as a ‘Dari’ or ‘Satranji’ in the northern parts of India and as ‘Jamkhani’ in southern India. The earliest surviving relic of the ‘Indian dhurrie’ can now be seen in the British Museum in London where it has been permanently housed. It is a cotton rug fragment found by ‘Sir Aurel Stein’ in 1901 at the ancient ‘Niya’ site in Turkistan. Carbon dating puts it between first and third century AD.
The earliest depictions of the dhurrie, is found in the painting of Mahajanaka Jataka found in Ajanta caves. In the painting King Mahajanaka is depicted standing on a plain Indian dhurrie. In ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ of the Mughal era, there are references to the production of ‘Satranji’ or flat weaves, in the royal workshops of Lahore, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Many other references are present in the paintings of Mughal emperors such as ‘Shah Jahan in Darbar’ (c.1630), ‘A Night celebrating the Prophet’s Birthday, ‘Agra’ (c.1635) etc. The ‘Calico museum of textiles’ in Ahmedabad houses one of the finest examples of the Indian flatwoven rug. It was originally in the ‘Ambar’ palace in Rajasthan. It has a cotton warp and woolen weft, and is believed to have been woven in the middle of the 17th century in Lahore. In the early 19th century, during the peak of the British rule, dhurrie manufacturing flourished immensely as it entered a highly organized phase where details of crafts and industrial projects were logged. A dhurrie with a tile design was used as a backdrop in the Indian pavilion during the ‘Great Exhibition’ to promote trade at the Crystal Palace, London.
As dhurri making craft could be made in small productions, many prisons took to it as a professional and recreational activity for the inmates. In the late 1930s, the ‘Bikaner central jail’ won the ‘All India Weaving and Printing Competition’, awarded by the government of United Provinces. This broadly divided weaving into two organized sectors; private industry and prison industry. Apart from these a third but very important sector was the village industry. The private and commercial sectors were taken forward with workshops in towns and setting up of cotton mills. Slowly production was only concentrated on ‘striped dhurries’ and niche ‘prayer mats’. It must have been the pressure to buy only British mill produced products, that caused the striped dhurries to be found all over India. The monographs written in the 19th and early 20th centuries concentrated on the village industry – the locally owned productions and workshops.
The prison workshops were among the many reforms and enterprises by the maharajas. They proved to be a fierce competition for the private industries. Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh II, was believed to be a pioneer in such a move – he built a new jail in Jaipur in 1856 AD, introduced reforms and the idea of employing prisoners for skill based activities.
Dhurrie weaving has grown to be one of the richest traditions in India, and a significant aspect in the life of many villagers. The tradition has been passed on through generations and holds a vast decorative vocabulary of cultural symbolism. Designs have been handed down with the intention of passing on skills as well as in the form of dowry. In Madhya Pradesh, the main centres for dhurrie production are ‘Sironj’, ‘Jhabua’, ‘Raigarh’, and ‘Jabalpur’ where women mainly practice the craft in their homes. Dhurries of these regions are famous for their strength and sturdiness as well as choice of bright color palettes.
The main patterns and motifs in dhurries are mostly geometric in design. A wide range of designs exists which contains inspirations from local architecture, flora and fauna. Stripes, geometric variations, sprawling wines, peacocks, tree of life, hunting scenes, medallion patterns etc are the most commonly seen designs in dhurries. Kiln designs are also replicated in the dhurrie weaving. Popular tales and stories are also depicted in the dhurries.
The dhurries of Madhya Pradesh conventionally have a pinkish white background with patterns in bright red color. The motifs are separated by black or bright red color lines. The skill of the craftsmen can be judged by the level of complexity in motifs like the ‘Neempatti’ motif which has 24- petal flowers surrounded by flowers and leaves. The ‘Surajmukhi’ or sunflower design is another popular motif.
Even though durries are a much sought after product, the craft profession is on the decline, with many craftsmen families moving to profitable professions. Surveys indicate that even low income groups such as laborers (agricultural or construction) are paid 150 rupees a day, which is far more than the measly 75 rupees a day that a durrie craftsman earns making it the lowest paying profession.
Owing to the poor state of this trade, many families traditionally involved in this trade prefer to get their children employed in other trades, which pay better. This has reduced the number of durrie looms in Sironj, from a large number of five hundred to about a handful of ten to twelve only. Due to lack demand many small mills in Indore and Bhopal that earlier provided durrie threads, have now shut down. The craft is now being revived by the ‘Bunkar Samiti’ but the process is slow.
Cotton-hand-spun or mill-spun yarns
Wool- hand-spun or mill-spun yarns of wool are used.
Waste-Waste fabric pieces from saree, fabric etc.
Taana machine– Thread is unwound from reels and wound around an octagonal drum of the Taana machine.
Loom– Hand operated pit looms or vertical looms are used to weave dhurries.
Charkha– Rolls or bundles of yarn used for ‘weft’, are made using the ‘charkha’.
Punja– It is a metallic claw-like instrument that is used in pushing the weft threads together to create a tough and stable dhurrie. Strength of the dhurrie increases with each beating.
Scissors or clippers– Excess knot and protruding fibers are cut away using scissors or clippers.
Attractive and sturdy dhurries are woven on pit-looms or vertical looms using cotton or woolen yarns. Before weaving begins the yarn is dyed in vibrant colours according to the designs which are traditional as well contemporary variations.
Weavers of this craft have achieved a level of mastery in the traditional designs and are well versed in it. Any variations in the traditional designs or addition of new designs are provided by the master weaver in the form of a sketch, and are referred to during the process of weaving.
According to the requirements in the design, the yarn is sent to be dyed by the specialist dyers. Both chemical as well as natural dyes are used. The yarn that is dyed using chemical dyes is more evenly coloured, whereas the yarn dyed with vegetable dyes is mostly in uneven shades. The direct dyes give vibrant colours and are mostly used for fly-shuttle dhurries, though they bleed color on normal washing. The yarn is stocked in the form of loose bundles and is knotted at the center. These are put in a tank that contains boiling water to which the dye of desired color is added. The yarn is kept submerged for about 10 minutes and then taken out and dried. This process is repeated again till a uniform shade is achieved.
The yarns that come from the dyers arrive in bundles and need to be detangled and loosened before it can be used for weaving. A charkha is used for the process, where one end of the thread is tied to a small reel called ‘Gitta’, which works as a smaller wheel of the charkha. The turning of the ‘Gitta’ pulls the yarn thread from the larger wheel to the gitta forming a reel with tightly wound, uniform and tangle free yarn.
The taana machine is used for this procedure. According to the colour combination in the design, thread rolls are set on movable vertical frames. The ends of the threads are passed through grid-like frames and wound onto a big octagonal cylinder. Once the desired length of yarn is wound around the cylinder, the log upon which the taana is to be wound is fitted into the blocks between the cylinder and the frame. The weaver then uses this as the warp on the frame of the loom.
1) Traditional pit loom
In this loom, the weaver sits at ground level with the legs inside a pit which contains the pedals. The warp from the log is wound over another log. The threads are guided through metallic reeds till it reaches the ‘Hattha’ or frame which is used to beat in the weft threads. Screws on the loom beams are used to adjust the tension of the warp. One dhurrie is normally made in a few hours.
2) Panja technique
In a vertical loom, two layers of warp are bound on two beams that pass through the reed while weaving. There is a small bench before the loom, facing the warp, on which one or two weavers sit and work. The number of weavers depends on the width of the dhurries. The design is kept in front while weaving and is used as reference. The warp is marked at regular intervals to remind the weaver about a particular motif or feature. After a row of weft is woven, the weavers beat it using the ‘Panja’ tool and comb it so that it gets compacted to the warp. Once this is done, the weaver interchanges the layers of the warp using the ‘Kamana’ (a V shaped wooden frame) and ‘Ruchch'( rods which the Kamana is attached to). This locks the weft between the two layers of warp, making the dhurrie strong and durable.
Once the weaving is done, the ends of the dhurrie are knotted and any problems are rectified. If the dhurrie has developed differential width at fringes due to shrinkage, it is kept stretched on a frame for a day or two. In case a stone wash is needed, the dhurries are sent to be washed with water, detergent and potassium permanganate. The finished dhurrie is then sent to a clipper who clips away all the protruding threads to give it a smooth finish.
List of craftsmen.