Handloom Weaving in Assam

Rukmini Barua Deka 

From time immemorial, the people of north east India have fashioned their crafts, deeply following the amazing wealth of prehistoric memories, legends, mythology and history. The range of materials, images, diversity of colour and texture, being very innovative and splendid to the people, has formed a dynamic pool of creativity. Promoted by various voluntary welfare organisations, the craftsmen have adapted their traditional crafts to modern needs and urban markets while continuing to keep their intrinsic artistic heritage alive. The fabulous range of handlooms and handicrafts have dazzled memento-hunting holiday- makers from home and abroad.

In the villages of north east India, one of the most common sounds which is often heard is the click-clack of the loom. The villagers produce marvellous handloom objects, reflecting the intensity and dexterity of their hands. Combining bright colours and breathtaking patterns is unique to north east India’s weavers..Weaving reflects some of the most important features of each community. It is an intrinsic ritual of everyday life that showcases the colour pallette, patternisation and the themes. The womenfolk who do the weaving for the household produce shawls, blankets, durries, gamochas, mekhelas, chaddars and more. In earlier times, most of the work was done for the needs of the family but now some of the exquisite work is finding its way to urban market stores and exhibitions.  Traditionally, though a woman’s task in the north east, the men of Tripura and Assam also weave primarily for commercial reasons on faster looms like fly-shuttle than the traditional back-strap loom.

Assam is reputed for its silk and the most prominent variety is muga, the golden silk exclusive only to the state. This is exported to many countries. Apart from muga silk there is mulberry silk or paat and also eri. Sualkuchi, known as Manchester of the East, which is close to Guwahati produces the finest muga and paat mekhelas, chaddars, gamochas and eri shawls.The Bodos of Assam are renowned for their rich heritage of weaving and Bodo women have been acknowledged as one of the finest weavers in the north east. The Bodo women use their traditional colours in the dokhona, a length of fabric which covers a woman from chest to foot. The dokhona is a harmonious arrangement of asi and guddam. Its elaborate borders distinguish the Assamese mekhela chaddar, a variation of the sarong.The women of the mishing community work on traditional diamond patterns in countless weaves. Their favourite colours are orange, yellow, green, black and red.  Their famous mirizim shawls and blankets make great wall hangings or even bed spreads. The Karbis, Tiwas, Hajongs, Dimasas and Rabhas are also dexterous weavers, weaving fascinating fabrics.

“The government of India is taking various initiatives for the welfare of handloom weavers. I always respect and appreciate our weavers for their commitment, dedication and skill. The weavers ought to obtain their due returns from their produce. The government is working for it. Under the Hathkargha Samvardhan Sahayata Scheme of the government of India assists the weavers by bearing 90% of the cost of new looms. Under the MUDRA Scheme, loans ranging from ` 50,000 to ` 10 lakh can be availed by the weavers with no requirement for any security whatsoever. The ministry of textiles has entered into MoUs with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) due to which the children of weavers will be able to avail school and university education with 75% of the fees being borne by the government of India. I assure the Chief Minister of Assam that the Centre will do all that is required to support and work for advancement of weavers of Assam”, said Ajay Tamta, Union Minister of state, Textiles, presiding over the main event of the 3rd National Handloom Day, in Guwahati on August 7.

                While addressing the audience, Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Minister, Assam thanked Prime Minister Modi for choosing Guwahati as the venue for the main event of 3rd National Handloom Day.  He said that more than 50% of the total weaver population of India resides in north east India most of whom are women. The handloom sector had enormous potential which should generate more employment.

                “The weavers give heart and soul in vibrant creations. We need to find out more ways and means through which the income of weavers can be increased. A MoU has been signed between Ministry of Textiles and Common Service Centres under which the weavers will be able to avail a wide variety of government services under one roof-from Weavers’ Service Centres (WSCs). They will serve as a one-stop centre for weavers providing various services, including, banking, passport, insurance, PAN Card, Voter ID Card and Aadhaar. Weavers will also be able to pay their electricity bills and undertake online courses at WSCs. There are 28 WSCs under the office of Development Commissioner, Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, functioning in various parts of the country.  Weavers visit these WSCs to avail technical asistance in relation to their profession”,said Anant Kumar Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Textiles.

                Another MoU was signed on the occasion between Ministry of Textiles and designers, under which, reputed textile designers will work in tandem with handloom weavers to assist and provide knowledge to weavers . It is expected to improve marketing of handloom products, promoting the welfare of weavers. Smriti Irani, Union Handloom Minister distributed educational material to handloom weavers that has been developed in collaboration with NIOS during her recent visit to Assam.

                 The present government at the Centre is working hard to improve the conditions of weavers , countrywide. Attention needs to be paid to north east India as maximum number of weavers are based here, most of whom get low wages and emoluments.

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