Yadamma, who hails from Narsapur from Medak district, is a very special woman. In her late 50’s, she belongs to a dying a breed of Gongadi weavers. Gongadi, the thick woollen blanket synonymous with the Telangana region, is specially crafted from the wool of the Deccani sheep, locally known as the Nalle Gorre (literally translating to black sheep). What makes Gongadi even more unique is the fact that the Deccani sheep is the only other breed in the world to produce black wool, besides the region of Chiapas in Mexico. These blankets are also suitable for any given season, be it summer or winter; this is because the sheep itself is highly adaptable to weather changes, as opposed to the other breeds of sheep.
Weaving Gongadi since the time she was young, Yadamma recalls how life was much better for her class of weavers a decade and a half ago, before Deccani Sheep were on the verge of extinction.
“We have been practicing this all our life. When I started weaving, there were so many people in community doing what I did. But today, there are only a handful,” she grieves as she weaves. The traditional craft which has been passed down from generation to generation, no longer has any takers among the younger children who are being schooled and given an education.
What has made matters worse, was the government’s intervention that encouraged people to breed the Red Nellore sheep (Yerra Gorre), a breed mostly found in the coastal Andhra region that produces more meat.
“In terms of appearance, Deccani sheep did not look as healthy or as bulky as the Red Nellore sheep. Naturally, people started breeding the Red Nellore sheep instead. What they did not know was the fact that the Red Nellore sheep are not as resistant to climatic variations as the Deccani sheep. Also, they do not produce as much wool as the former. People felt deceived and most of them lost their livelihood,” explains Sagari Ramdas, director of Anthra, an organization working towards reviving the lost art.
Currently, the Gongadi weavers are scattered across seven mandals of Medak district, namely Narsapur, Shivampet, Narayankhed, Aladurg, Veldurthi and Regode. Anthra is making an attempt to link everybody together and continue the art.
“We visited Medak in the year 1995 to get an idea on the traditional regional knowledge. We saw many Nalla Gorre around and took them for granted. When we returned in 2003, we could hardly see any of them. When we spoke to some people, we realised that with the sheep, their livelihoods were also lost along with the art. That was when we decided to work for the cause,” Sagari shares.
Saigonda, a weaver from Narsapur was selling ice creams at Secunderabad before he found out about Anthra’s initiative. “It’s good to be weaving again. Currently, there are only two people from my place who are into Gongadi while there were nearly 85 people practicing it when I first started weaving,” he shares.
Anthra, in association with Deccani Gorrella Mekala Sangham and Unni Vedika, organisations that deal with breeding the Deccani Sheep, and Daram, the Dastakar Andhra initiative, will be hosting the annual Gongadi exhibition for the third time in the city on December 20 and 21. A few Gongadi weavers have been invited to interact with customers; they will also put up a skit which tells the story of the craft.
The exhibition will be held at Daram, Sardar Patel road, opposite the old airport lane, Begumpet, and will be open from 11 am to 8 pm. For details, contact 040 2776 5503.