He scripts magic on fabrics. Gajam Govardhana from Andhra Pradesh is one of the few weavers to keep alive the Telia Rumal design tradition in Ikat. Govardhana’s brand of Telia Rumal involves inking Telugu alphabets on cloth.
Tucked away in a small lane in dusty Dilsukhanagar, Hyderabad, is Govardhana’s Murali Sari Emporium, from where he has woven masterpieces for the likes of Sonia Gandhi, Shabana Azmi, Sheila Dixit and other prominent figures.
“When I was in Delhi for an awards function, Soniaji noticed the Telia Rumal design on my clothes. And since then she has been a regular buyer of Ikat,” says the 69-year-old Padma Shri awardee.
When many of us imagine exquisite Ikat, visions of bold graphic designs coupled with lush, exuberant colours come to mind. Govardhana, however, does not agree with the usual notion that Ikat is a dying art. He says, “Now, the handloom industry is doing better than ever.”
The master weaver creates limited editions so that the product remains exclusive and every customer is satisfied wearing something unique. “We do not believe in publicity because more demand will affect quality, and we will end up printing them or manufacturing them in the powermill. My emporium aims at selling genuine goods made by weavers from villages and providing them a livelihood,” he says.
The third generation master weaver from Putapakka, Nalgonda district has a whole wall dedicated to literature on the art of weaving and dyeing at the emporium. “We never used to call it Ikat a few years ago. In Telugu it is called Chitike, which either comes from the word chit for dot or the common Telugu word chitti for small or tiny (the early Chitike patterns were largely small dash like forms),” he says.
Govardhana’s Padmashali (weavers) family that specialises in the ancient art of Telia Rumal provides work to 500 looms across the state. The turning point in Govardhana’s life came when he was commissioned to showcase Telia Rumal at the Festival of India in London in 1983. Govardhana joined the Weavers’ Service Centre under Ministry of Textiles in 1975.
Emerging from a room with a pile of ikat pieces neatly folded, Govardhana explains, “I started using anything that was available to make a shade out of it. Once I boiled tea and dipped the yarn in the decoction and I was surprised to see how beautifully it took the shade.”
He has written several papers and books and has guided many students. His daughter Premalatha, a NIFT graduate, is now working on giving the fabric a more contemporary feel. And she definitely has inherited her father’s talent. “Experimentation is something I have always believed in. I started weaving and experimenting with silk, tussar and many more, which were a success. We also started weaving saris in Uppada and Venkatagiri handloom. People loved them and we have a huge demand for them,” Govardhana says.
His silk blankets and tapestries and his work has attracted clientele from across the globe. “I now deliver goods in Japan, Australia, US, UK and many other counties. Many times, when they visit India, they visit me and personally select a few souvenirs from here for those back home,” he says.
Ikat designs are not exactly trendy, but fashion designers like Anand Kabra, Rahul Misra, Asmita Marwa, who featured Ikat-influenced coats in a recent collection, helped attract attention on the tradition. “They come to us with a particular design, explain how they want the fabric to look and we make it. It is nice to see so many youngsters showing interest in Ikat, it is also creating a lot of employment for weavers,” Govardhana signs off.
● Govardhana was invited to London to showcase the Telia Rumal at the Festival of India in 1983. Thereafter, his designs made their way to Festival of India in Sweden, France, Japan, Malaysia, Denmark and US.
● He has received many awards and honours including Padma Shri in 2011, the National Award from the President of India in 1983, UNESCO Award for excellence in 2002, National Master Weaver Award in 2006 and the Shilpa Guru Award in 2007.