Visiting a traditional weaving center in most places in India leaves you with mixed emotions. You realize the amount of hard work that goes in producing a simple piece of cloth. You see that the weavers and artisans can hardly make both their ends meet. And wish you could help them with markets, you wish you could help them with better designs and you wish you could buy their products in cities. This wish, in a way, came true when I visited Charaka in Sagar Taluka in Shimoga district of Karnataka. I came to know of Charaka while I was working on my book The Mouse Charmers. Ram of Rang De mentioned this as one of their field partners. I promptly added it to the list of places I want to visit.
Charaka – Weaving Tradition With Modernity
On a sunny winter morning this January, I found myself looking for directions to Charaka. Our first stop was at their shop, which stands at the tip of a Y junction in Heggodu village near Sagar in Shimoga district of Karnataka. The shop looks like an old traditional house with wooden pillars converted to its current avatar. Shelves full of cotton garments meant for men, women, kids and home at extremely affordable prices soon had us taking our picks. We were then pointed to the weaving center half a kilometer down the road.
This Charaka center, which is more like a campus, is a beautiful setup with the small house-like structures on a rolling hill connected by staircases here and there. As soon as we entered we saw a Ganesha temple below an old tree and their office building. An elderly gentleman took us around the place. On my request, he first took me to the dyeing center. I was thrilled to see a room with clay pots embedded on its floor. I was told that these are used to dye the yarn. Outside this room, few young men were dyeing the yarn in large utensils – the way I have seen the dyers in markets doing them. The corridor was filled with yarns in various colors.
I was told that they are experimenting with creating new colors. With my limited knowledge of Kannada, I could understand that Indigo is used for blue, harad is used for yellow and black, and pomegranate seeds are used for some other colors. After the colors are applied, some fixers are applied to fix the color on the thread. It was like standing in a laboratory watching the experiments with colors all around. Do we think about this when we choose colors in a shop?
Women’s collective effort
We walked around the Charaka campus, which is a woman’s collective and has 350 women running it. Saw women stitching clothes, ironing them, doing quality checks and then sorting and storing them. We were then taken to a crèche where a teacher in a room with painted walls was attending to the small children. As soon as they saw the camera in my hand, they started jumping and posing for pictures. This is the place where children play and learn while their mothers work not too far from them. There is also a community canteen run by the workers themselves, where, subsidized food is served.
From here after a small climb, we reached an open-air theater where an annual theater festival takes place every February.
I came back and read a bit about them and discovered that this organization has a literary movement at its core. And was called Kavi-Kavya or Poem and the Poet. No wonder they have a lovely library on their campus. The tradition of arts – be it Hase Chitra the local style of wall painting or the performing arts are very much a part of the DNA of Charaka.
Tradition to Contemporary
Charaka is a place that felt absolutely in harmony with its surroundings. Local people running the place with the help of some marketing by people who can take their products to urban markets like Bangalore. In return, they take inputs on designs from these markets. I found it a lovely adaptation of tradition to cater to contemporary needs. It is also a very dignified osmosis between the rural and urban economy. Most of the time one tends to patronize the other. This model works on mutual respect and respects the interdependence between the two. I need to go back for a detailed study of Charaka.
Places like Charaka and Navdarshanam just leave you with an inspiration to go back to living in harmony with the nature around you.
You can buy products of Charaka at Desi stores in Bangalore or in Heggodu or invest in these businesses through Rang De.