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  • Writer's pictureShila Desai

Socio-prenuers: Reviving Karnataka's lost weaves

During pandemic times, we bring you inspiring stories of exceptional socio-prenuers

Hemalatha Jain revives Patteda Anchu in a phoenix-like rebirth

Hemalatha Jain couldn't sleep nights wondering why weavers in her native state of Karnataka had given up on the beautiful Patteda Acchu sari. Having worked with the Handloom Boards of Karnataka and Maharashtra, she knew many Indian weaves had weathered industrialisation. She was mystified at the disappearance of Patteda Acchu.

With historical roots going back to 10th C CE, the Patteda Acchu sari was traditionally gifted by a father from the Lingayat community to his daughter on her wedding day after being offered to the temple goddess for a blessing. The sari's signature reds and yellows signify prosperity and abundance—every father's wish for his daughter. Its subtle all-over checks are set off by a colourful pallu for a dramatic over-the-shoulder drape.

While on a working stint in the U.S., Hemalatha was consumed by stories of Patteda Anchu. She noted the value placed on handmade artisanship in the west. Upon return, she longed to see and feel a Patteda Anchu sari but couldn't find even one. She began travelling across the state, accessing eighteen artisanal villages to track down a Patteda Anchu. In Sangaya, she met a temple priest who pointed her to a young girl. The young girl’s mother had been a devdasi or temple dancer. A temple dancer was reputed to know of Patteda Anchu weavers. Sure enough, the trail led Hemalatha to a weaver in Gajendranagar in northern Karnataka. He had once woven Patteda Anchu saris but stopped when demand dried up. Hemalatha persuaded him to dust off his loom, and with help from an angel investor, Jayadidi, Hemalatha supplied yarn for a hundred saris. They developed a prototype in eight months.

Seven years later, Hemalatha supports forty-five weavers. She owns twenty-five looms; the rest are weaver owned. The Patteda Anchu sari is back.

Hemalatha says she feels good about her life now, knowing that a cherished weave is making a strong comeback. She calls her brand Punarjeevana which means “revival”. Besides Patteda Anchu, Hemalatha wants to revive Karnataka’s rich crafts’ legacy, each craft with its own story of inception, rise, and current decline.

Hemalatha says, “Modern society often has little or no knowledge of roots and culture. Our grandparents, while performing even a simple puja, sensed and accepted its relevance. Modern urbanised societies question the relevance of these practices and are losing a crucial societal connection. Practices that connect people to their culture, traditions, and each other bring long-term happiness.”

The subject of Hemalatha’s next revival effort was the Hubli sari which was woven on power looms. Hemalatha unearthed her old handlooms and decided to revive the ancient weave. Weaving Hubli saris also serves as diversification for her weavers. Another is the Gomi Teni sari.

What challenges does Punarjeevana face? How does Hemalatha tackle them?

“There are plenty of challenges,” says Hemalatha. Competition from power loom knockoffs—some with even a fake handloom mark—is ever-present. To combat, Punarjeevana’s saris all have a unique pallu and yarn count beyond power loom capability. Social media portals educate her market on distinguishing handloom from power loom, and that relatively inexpensive online product is often inferior. Sadly, the competition doesn’t stop at knockoffs. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Punarjeevana’s workshop was torched. Hemalatha suspects power loom competitors hoping to draw her weavers to poorly paid work that offers few safety nets.

Pricing is another challenge. Handloom is undeniably more expensive than power loom. “I realised my weavers themselves can’t afford handloom,” says Hemalatha. “Punarjeevana set up a Diwali and Ramadhan bonus where each weaver gets to choose colours and patterns to weave themselves a sari. It’s very popular.”

Hemalatha wants natural-dyed hand spun Punarjeevana saris to appeal to a broad market. Saris are priced at roughly Rs. 2500 or $35, which she feels is good value. In order to create demand, the key is to spread awareness of the finer aspects of hand spun natural-dyed products. With attendance at trade shows and web-based talks, Hemalatha is a force in spreading the Patteda Anchu message throughout India.

For the revival to carry on, attracting younger weavers is crucial. Most of Hemalatha’s weavers are over forty. Initially, young people shunned weaving. As they witnessed the older weavers’ success, they began approaching Hemalatha. She ensures younger weavers are paid a premium.

The future for Patteda Anchu is shaping slowly and carefully. Punarjeevana will never be a mass-produced brand because revival is twinned with bettering weavers’ lives. Hemalatha is so committed to her socio-business that she is now pursuing a doctorate in order to formally document Patteda Anchu research and revival.

Punarjeevana is a testament to the power of hope and perseverance. Hemalatha’s vision is to grow Punarjeevana’s community to 300 weavers, spinners, dyers, and artisans. She sees the brand crossing international borders with an expanded range of home furnishings, duppatas, and saris.

What does she tell her students, the ones that dream of following in her socially conscious footsteps?

“Keep focusing on how you’ll help society through your cause. It takes time. And hope.”

Where to find Punarjeevana: social media, Go Kup, many craft stores across India. You can also buy from our COVID-19 Direct-to-Weaver Initiative.

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