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Preserving the Past and Weaving A New Future: The Tale Guledgudda Khana Weave from Karnataka

There is a video doing the rounds on Instagram wherein a lady dressed in a beautiful saree made out of Khun, Khann or Khanna cloth does a walkthrough of the cloth weavers district in Bagalkote district in Karnataka. This is a lesser known weaving tradition from Karnataka that needs to be promoted and spoken about more as it represents a great cultural and tangible heritage of the region. In this article, we shall be delving into the story of Khanna weavers and the stunning weaving tradition that is practised by a few families in the village of Gulegudda. Guledgudda Khana is a fascinating fabric that combines opulence and grandeur, even though it may not be widely known. Its rich history adds to its allure.

Different Names, One Fabric

Traditionally worn as a blouse, khun fabric used as a blouse piece by women. Courtesy: riding-a-rainbow.blogspot.com

Khun, Khann, or Khana is a type of lightweight cloth that is handwoven on pit looms in Guledagudda, which is in the Bagalkote district of Karnataka. It is easy to recognize because of its beautiful designs and unique borders. This fabric has a special importance in the culture and history of Maharashtra and North Karnataka. Traditionally, it was used by women to make saree blouses. The cloth is made using a specific technique called extra warp dobby figures, which ensures it has a consistent width and length. It is often paired with the Ilkal saree from the same region.

Sampath Rathi with khun and Ilkal saree. Courtesy:riding-a-rainbow.blogspot.com

Properties of Guledgudda Khana Fabric

A traditional Guledgudda Khana fabric is a splendid blend of hand-spun silk and cotton, carefully woven together. The fabric stands out with its contrasting coloured dobby weaving on both sides, adorned with intricate and colourful motifs representing cultural and religious symbols like the tulsi pan leaf, a chariot called theru, the Sun God Suranarayana Mukta, and elephant footsteps known as ane hejje, among other beautiful designs.

History of Guledgudda Khana Fabric

The exact origin of khann weaving in Guledgudda remains uncertain. However, the Government of India Geographical Indications Journal, published in November 2015, suggests that it could have possibly begun during the 8th century, a period when the Chalukya Dynasty held influence over the region.

Making of Khana Fabric and the Changing Times

Artisan with his Khun creations. Courtesy:riding-a-rainbow.blogspot.com

Guledgudda Khana involves using silk yarns of different counts and widths for the vertical threads (warp), while cotton yarns (typically between 40S and 60S counts) are used for the horizontal threads (weft). The fabric is woven using various techniques like ground warp, border warp, and extra warp, each demanding a specific yarn count. These techniques allow artisans to create a wide range of designs with different colors and motifs. Some popular designs include Kolu Teru, Navalpari, Kalawar Balli, and many more. Before being woven on the loom, the yarn is dyed, wrung, dried, and combed. Initially measuring 31 inches, the fabric’s size has been adapted to modern times, with weavers now making it as wide as a metre. Despite its strength and beauty, khun retains its lustre even after multiple washes.Presently, the village has only five dyers, but in contrast, the number of weavers in Guledagudda is substantial, reaching thousands.

Khunn, khun, dupatta, saree, cushion
Guledgudda Fabrics from the village in Bagalkote District, Karnataka. Courtesy:rihaa.com

What once took days to make a traditional piece of clothing, now takes less time with the introduction of powerlooms in the district and market. The advent of these looms have led to massive changes in many indigenous crafts and weaving traditions. To keep up with the increasing demand, weavers are exploring more cost-effective fibres such as polyester and artificial silk. Additionally, the adoption of power looms has significantly accelerated the production process. While a power loom can produce 40 metres of fabric in just two days, traditional handlooms would require around 30 days for the same quantity. As a result, many weavers are opting for power looms to improve efficiency.However, this shift towards modernization comes with a downside. It compromises the authentic charm of the original weave and takes attention away from the skilled artisans of Guledagudda who have been the traditional makers of this fabric. The commercialization of the craft can overshadow the contributions and craftsmanship of these weavers.

Revivalists and Entrepreneurs Changing the Narrative

Today, the Guledgudda Khana weave takes great pride in its Geographical Indication (GI) tag, recognizing its unique origin. This fabric holds significant cultural importance and has also found its way into modern trends. Hemalatha Jain, a renowned textile revivalist dedicated to preserving various Indian-origin weaves, has been relentless in reviving and promoting the distinctive motifs found in Guledgudda Khana, ensuring they continue to thrive.

Khunn, cushion
Cushion covers made in Khun/Guledgudda Fabric. Courtesy:rihaa.com

In Bengaluru, there are two remarkable initiatives supporting the artisans and craftspeople of North Karnataka. The first one is Kai Crafts, which proudly offers a splendid collection of pillows called Khana Cushions, skillfully made from khun fabric and beautifully embellished with traditional Kasuti embroidery. The second venture, KaleNele Design Studio, also based in Bengaluru, wholeheartedly promotes and incorporates Guledgudda fabric into its diverse range of home decor collections, aiming to showcase and preserve the vanishing crafts of India. 

Another weaver by the name of Ramesh Ayodi, in a bid to preserve and promote the lesser known cloth came up with the idea of covering notebooks with this fabric. On Twitter, captivating images and videos of these notebooks, accompanied by glimpses of the intricate processes involved in crafting them, sparked significant public interest in both the talented weavers and the exquisite khana cloth used in making these books.Speaking to Times Of India about this venture, the weaver said “I mooted the idea of using the cloth to make cover for the n notebooks. I discussed the idea with the proprietor of Akshara Printers in Bengaluru, who were very willing to support this venture. I have 18 handlooms, and employed 25 Guledgudda weavers. We made 300 notebooks and sold them to interested customers and seeked feedback.Progress was slow until senior IAS officer Uma Mahadevan shared a photo of the notebook bought in a tweet.” He says many customers from Pan India such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi have been buying the notebooks. 

Khun fabrics made beautifully by artisans in different colours. Courtesy:riding-a-rainbow.blogspot.com

With its rich weaving tradition and unique motifs, the craft holds cultural significance in Maharashtra and North Karnataka. As artisans adapt to changing times, it remains essential to preserve the craft’s authenticity while embracing innovation for its sustainable future. Initiatives and actions by designers/weavers/textile enthusiasts,craft revivalists and entrepreneurships have generated new found interest in these textiles. The newly viral video on Instagram of a textile enthusiast has also sparked interest and here we are writing and subsequently reading about these beautiful handmade and handwoven textiles from South India.

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