7 th of August,2020 will be celebrated as the Handloom Day in India. The Handloom industry, once considered the
high demand not only in Kerala and India but also commander multi-million exports in other countries.
In a 3 article blog series we shall explore the emergence of handloom industry in Kerala, God’s own
country, the prime locations in Kerala where the industry is still prevalent and also have a sneak peek at
some of the scintillating captures of the handloom industry. Kerala known as God’s own country mesmerizes its tourists with its eloquent beauty and an encompassing greenery. Surely Kerala being one of the most literally advanced states in India mimics the first order standard of living in many of its areas. Also, Kerala has long been known as a secular land where people of different religions, customs coexist in harmony. Also being the trade hotspots of India in the ancient and medieval times, many indie technologies like the handloom technology flourished in
Kerala. Even now, handloom industry provides the most vital forms of employment opportunities in Kerala.
The main harbingers of the handloom industry exist in the rural parts of Kerala. The main communities engaged in weaving are known as Saliyans and Devangas. Saliyan and Devangas (Chettiars) traditionally located in southern Karnataka were traditionally the main community in the northern parts of Kerala who were involved in the art of handloom weaving. Traditionally, the main job of this community was to satisfy the clothing requirements of the village. However, during the 15th century, the European
colonial powers like British, French and Portuguese who traditionally traded high value items like spices, ivory and handloom items made their contact in India through the ports of Calicut. The demand for such handloom items soared and they were highly regarded in the European countries for their craftmanship. Even countries like Germany which wanted to learn the traditional art of handloom weaving set up their missions, “Basal mission “in 1829. However, they also pioneered the transition of this home production profession to a factory system. After the colonization of India by the British Empire, the Empire started promoting the handloom industry for its own purposes. Indian handloom already famous for its exquisite craftsmanship reached even more borders due to the reach of the British empire. However, this monopoly of industry started to decline once power handlooms powered by steam engines came into being after the Industrial Revolution. The factory system and cheap availability of resources paved the way for mechanized production which led to decline in demand from the handloom industry. However, it is important to note that the traditional handloom industry did incorporate new developments and paralleled the way of production as per demand.
The current state of handloom industry was influenced by the Sree Narayana movement at the dawn of the 20 th century. The caste based culture which predominated the Kerala society had coaxed the Thiyya/Ezhava community into low end jobs like toddy tapping. The great Sree Narayana Guru instructed the members of the community to re-skill themselves in the art of handloom weaving so that the system changed towards a more secular and industrious culture and also improve the social living conditions of the community. Such socio-economic changes triggered the current state of handloom industry in Kerala.
We shall look at the current products of the handloom industry and the prime locations wherein such high value items are produced in the next article of series.