The beauty of Navalgund Durries / Carpets ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

Since we are in the Karnataka Rajyotsava  month, I thought I should write about the Navalgund Durries or carpets. These are functional carpets that are woven with geometric designs, and other motifs. Yes, the type I am sitting on in the picture. I had recently acquired it and decided to inaugurate it for a special Homam/ Havan/ Pooja today :). Obviously, weaving goes beyond sarees.

These rugs were initially made by a group of weavers of Bijapur. – basically women of the Sheikh Sayeed community- who used live in the Jumkhaan Gulli. During the reign of Adil Shah and the Vijaynagar Empire, the Jumkhaan weaver families sought a safe place to continue their skill which was also their livelihood. And hence they migrated to Navulgund in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. Navalgund in Kannada means the hill of peacocks (Navilllugunda), and is one of the popular motifs found in the rugs. The other motifs are pagade atte (Indian dice game motif) and bada phool (big flower).

Since these traditional Muslim women of the Sheikh Sayeed community were pretty much confined in their homes, this became their exclusive craft. The weavers used to be secretive about their art and would not teach their daughters and instead the skill is taught only to the daughters in law so that the skill remained in the family. But a lot has changed since those times.

From raw cotton to the durrie, however, the technique is well documented. The weft threads of the weave are always colourful and are dyed at Gajendragarh in the Gadag district. The Navalgund durrie has been registered under the GI Act 1999 of the Government of India, which means that the tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name.

Sadly, it was reported in the media that hundreds of families were hit by the ‘lockdown’ the past two years. Before the first wave, more than 35 persons worked there but it has now come down to just 18 weavers. The weavers say that Government support and not a G I tag would help them. Many women prefer to work from home and they simply do not have enough space in their homes or because they live in rented quarters. In the weaving centres too, not all looms could function at all times.

The Navalgund town now has weaving centres that was established in 1988 and has other women other than Muslim women too. The weavers work on vertical pit looms called khadav magga, and work despite odds of having no toilets, no health insurance and other inconveniences. The other tools that are used are the tibni, a pointed wooden tool that is used to push the threads down; a tool called panja is used to beat the threads down after every line is woven, to tighten the woven part.

No reference is used while weaving these masterpieces and weavers only depend on their experience in weaving. Sizes of dhurries vary from a minimum of 3ft x 5 ft and a maximum to 12 ft x 6ft. The legendary Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay has written a detailed account in her book ‘Carpets and Floor covering of India ‘ ( 1969) and it makes an interesting read.

Through this article, I would request my readers to explore these dying crafts and buy them too, as it provides livelihood and you take back a piece of history and art back with you.

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