The Gollabhama weave has the most interesting connotation–it walks out straight from the pages of our mythology. The term ‘golla’ refers to the cattle-rearing community and ‘gollabhama’, thus, implies the ‘milkmaids’ or gopinis who famously carried yoghurt for Lord Krishna. Since time immemorial, women have been doing everything required to keep the house in order–whether it is walking those long distances with pitchers to fetch water, waking up early to milk the cow, completing those innumerable household chores or raising children. The picture has only slightly changed these days in the urban household, with the added responsibility of a professional life. However, to this day, the unpaid, ‘labour of love’ continues equally in both rural and urban areas.
Hence, this weave, influenced greatly by the folklore of Telangana, portrays the mundane yet extraordinary narrative of women’s labour in our everyday life. It originates in the Siddipet district of the state, and the number of weavers once ranged from two to three thousand. Weaver families encourage the younger generations to pursue other professions, preferably private jobs, to earn a decent income and stability. Yet, efforts to preserve the tradition also continue.
Siddipet harbours roughly two hundred looms today. The Gollabhama sarees have a unique tie-and-dye style that is used to colour and design the warp and weft threads, which are then woven together. That is, the designs are not separately printed or embroidered on the saree but are first drawn on a graph and then the warp is raised at the appropriate places and the color threads are inserted through the warp as per the design. It can be woven in both cotton and silk yarns although cotton sarees made of a single colour are the traditionally predominant ones. The colours of a Gollabhama loom range from subtle to bright, with motifs woven frequently in white that stands out as a contrast against the colourful background. Flower butas are spread across the body with the help of inlay technique that gives them an intricate look and appeal. The three most common and popular motifs found in the sarees are gollabhama,bathukamma and kolatam–woven mostly onto the border or the pallu. Bathukamma is a beautiful flower stack of mostly seasonal flowers, arranged in concentric layers in the shape of an inverted cone or temple. In Telugu, the patron goddess of womanhood, Maha Gauri Devi, is worshipped in the form of Bathukamma and this festival coincides with Dussehra. So this weave. in a way, denotes the celebration of womanhood through both the sacred and the profane.
The weaving of the motifs is a most complicated process and continues to be the defining aspect of a Gollabhama saree. It takes about three to four days to weave one saree and a weaver earns a meagre few hundreds for the same. Today, in an attempt to cater to market demands and make their presence felt, the weavers are churning out products such as dupattas, scarves, curtains, stoles, bed sheets and decorative pieces to attract the modern Indian crowd. Despite earning the GI tag, the condition of the weavers of Siddipet continues to deteriorate and calls for some serious intervention that can upscale its sales. As lovers and connoisseurs of saree, we would want nothing but increase in awareness and responsibility towards our indigenous weaves so as to not lose them to oblivion.
P.S. Did you know, when Ivanka Trump visited Hyderabad in November 2017, she was gifted a silk Gollabhama saree?