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Friday, 20 March 2015 | Divya Kaushik

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Textile designer Sidharth Sinha has been working with the craftsmen of Meghalaya to promote the ‘almost-extinct’ Dakmanda weave and natural dyes of Ri Bhoi village. He talks to Divya Kaushik about his discoveries from the treasure chest

Anything that comes from Northeast is a labour of love. Don’t go by the face value of any indigenous product and try to fix a price to it. Though people who create those products are aloof from the commercial ways of the world and don’t care about the price, you may be ashamed of your evaluation once you know of the hard work they put into everything they make. These were a few lessons learnt during the six-month intense research that textile designer Sidharth Sinha did in Shillong.

Sinha presented his collection last year at the lakme Fashion Week. He drew inspiration from the Northeast’s colonial heritage — the vintage Assam bungalows and the Victorian architecture that survive as a memorabilia of the Raj. An estate built in 1935, now known as a famous posh guest house Rosaville, caught the designer’s attention for its old-world charm that he translated in his designs.

 “The vintage pictures, wall hangings, teak finished arcs and gardens blooming with the season’s specials, the place is every creative’s muse. I picked up patterns from the architecture and depicted them through floral weaves in dakmanda — the craft of the Garo tribe.

The dakmanda is hand woven and has a six to 10 inch border with a motif or floral designs. I used eri silk, muga, cotton and khadi from the region for the collection. We were guided by local craftsmen and with their help, we were able to develop our own dedicated team of weavers in Garo hills,” says Sinha.

While working with textiles, crafts and craftsmen of the Northeast, Sinha plans to give the region a much-needed textile revival. For last two years, his research is based around dakmanda and natural dyes of the Bhois. The Bhois of the Ri Bhoi district are the sub-group of the Khasi tribe.

 Ri Bhoi is one of the youngest districts of Meghalaya. Here natural dyes are extracted from trees, roots and herbs. Umsawnongbri is one of the villages in Ri Bhoi where silkworm rearing is the main occupation, particularly the women folk, who manually spin threads from the cocoons to weave the muga shawl. “I was so impressed to find that craftsmen of Ri Bhoi take great pride in their skills.

Though they do not realise that through their natural dyes, they are setting an example of sustainability for the urban world. They are happy that they have continued with their tradition and taking the legacy forward. They truly believe in the preservation of natural sources as it is forest that provides them their raw material,” says Sinha.

The dakmanda weave is a traditional craft of the Garo tribe and is one of the most time-consuming and painstaking craft that you will ever come across. Sinha shares, “Every weaver is well-versed with a graph of the pattern that I weave. Once she starts weaving after the pre-loom process, she hand plucks each thread of colour to give shades as an extra weft followed by the graph and locks it.

 The process requires patience and great amount of skill. The craft sadly is on the verge of extinction just because of the time it requires. Therefore, I extensively worked with dakmanda to give a platform to this craft and draw attention of people towards it.”

Meghalaya is rich in eri, locally known asryndia. The hand-spun eri silk is the finest in the region, which is naturally dyed and woven to make shawls and stoles. Cotton cultivation

in the Garo Hills was once a huge part of local economy and it is said that the cotton found there was of a rare rich quality. However, this is history that has never been documented or mentioned. The weavers in Meghalaya come from communities like Koch, Rabha, Hajong, Bodo, Karbi, Garo, Bhoi and Jaintia.

Each community has its own indigenous weaving technique that is depicted in their traditional attire. Sinha is working with a team of 22 weavers from Koch and Hajong communities and has part time weavers scattered across Meghalaya who work according to the orders that his brand receives. “It is possible to now work on quantity and meet deadlines provided there is professional way of dealing with craftsmen.

 The political scenario is one of the biggest challenges in the region as most weaver communities are based in remote areas which are sadly not safe. There is an urgent need to address the challenges in these regions else we will lose the treasure of textiles that exists there,” says Sinha.c

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