From innovative designs to playful fabric blends, the age-old, GI-tagged Bhavani jamakkalam is undergoing a makeover
How many of you remember waiting for guests to arrive before rolling out your Bhavani jamakkalams, those rugged and thick, traditional carpets?
High on everyday utility value, these traditional carpets of Tamil Nadu were woven in various sizes to suit different requirements — puja mats for one person to sit on, dining mats for a short row of guests and so on. For weddings and other social gatherings, jamakkalams would be custom-woven to the dimensions required.
With changing lifestyles, the Bhavani jamakalams are now on the verge of vanishing completely. “I was saddened to know that in the Bhavani region of Tamil Nadu, where these jamakkalams are handwoven, there are just a handful of weavers left who still weave them. All of them are over 60 years of age, and unable to train the next generation of weavers as no one is showing interest in this art,” says Amar Ramesh, who made a documentary on Bhavani jamakkalams recently.
“Bhavani jamakkalam is a GI-tagged product and the pride of the State, and it is reserved only for handloom weaving,” says Mythili Rajendran, Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society Co-optex, Chennai.
The society has taken the initiative to revive jamakkalams of Bhavani by encouraging weavers in Kumarapalayam, Mahendranchavadi, Erode and Salem regions of Tamil Nadu to also weave these products of heritage value. “We procure the Korvai pattern of these handwoven jamakkalams, through additional incentive. Then we market them to our customers,” she adds.
“Traditionally, these carpets are woven with coarse yarn and strictly adhere to six standard colours: red, blue, green, white, orange, and yellow. But with our design intervention, we have introduced pastel shades, other colour combinations and design patterns, which would make them suitable for home décor,” Mythili says.
Co-optex also launched table mats, bags, coasters and other products using this technique.
“Our jamakkalam carpets are of two categories: one is for everyday usage using cotton yarn, and the other is woven with artificial silk, to be used as wedding mats for newly married couples traditionally. We are trying to make customers understand that these carpets are best suited for our weather conditions, easy to wash and maintain,” adds Mythili.
Poongodi B, assistant professor at Kumaraguru Institutions, has a decade’s experience working with handloom weavers in Pollachi. She began researching the socio-economic conditions of the handloom jamakkalam weavers. “I conducted the research among 17 weavers living in 11 villages, and studied the various aspects of jamakkalam weaving. “Based on that I had come up with certain innovations. For example, we provided them with a jacquard box that can be integrated in the pit loom to weave designs in the carpets, moving away from the standard stripes,” says Poongodi.
She says innovative colour palettes and different yarns, such as combinations of jute and cotton or fibre and cotton, will result in better product design. “My idea is to use them for laptop holders, table runners and shopping bags. Our institute has set up a Centre for Weavers, at Bhavani, to provide design intervention, and technological and skill upgradation.”
P Sakthivelu, a 64-year-old jamakkalam weaver from Periyamolapalayam, says, “Two weavers are required to weave one standard-size jamakkalam in a day, in the kuzhi thari [pit loom]. It fetches us ₹250 per head per day. Unless the wages are doubled, no one will show interest in this work, which also involves physical drudgery.”
“People still use these traditional jamakkalams, but the main issue is powerlooms duplicating these outside the State and passing them off as Bhavani jamakkalams with GI tag,” he says. Producing it in power looms is in violation of the Handloom (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985.
While shooting his documentary last year, Amar had organised a dinner meet between the jamakkalam weavers and young weavers from other weaving traditions, at Aappakudal village in Erode. “Some of the young weavers came forward to learn and save the weave; the jamakkalam weavers agreed to teach them,” he says.
Newer hues (left)At Co-Optex, they encourage weavers to weave jamaukalams in pastel colours and innovative designs. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
Adds Sakthivelu, “We have introduced three more colours (pink, violet and coffee brown) and weavers in this region take customisation orders. Intense training and out-of-the-box thinking is the need of the hour.”