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A Journey to Remember: Chendamangalam and its Weavers

Chendamangalam, a small village in Ernakulam district of Kerala, conveys different things to each person. For some, it is a land which creates exquisite handlooms, while for others it could be a place of historical significance. Chendamangalam could also be the abode where one could encounter a few characters from Sethu’s novel Marupiravi (Re-incarnation) if you are lucky. Or to some, it could be a cocktail of all of these. 

But surely, it is the loss of livelihood of handloom weavers during the Kerala floods of 2018 that brought Chendamangalam to everyone’s attention. At Graamyam, wewere in the process oftracing and nurturing the network of artisans’ community, which also included Chendamangalam weavers, when flood played a havoc. After the hustle and bustle of 2018, it took a while for us to connect with the Chendamangalam weavers.  At that time, little did we know that it would the  beginning of a strong bond with weavers.

During our preliminary visit, we could meet Mr Sojan, who was the Secretary of Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society. He is an excellent storyteller and had played an important role in the revival of the Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers Society after the floods. Mr Sojan explained to us in detail the historical significance of the region and the nuanced process of handloom weaving followed here. It was interesting to know that Chendamangalam was the seat of Paliath Achans, who served as Prime Ministers of Cochin for more than 150 years. Interestingly, the history of handloom weaving of the region is intrinsically linked to Paliath Achans, who invited handloom weavers from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to come and settle here. When aristocrats and noble began to wear the textile woven by these Devanga’s weaving community, craft slowly began to flourish. Over the years, the younger generation in the region started to view weaving as a means of employment, leading to the establishment of private handloom weaving unit. But with the arrival of machine-made fabrics, it became difficult for small weaving units to strive. As an alternative, the Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society was formed in 1955. Yes, the present generation of Chendamangalam weavers does not belong to a traditional artistic community. Currently, there are several societies in and around Chendamangalam like the Karimpadam, Kuriappilly, Paravoor and Cherai.

Mr Sojan put us in touch with Mr. Venu, who is the man in charge of the stock of society. Like most of the traditional artisans, Chendamangalam weavers were amused, excited, and sometimes indecisive when we first explained our idea of crafting their traditional weaves that go into making Settu Mundu, Kerala saree, Dhotis into something contemporary. It took us some time to create that confidence and convince them to weave dupattas, which has become an indispensable accessory of the millennials. Yes, we understand the genuine doubts of weavers. Like other artisan communities, Chendamangalam weavers too have a long weaving tradition to preserve.

Latha chechi, the graceful lady, was given the task of translating our idea into a beautiful weave.  As she started weaving dupattas, slowly she became confident and proud of what she has created. Every time we went to collect our orders of dupatta or to deliver an order for a new dupatta design, we could get enquiries on when and where will dupattas put on sale. And the twinkle in our weaver’s eyes explains it all. You could too feel that magic if you are willing to spend some time around Chendamangalam, to understand people and their stories of survival and livelihood.