Passing on a Precious Legacy: The Handloom School in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

Among the many treasures of India, the heritage derived through a Handloom is one of the most exquisite.  This tradition has been celebrated in the past by kings and commoners alike, but the future looks sadly uncertain.

According to the 2011 Census data, nearly seven million families are involved in earning their bread through weaving by hand, making it the second largest income-generating activity in the country. Not unlike other traditions or even farming practices of the past, the natural beauty that lies in a wondrous handloom weave is threatened by modernity that has unfortunately aligned itself with mass production.

3In rural weaving clusters that have survived this onslaught, weavers find their glorious profession to be unworthy of being passed on to future generations. Poor remuneration and lack of market support has forced families to abandon their knowledge and skill to look for alternative means of livelihood, even though these are hard to come by.

4Recognising the need for structured skill development and to preserve the rich heritage of weaving traditions, WomenWeave, a Charitable Trust based in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh has “supported and developed the role of women in handloom weaving since 2002”. With Sally Holkar at the helm, the Trust has been working “to make handloom a profitable, fulfilling, sustainable and dignified income-earning activity particularly for women in rural areas of India”. Sally, a graduate of Stanford University, found her way to handloom when she married a member of the Indore royal family, traditional patrons of Maheshwari saree weavers. In 1978, she co-founded Rehwa Society, which she managed until 2003. She then established WomenWeave Charitable Trust to extend Rehwa’s philosophy.

To further the cause of preserving weaving traditions in the country, WomenWeave established The Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar in January 2013. The school is a unique project that intends to provide a rigorous, non-traditional education for students who possess traditional weaving skills but no access to a conventional academic education. Through this school the skills and rich heritage of handloom weavers can be utilized, while further training enables them to pursue new opportunities for their future.

5A common malady ailing handloom weavers across the country is the lack of market insight and entrepreneurial skills that can help further their goals as weaver-businessmen who have to survive and thrive in the dynamic marketplace catering to ever-changing customer needs. Through a specialized curriculum in design, textile technology, business, and sustainability, The Handloom School aims to make skilled craftsmen into custodians of the resources and processes of handloom, which allows them to preserve, develop and evolve their unique knowledge of the craft for generations to come.

Earlier this year, the President of India, outlined in a speech that the crafts sector showed a 30 per cent growth during an economic slowdown, the only sector to do so. And yet this segment has seen little in terms of sustained support on the ground. The responsibility of passing the baton of this precious legacy to future generations has long rested with and is likely to continue to be with individuals and organizations that are committed to celebrate the rich heritage of this country.

–          By Manika Dhama

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