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Kota Doria – Characteristics, Process of making, Popularity & Challenges

Topics included in this blog
Introduction
Origin of Kota Doria
The Special Weave
Why people love Kota Doria
Process of making
Life of Artisans in Kaithoon
Popularity
Challenges
Present and Future

Introduction

Doria means ‘thread’ and Kota Doria is one of the finest open weave fabrics found in India.

Kaithoon is a small town in the Kota district where Kota Doria is mainly woven. Some clusters of Kota Doria can also be found in villages of Bundi, Baran & Kota, but Kaithoon remains the major hub of its production. 

It’s distinguished look and eminent square patterns ( known as Khats ) makes Kota Doria so much more interesting. Every weave goes through a dexterous process before it can be finally worn.  

In this article, we will explore how this special weave originated, what are its other characteristics, the process of its weaving, it’s popularity and challenges. We’ll also take a peek into the life of community of artisans in Kaithoon and their challenges. 

Origin

Man weaving Kota Doria
Artwork by Pragya Sharma of a man weaving Kota Doria

There are many folklore surrounding the rise of this fantastic fabric, enveloped in mystery and wonder. The specific data about the beginning of Kota Doria technique, as it is practiced today, is not present in writing.

Due to the absence of concrete information to support any claims, several tales have been floating around the villages.

One says that the discrete weave was originated in the southern state of Mysore then moved to Rajasthan. It was in the late 17th century, when a Mughal army general and his son Rao Ram Singh aided weavers to migrate to the area.

These weavers were called Masuria and the Kota Doria sarees have since then been also called Kota Masuria sarees as the weaving practice became more entrenched in the Kota district of southeast Rajasthan, primarily in Kaithoon which is located approximately 15 km from Kota.

Kota Doria fabric was once used only as headgear for royalties, but with the passing of time, the use of this fabric for sarees increased as it became seen as auspicious during festivities.

The Special Weave

The Kota Doria is one of the finest open weave fabrics of India. Let’s look at what makes Kota Doria unique and interesting – 

  1. ‘Khat’ is a recognizing characteristic of Kota Doria which gives it a unique squared check pattern. 
  1. In summers, this supremely airy and lightweight fabric like a blessing, especially for Indian housewives. Also it is very comfortable and obliges to very less maintenance, making it one of the darlings of the traditional population and even the Millennial.
  1. The combination of cotton and silk makes the final product both strong and soft, cotton provides strength and firmness to the fabric, while silk adds more transparency and lustrous finish to it.
  1. The fabric is mostly ornamented with embellishing borders and various floral patterns called bhuti.
  1. Though the saris found in Rajasthan have a high yarn count, Kota is known for production of fine count cotton because of the presence of Chambal river which makes the air moisture-laden. The low count cotton yarn also helps in the making of the fine Kota Doria weave

People love this Light Weight Fabric !

Indian and international designers have shown numerous designs using the versatile Kota Doria in recent collections, which have ranged from apparel for men and women to accessories like handbags and pouches to home furnishings that include diaphanous window coverings, and delicate lampshades.

Initially, only sarees were produced from Kota Doria but now a wide range of dupattas, salwars, kurtas and lehengas are also available. Accessories embellished with Kota Pattis, a strip with rich Kota Doria work and embroidered mirrors, are extensively used in contemporary fashion.

The most familiar traditional Kota Doria sarees have a cream, unbleached base colour. The use of golden zari, especially for the borders, is also prevalent. Vibrant hues with ornate borders are used for festive wear sarees, as is customary for cultural traditions. These colours are preferred owing to the hot climate for which these sarees are prepared.

Intermittent stripes of gold and silver on the borders is another pattern admired by the clientele. The patterns, if any are present, are kept the minimum in order to lend a weightless feel to the fabric.

These ornate sarees take about a month to be prepared and each one is an original artifact which can be appreciated for decades as the real zari doesn’t easily tarnish. Hand weaving is a time consuming and dexterous process, which is able to survive in spite of changing markets and technologies.  

Process

Family engaged in making of Kota Doria. Picture Credits: Kota Heritage Society

The weaving of Kota Doria is a household activity. At least one pit loom for weaving can be found in almost every house in Kaithoon. Though all members of the family participate in the process, it is mainly handled by the women of the house,

When speaking about the traditional handicrafts of India, one can not miss to mention the Kota doria sarees.

Winding: Winding is the process of transferring yarn from these hanks on to bobbin for warp and on pirn for weft.

Warping: Warping is the process of obtaining a predetermined length of warp having desired number of threads that shall be needed for the complete width of the fabric

Dyeing:The yarns are dyed (or colored) manually by dipping them in utensils filled with heated water and pre-dissolved dyes.

Sizing: Sizing is done in order to impart strength to the yarn and is required mainly in cotton. A thin rice paste (‘maandi’) and juice of locally available wild onion is used for this purpose.

Drafting-Denting-Piecing: All individual cotton and silk threads are drafted through double clasped country cotton heald (‘Ranch’) and dented through dents of bamboo/ steel reed (‘Fani’) in a particular pattern to produce the checks or ‘khat’ along with the weft. Since drafting and denting of individual threads is time-consuming, an alternative method called piecing is used in which the individual new threads of the warp are tied to the corresponding threads of the previous leftover warp.

Weaving: Weaving is done on the pit looms by throw shuttle technique. It is done so skillfully that almost uniform size of the ‘khat’ or the check pattern is produced.

Designing: The designs to be produced are first made on graph paper and then transferred to the fabric through various techniques.

Life of Artisans and the Village of Kaithoon

The magic of Kota Doria comes to life in the village of Kaithoon and with one or two surrounding villages. A few craftsmen pursue this craft in the adjacent districts of Bundi and Baran.

Most of the houses in Kaithoon has one or two looms, and today most of the looms are operated by women. There are about 1500 looms in Kaithoon. and an estimate of 3000 families involved in handloom weaving in this small town. The whole family gets involved in the process in some or the other.

The weavers of Kaithoon mostly belong to the Muslim Ansari community.

Entwining the Doria, empowers the women of the village and offers them a reputed status that they deserve.

For the Ansari women weavers of Kaithoon, weaving is a way of life that is empowering and rewarding and they request everyone to support this ancient craft that is viable and vibrant. These communities are known for their quality products and high attention to detail.

Weaving by these artisans is generally done on the basis of piece-work. A certain amount of work is commissioned for a few saris, instead of time-bound deadlines. Working on the basis of contracts is far less common. The demand for these saris has plummeted in the recent past, luring the younger generation of workers to look for more profitable job opportunities.

Though the whole economy of this small town is dependent on Kota Doria and a large percentage of the population is involved in the weaving occupation, the woes of the weavers are endless.

The work has taken a toll on their health, spending hours bent on the loom has damaged eyesight, and fine fibers released from the looms give them respiratory problems. We will see nearly all artisans wearing glasses and coughing. Most of the weavers say they need policy protection and better marketing opportunities to promote the product internationally and expand their income as well.

All said and done, the going for the Kota Doria weaver, like for most handcrafts, is tough. What they need is a steady market. The Rajasthan government has facilitated events such as fashion weeks, exhibitions to showcase their work in India and abroad, helping with upgrading their know-how and techniques but what they also need is, according to Mustakeem, a platform for sale.

Popularity

The Indian Marwari community, belonging chiefly to Rajasthan has been the main consumer of this fabric and its products. Places like Jaipur, Bikaner, Kolkata, Jodhpur and Mumbai have a high demand for this fabric since these areas have high Marwari population.

The Rajasthan government’s fashion push to Kota Doria sarees has helped the handloom fabric to become a brand world over.

Kota Doria gained significant exposure recently in International market after Bibi Russell, the Internally acclaimed Bangladeshi Fashion Designer took interest in this special fabric and showcased her Kota Doria work in Rajasthan Heritage Week in 2015.

Russel displayed a range of Kota Doria Sarees and thereafter the demand of Kota Doria soared up in both domestic and International market.

During her visit to Kota, she had said that she saw a possibility of improved marketing and access of Kota Doria to more and more buyers. She had also asserted the need for a value addition to the fabric by diversifying into manufacturing lady suits, stoles, men apparels and others besides saris. She also called for patenting of Kota Doria sarees for checking the sale of cheap power-loom fakes.

Weaver Rehana Bano admits that the Russel-like efforts give the product a dash of innovative designing to hand- made saris, but says what is needed is direct marketing access to weavers.

“Russel’s fashion show has helped augment weavers’ earnings too. But, still that is not enough to make us self reliant industrial units, who take pride in their work and feel rewarded by selling their product at good prices. What we need is marketing outlets. We should have access to global buyers,” she says. 

Couple of master weavers of Kota Doria have been awarded by the State Government and also by Government of India for their invaluable contribution in preserving, continuing and promoting the practice of Kota Doria weaving.

Some of them include, Zenab Bano of Kotsua (Kota) who was awarded the National Award by the President of India in 1995-96 for Kota Doria work. Basheeran Bano of Kota got the National Certificate Award in 2012-13 for her Kota Doria product.

Such initiatives by Government & by acclaimed Designers has surely helped Kota Doria to make a name for itself in the global market, but there still remain various challenges without which the conditions of artisans and overall market couldn’t be uplifted. 

Challenges 

Remunerations are not at par with the labour involved in weaving Kota Doriya sarees, resulting in a vanishing art and artisans.

The protection of the original Kota Doria is hence the need of the hour.

The decline of native enterprise, the unavailability and rising cost of raw material and cut throat competition from power loom are the some of the many challenges faced by the hand woven Kota Doria.

Fake Products

The weaving of Kota Doria is a very tedious task demanding dexterity, accuracy, endurance and attention. This craft has been passed on from one generation to another, but now it is declining not only due to the wretched statuses of weavers, but also due to the stiff competition Kota Doria faces from fake products as well as other crafts such as Maheshwari weaving.

As far as the bogus products are concerned, an act to make the customers well informed about the Kota Doria fabric is required.

The hallmarks and GI patents exist, but somehow the customers are not known to them. Geographical Indication (GI) is for its uniqueness and its connection to the traditions and customs of the people of the region. The government has awarded a GI mark to distinguish Kota Doriya made on hand looms from power looms.

The market for Kota Doria product needs to be updated by creating awareness about its novel spirits. With the evolution of techniques and better designs, the demand could grow in both domestic and international markets and appeal not just traditional but fashion conscious community as well.

Marketing Challenges

These weavers use traditional types of marketing. They do not want to adopt new ways of marketing. They are not aware of the seasonal demand in Kaithun. Though Kota Doria product has acquired international fame but Kaithun is not into any exporters, boutiques and companies. They are selling Kota Doria products from door to door or/ and retail shops.

They have to go doorbelling to sell handmade saris braving the challenge posed by mushrooming powerloom fakes passed into the market as a cheap option. The price of a handloom sari begins from Rs 2,500 a piece whereas its powerloom copy is available for Rs 250 to Rs 1,500, experts say.

The Rajasthan government’s fashion push to Kota Doria sarees has promoted the handloom fabric as a brand the world over, but the weavers still strive due to the inadequacy of a direct marketing access and platforms for sale.

Most of the weavers say they need policy protection and better marketing opportunities to promote the product internationally and augment their income as well. Their remarks are significant in connection with the Rajasthan government’s efforts to attract fashion designers to do value addition to the 300-old fabric art by roping in international designer Bibi Russel to promote the product.

Powerloom

The survival of the handloom version of the fabric is becoming difficult due to the production of power loom Doria sarees from Varanasi, Kolkata and even from China.

Powerlooms have slowly killed handlooms for the last 40 years.

A Powerloom can produce 20 saris a day. And on a handloom, it takes two and a half months to weave one sari.

Beside this, handloom work is more expensive while powerloom is cheap.

Only the expert eye can spot the difference between a Handloom Doria saree and a Powerloom saree, making it easy for sellers to sell machine made sarees in the name of original Kota Doria. 

Present and Future

President of the Kota Doria Hadoti Foundation ( KDHF) Nasruddin Ansari says the augmentation in weavers’ wages is a positive sign. But, he says the price of a sari depends on the designing work it has — that is also a factor, besides a need for a marketing push in the face of challenges thrown down by the fakes.

Former president of the KDHF Abdul Waheed Ansari says the good thing is that the number of looms has increased from 1,500 to 2,500 over the years, engaging around 3000 weavers, who contribute to “the total business of around Rs 85 crore” every year.  

This is what the national award winning weaver ‘ Mustakeem Kachara’ has to say about the current scenario , “Today from among the youngsters, the boys, don’t want to weave —they are more interested in other jobs. The girls, however, are carrying this heritage forward. We are educating our girls, they go to school and college; some of them have learnt design and are working with the fabric.”

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Aarav View All

Hi! I am an Entrepreneur & Digital Marketer and also the founder of Kota City Blog.

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