If you found women in dotted wrapped skirts which are embellished with contrasting woven dotted forms on black or bright fabrics, then you are actually seeing the traditional costume of the Bhardwad community called as Tangaliya. This dotted splendour with its unique form of weaving is practised in Surendranagar of Gujarat. This glorious geometric pattern with its tiny white dots on dark fabrics which give the embroidery effect derives its name Tangaliya from the tang, meaning leg. Sadly, this traditional handicraft of Saurashtra region of Gujarat is not practised anywhere else.
“Only 16 people are left on this planet who know the art of Taangliya,” says Manju Bhai Jeeva Bhai Bunkar, a national award winner for this craft. According to an old story that people of Gujarat believe is that centuries ago, a shepherd man married a woman from the weaver community which was much against the local tradition then. He also went to live among the weavers. Though he continued to graze his sheep, he also ended up learning the art of weaving. As the wool was also used for weaving, it gave birth to the art of Tangaliya. Thus a matrimonial alliance led to this rich tapestry of Indian craft forever. Children born out of the shepherds and weavers were called as Dangasia and they are the sole practitioners of Tangaliya till date.
Gheta wool from native sheep forms the raw material of the base fabric on which dana (dot) work is done. This is a special beadwork technique used in Tangaliya and is created on the weft yarn through the process of tying at least three warps and wrapping a contrasting colour fine cotton thread around it.
“Tangaliya is basically a labour-intensive and painstaking process. The weavers’ fingers sense exactly the right number of warp threads and twist extra weft around them. It is a complex art.” says weaver Shyamlal who is one of the 16 surviving weavers of Tangaliya from Saurashtra.
To weave them into a glorious geometric pattern, the motifs are woven into the fabric while it is still on the loom. This results in tiny white dots lighting up rich, dark fabrics and giving the effect of fine embroidery to it. Earlier the tradition was to use black sheep or camel wool to create shawls and blankets for the shepherds, but now they weave magic with cotton and silk as well, for the contemporary market.
Even fibres of trees were used in this weaving. The weaving techniques, improvised and Gandhiji’s Amar Charkha was also introduced to weave fine cotton. The pit loom was also experimented and is in practice till date. In a pit loom, a pit is dug and wooden loom is installed on it. The weaver sits in the pit for the loom to reach the height of his lap. The frame of the loom consists of six horizontal wooden logs and ten vertical logs. Such loom could be installed anywhere. The fabric woven on a pit loom is usually 2 feet in width and made 20 feet long. Two pieces each of 10 feet obtained by cutting the length in half are stitched together. The intricate method of twisting the extra weft while weaving creates beautiful linear patterns.
Currently, Tangaliya weavers are facing innumerable problems due to lack of demand for the product. This is because sufficient marketing has not been done so people are unaware of exposure. As the weavers and their families are not finding this self-sustaining, they are leaving their craft and exploring other areas of employment like agriculture which promises them better remuneration. The weavers who get a bonus by Khadi Board are the only ones who want to work. They are not taught new techniques and designs. After putting in a lot of hard work, they are only paid meagre wages. The other factor which prevents the weavers to leave this craft is the affordability of raw material. Unless and until the government provides loans for raw material at reasonable interests and assure the weavers of saleability of their produce, this art will not survive.