Not par for the coarse
In Maharashtra, the market is deserting weavers of traditional water-proof blankets
Elderly Anglu Kannawar would rather have his sons use the wool from his sheep as stuffing for mattresses than take to his beloved loom again. "There was a time when I was famous in surrounding villages for the fine weave of my ghonghdis (blankets)," said he. "But it is not worth weaving any more. A lot of labour goes into making a ghonghdi, and the price it fetches is the same Rs 125 per piece (Rs 400 for a double size) it would 15-20 years ago."
Pandurang Kannawar, Anglu's elder brother, who still weaves out of sheer habit, can't sell more than seven ghonghdis a year. "What else can I do? This is what I have done all my life," he said.
The Kannawar brothers belong to the semi-nomadic community of sheep rearers called Dhanghars.For generations they have woven ghonghdis out of the coarse wool of mendhi sheep found in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Two decades ago ghonghdi was an essential possession of every rural household in eastern Vidarbha. It was more than a blanket; it was a raincoat and a doctor too. Over time cheap, machine-made blankets have driven ghonghdis out of the market.
But the Dhanghars vouch for the wool's distinct qualities. The coarseness of the wool makes it water-proof. "Since it does not soak water one can remain dry under it in a heavy shower," said Kannawar senior. "You have to give it just one good shake to dry it."
The Dhanghars, who spend nine months a year in the open, use ghonghdi to ward off chills and bodyache. Being warm and coarse, ghonghdi stimulates blood circulation, and its regular use can cure joint pain, bodyache and arthritis, they believe. Ghonghdi also comes handy as covering for mules, drapery and shelter. The very coarseness of the wool makes ghonghdi three to four times as durable as an ordinary blanket, claim the weavers. Ghonghdi looks virtually new even after 15 years of vigorous use; it only softens with use.
Its many qualities could not save it from the onslaught of colourful, synthetic blankets. "Those are not as warm and durable as ghonghdis," said Ramesh Ammawar of Bhangaram Talodhi village in Chandrapur. "But they are eye-catching and fashionable."
Ammawar said people are aware of the benefits of ghonghdi but they hesitate to pay its actual cost. "We receive many enquiries every year, but most people end up not buying because they are unwilling to pay more than what they pay for the other variety." As a result, the price of ghonghdis has remained static for over 15 years.
Making ghonghdis is labour-intensive. The wool known as bura has to be washed several times to remove dirt--not an easy task considering it does not soak water. Since the wool is coarse ginning and spinning are tough. "Ginning has to be done at least four times, and spinning, which is done with a wooden spindle against the bare skin of the thighs, causes sores on the thighs and hands," said Durgabai Yarewar of Khedi village in Chandrapur. Durgabai's family is one of the four in her village of 200 households who still weave ghonghdis. The spun yarn is coated with tamarind seed glue to make it fit for weaving.
In all, it takes no less than 30 man-days of labour, the wool of at least eight sheep (each sheep yields around 500 gm wool twice a year) to produce one double-size ghonghdi.
|Ghonghdi handicraft by Shramik Elgar|
|Durgabai demonstrates the art of spinning the coarse wool|
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