The next time somebody tells you they’ve been to India, please ask, “Which one?” Though, geographically, there is only one India, spread from the Snowy Siachin in the Himalayas to the Azure Indian Ocean, culturally and economically, there are so many Indias that it is difficult to keep a count. One such India is Bhoodan Pochampally Village, located 30 miles outside of Hyderabad, beyond Ramoji Film City.
Pochampally first became famous in the 1950s, when the Bhoodan movement started here. Vinoba Bhave, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, visited the village and a landlord volunteered to donate 250 acres of his land to landless laborers. Pochampally is now more famous for the Pochampally sarees that are an essential part of any Indian bride’s trousseau. For those unfamiliar with Indian dress styles, a saree, or sari, is a strip of unstitched cloth four to nine yards long, draped over the body in various ways, often worn with a blouse as a top and wrapped around a skirt.
Every region in India has its own style of sarees and, in Pochampally, weavers are experiencing a bit of a time warp as they hold on to tradition while trying to change with the times. In the 1970s, weavers realized that there was not much money in cotton sarees so they learned how to make silk sarees that fetch better margins, retaining the intricate handloomed geometric patterns of flowers, birds, etc., and lack of embroidery, for which Pochampally is famous. The skill is passed from father to son, although this is one skill in which women are actively involved, with more women weaving than men.
When we visited the weaver colony in Pochampally Village, next to the serene Pochampally Lake and the rural museum, we discovered that the front yard of every house was decorated with a rangoli (a colorful design) for Sankrati, a major festival in the Telangana region. Every entrance also had a small pumpkin smeared with vermillion and turmeric to ward off evil eye. The big daddy of them all was a house with both a pumpkin and a mask as well as chili and lemon—talk about a backup strategy!
Each house is about 750-1,000 square feet, one floor, with a central courtyard around which both life and weaving revolve. The two are inseparable in a weaver’s home and it is difficult to tell where a house ends and a workshop begins. Typically, each house has one or, at most, two, handlooms on which all members of family take turns. If only one person works on a saree, it takes five to six days to finish.
You need bright light to work on the intricate patterns but the power situation is bad so innovative weavers simply cut a hole in the roof of their homes and cover it with transparent plastic sheet, providing light in their work area while keeping rain out. Weavers also employ other eco-friendly methods, using old bottles as weights to keep the yarn stretched during weaving and converting discarded cycle rims into spinning wheels.
The village is a close-knit community and if somebody goes out, he or she doesn’t even lock the door—asking neighbors to keep an eye is enough to guarantee the safety of their meager possessions. An older man we met mentioned that his family’s most precious possession is the loom and it is of no use to anybody else! All houses do have a small TV that is mainly used to watch local movies whenever power is available, affording a break from weaving—a very tiring job that requires sitting in one place for long periods of time and manually adjusting a loom’s many moving parts. At one family’s home, a weaver was so tired that he slept through our entire visit, even while we clicked pictures in the workshop.
Most weavers are too poor to market their product (or to wear them) and actually work for wages from middlemen. The middlemen provide the raw materials—yarn, dyes, etc.—and pay per saree. In the village market, a silk saree starts at $50 USD, a cotton saree retails for $20 USD. By the time a saree reaches the U.S., the price can easily triple. The profession is no longer lucrative and a lot of youngsters do not want to take it up. An elderly couple we visited had only one son who stayed in the village and took up weaving; the rest of their children all moved to other cities. Laksmi, a woman who smiles more than she talks, manages her family’s home and also weaves while her husband works in a shop in a Hyderabad. She wants her son to become a software engineer but he is more interested in becoming a cricket player.
While walking back to the car, we saw a small procession with a chariot of the gods, taken out to celebrate Sankranti festival. The musicians were very happy to be photographed and played at double volume while I was clicking pictures. Pochampally is a nice break from Hyderabad if you want to experience the true flavor of rural India without being touristy. Everyone was happy to show us around, all smiles, and no one forced us to buy anything. It’s a unique village that is trying to maintain tradition while reinventing itself for a global market, carrying on its legacy of one of the most important movements in the history of Independent India with well-deserved pride.
September to March is very pleasant, the best time to visit and walk around. You can drive or you can rent a car with a driver for about $50-$100 USD, depending on the car. This Google map shows the route to Pochampally from downtown Hyderabad.