Uppada (Andhra Pradesh)

Grandma once told me, “Among all his grandchildren, you are grandpa’s favorite.”
I asked her, “Are you sure? How do you know this?”
She said “I know it for sure. Grandpa had a bonny blanket in pure silk made not just once, but twice in his entire life. First time he got it made for his first born, your mother’s eldest sister, and second time it was for you, when you were a newborn.”
Then she elaborated the vivid description of that beautiful blanket to me.
My grandfather had a great aesthetic sense when it came to fabric and design, and he personally gave the detailed instructions to create a customized bonny baby blanket, which was in the shape of a large sea green color water Lily pad with Koi fish. The fish had colorful scales on it embroidered with details. This blanket was embroidered on a pure silk cloth exported directly from Yokohama, Japan.

Japan Nature Embroidery
Fishing Village in Japan

Yokohama, Japan was a small fishing village up to the middle of 19th century. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the Yokohama port was developed for trading silk, the main trading partner being Great Britain This city is now the second largest city in Japan by population, after Tokyo. Today, this city’s silk museum is a place of attraction for any tourist in town.
Why am I talking about Yokohama in an Indian saree blog today? As I was researching this week, I noticed Yokohama city has so much resemblance with Uppada town. Uppada Sarees have originated from a small beach town, Uppada, situated at a distance of about 39 kilometers from Kakinada.

Both, Yokohama and Uppada, are coastal fishing towns in a cyclone-prone region, well-known for its silk heritage and still has relatively unknown presence as near-by city is more famous. The only difference I noticed, Yokohama has now become one of the modern age city of Japan, while Uppada is still a small town. Uppada is a town where modernization and upgrading has not yet found its place.

The rich-looking sarees of Uppada town in Andhra Pradesh have become a preferred choice for the modern women of this era, especially for occasions like weddings, formal gatherings, religious festivals etc., due to its classic and rich look.

It’s extremely heart-warming to see when an age-old fabric weaving technique is revived so beautifully and the resultant innovation becomes a novel, successful brand in itself. Well, few know but the gorgeous and now very popular Uppada Sarees from the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh narrate this glorious tale of re-planting of a revered textiles heritage and a grand success story of meticulous revival.

I sincerely wish the revival of Uppada sarees transforms this coastal town in near future and one day it builds a silk museum to boast its history as Yokohama, Japan has.

Uppada sarees are also commonly referred to as Uppada Jamdani, Uppada Pattu (Silk) Saree or local name such as, Uppada Pattu Cheeralu.

Origin/History: To understand the history of Uppada Silk, one has to first trace the journey of the Jamdani weaving technique. The Jamdani style of weaving, originated more than 300 years ago, had a rich history. The style of weaving was patronized by the Maharajas of Pithapuram, Venkatagiri and Bobbili in the state. After a decline in the 19th century due to the industrial revolution in England, Jamdani saw a slow resurgence in the 20th century.
The “Jamdani” is more a weaving technique rather than a weave generic to a place. For the longest time, it has been synonymous with Dhaka before the partition of Bengal. During the early 19th century due to the industrial revolution in England that brought in machine-made Jamdani, the actual Jamdani, woven on the looms, suffered a big setback and slowly started go extinct.
Thereafter, the technique of Jamdani was introduced in Uppada in the year 1988, led by a textiles’ revivalist, where it incorporated designs which were closely identified with Andhra Pradesh. This led to the birth of a new design range called the Uppada Silk sarees. However, it still took about ten years for the Uppada Silk sarees to get the due recognition and popularity. A few designers took an interest and wanted to revive the traditional Jamdani. They trained the weavers on the weaving technique in the village of Uppada, Andhra Pradesh and made it popular with the name Uppada sarees

Region: The state of Andhra Pradesh boasts of some of the widespread hubs for handlooms and world-famous sarees. Uppada Sarees are a distinctive type of sarees and dress materials woven in Uppada town in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. It is located close to Kakinada city, a part of East Godavari District in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This town has gained immense popularity for weaving cotton sarees in beautiful designs in past few decades.
In Uppada, there is a sole community known as Padmasalis who are engaged in this weaving of these sarees which have artistic zari work in their beautiful designs.

Material and Variations: The Uppada Jamdani saris are quite popular for their light weight.
Uppada Silk sarees are made from the age old Jamdani method. The name Jamdani is used for Uppada Sarees, which is in fact a Persian terminology, wherein ‘Jam’ means flower and the word ‘Dani’ means Vase. Jamdani is a hand loom woven fabric made of cotton, which historically was referred to as muslin. The Jamdani weaving tradition is of Bengali origin.
Known for the unique designs in them, Uppada sarees are usually made with Cotton warp. Using only non-mechanical techniques, Uppada Silk sarees are defined by the length and breadth count of threads. The artisans also use a lot of zari work in the exquisite designs of Uppada Silk sarees.
The length count of threads is 100 and the breadth count is 100 in the weaving process of Uppada Silk sarees. 100 in length and 120 in breadth count is usually used in the Uppada sarees. This count refers to the threads number that is woven breadth wise and length wise in one square inch. This is referred to as warp and weft weave. The fabric quality is dependent on the count.

The weavers use traditional weaving methods to create these sarees and avoid any mechanical aids.  Jamdani made in Uppada has two weavers working on a single loom and weaving delicate and beautiful designs on the fabric by zari work. Since this is an art practiced solely by hands, it takes two painstaking months before a superb piece of work is finished.

The method of recognizing an authentic Uppada weave is to see that the reverse sides of the saree motifs are as finely finished as the front side.
Weavers make use of pure lace and silver zari, which are often dipped in melted gold. The Uppada silk sarees are in great demand for their soft texture as well as durability, strength and light weight. An ornate design can take more than a month with nearly 2 to 3 weavers working on a single loom, each putting in close to 10 hours a day!

Cotton Jamdani sarees cost between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000, while silk sarees cost between Rs 6,000 and Rs 16,000. Superior quality silk sarees can be worth as much as Rs 1Lakh

Common designs: It is considered typical of the fusion between Persian and Mughal aesthetics in the Indian subcontinent. There is no limit to the versatility in designs that can be created on an Uppada weave. In fact, it is this very aspect that triggered the resurgence of Uppada Sarees and got them their current claim to fame. From a simple Zari Pallu border to intricately woven with tapestry-like patterns of paisleys, flowers, leaves, creepers and geometric designs, the Uppada Silk Sarees will leave you baffled with their choice of designs! Not just the design factor, but the range of vivid colors, the rich look yet light weight of the Sarees, as well as the durability has made Uppada Sarees the new fashion favorite.

Today, its’ said that the Uppadas of yore are the finest of Jamdani as far as closeness of weave is concerned. The person singularly responsible for introducing the Uppada Silk sarees is Mr. Ghanshyam Sarode, a textile designer. He has been known as the revivalist of Indian ethnic fashion, the world over. With the resurgence of Indian Handloom in contemporary Fashion, from a twenty- year-old fashionista to a more mature lady with refined choices, there is an Uppada saree for every woman who dreams to own one. The tag line with them is ‘Simple yet Radical’

As you walk through the lanes of Uppada, a coastal town, you realize that every second household indulges in weaving and selling the famous Uppada Silk Sarees. In fact, fishing is the only closest competition for making a living here. One can light heartedly say that the Sea and the Sari are a way of life here.

I have neither been to Yokohama, Japan nor to Uppada, Andhra Pradesh yet.  Earlier, I had two reasons to visit it, fresh fish & coastal serenity of a beach town. Uppada saree now has added one more reason to that list.

I am now convinced, similar to famous char-dham yatra in my grandparents’ time, if there would be a silk-weave-route tour for modern global travelers, I would love to embark on that journey.

Reference details:
All Pictures credited from Internet


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