Mangalagiri Sarees

Millennials. That is a buzzword, right? But, wait. Think about this: 90s-kid. Well, that’s not a word. It’s an emotion. We have a billion memories about sports, cinema, school, books, greeting cards and birthday parties. Let me add one more to the list. Our beautiful mothers, aunts and teachers. Wonder women who sported a colourful - more often than not starched - sarees. What of it? 

How can we forget the mysterious man that would come home with a pile of sarees just before the festival session began? Like James Bond in Casino Royale, the saree-man would open the stack of sarees, spread them on the mat, as the ladies of the house and loved-thy-neighbours watched on with joy and amusement. Touching the saree with reverence, the man would explain to the cohort: this is from the holy town. May Goddess Lakshmi enter your house. The innocent kid in the home would walk into the scene and ask: “uncle, from where?”

The temple town of Mangalgiri is famous for its simple cotton handloom sarees. The word Mangalgiri in Telugu translates as the auspicious hill. It is believed that Goddess Laxmi did her penance on this hill. The legend goes that Yudistira, the eldest of the pandavas, installed the main deity. And in so many other ways, the weave of Mangalagiri is closely connected to the temple town. Initially, the weavers came to the town to make sarees to the deity. Later, to those pilgrims that visited the deity. As a result, religion found its context in the region of Mangalagiri. 

Ever since, the Mangalgiri earned its reputation for producing fine, simple cotton sarees (80-120 count). This was at a time when coarse cotton sarees were widely woven. Subsequently, the town attracted many more skilled weavers. In the past, Mangalagiri experienced a jolt when Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah lieved high taxes on the products. This led to higher prices and lower sales. As a result of this infamous tax regime, many weavers left their profession. Before it was too late, Qutb Shah realised his mistake and rolled back the taxes. 

Over the years, Mangalgiri sarees have been worn by women of all walks of life. Mangalagiri’s plain body with the dark colours makes a saree suitable for women that work in the agricultural fields. More so, the fine weave makes it appropriate for the tropical weather of Andhra Pradesh and the surrounding regions. Over the years, the brilliantly creative weavers experimented with several patterns such as missing checks. Mangalagiri, as we know today, has distinct features such as: plain weave without any extra wefts, saree without border or at the most a small zari border, and zero design body. Most sarees are woven with the same colour. Rarely however, the weaver decides to work on a shot. This is a result of different colours for warp and weft, thus giving the garment a different colour altogether. 

(A typical Mangalgiri saree with shot colours. Here, the yarn used for warp and weft are different colours.)

It is interesting to know that it takes only one highly-skilled weaver to work on a Mangalagiri saree. The mission is accomplished in just a day or two. The weaver works with fine cotton, by using a simple or a missing weave technique. The choice of motif may be anything from Nizam border, tilakam, cross button, bulb. You know what? Until the 1950s, Mangalgiri used natural colours. But later, when the dyeing units were established in Guntur, and the weavers started to experiment with a myriad of colours. Thus, making Mangalagiri weave as beautiful as a rainbow. Up above the world so high. Like a diamond… Just, say it. Because Mangalagiri is worth it. 

(This is a nizam border saree. Here, the weaver used cotton threads instead of zari.)

(A simple Mangalgiri saree without zari and border)

Mangalgiri, today, is one of the few handloom clusters that boasts of high demand. In recent years, surprisingly the sale of salwar kameez fabrics is outnumbering the saree sales. The fabric is easy to maintain and is not exorbitantly priced. Like a filter coffee, Mangalagiri is one of those few instances when cheap and best can be said in a single breath. How can we forget the breezy sight of our mothers and teachers flaunting their Managalagiri drape? You don’t need to take our work. Go and ask them whether they faced any difficulty maintaining it. They’d smile, and if you are lucky, they would even present you one. You are welcome. 

About the author

 Rajeswari is a handloom, handicraft enthusiast. As an active member of the Crafts Council, she endeavours to make a difference to Indian art and artisans alike. She is just a message away on Instagram: @rajeswarimavuri