The art of Dhimal weavingGlobal Voices

Chandra Kala brushes the strands with maard, a mixture of rice and water, to make them stronger. Image by Sudin KC via Nepal Record. Used with permission.

This article by Aishwarya Baidar was the first published in The Record (Nepal); an amended version is republished below as part of a content sharing agreement with Global Voices.

Sheltered from the scorching heat of the Tarai sun beside a bamboo and tin hut, Chandra Kala Dhimal places her glasses on her wrinkled forehead as she arranges the threads, one string at a time, in the comb of a loom. She slides her feet into an alcove under the loom, pulling two bamboo stems with her toes. His hands move in unison, quickly weaving the threads together. Veins shoot like lightning down her slender arms as she presses wire against wire. Every day, the 65-year-old works for hours on her traditional wooden loom, a musical cling-and-clang echoing through the hut. She is one of the last weavers of the natives Dhimal community in Nepal still keeps the traditional wood weaving alive.

“It’s a difficult process that only a few of us in the Dhimal community can do properly,” says Chandra Kala, the sweat-soaked fabric of her blouse pressed against her back.

As modern looms, simpler to operate and year-round, become much more readily available, traditional looms for weaving tribal clothing, like the ones Chandra Kala uses, are getting more and more difficult. to find.

Chandra Kala was 12 when her mother taught her “baojinka”, the process of weaving yarn. She was often beaten by her mother if she disobeyed. “If I die, then who will teach you to weave?” his mother said to him.

Her mother died shortly after Chandra Kala was 14, but at that time she was weaving petani, a traditional Dhimal dress, had already become her main source of income as she never received formal education.

“I learned to weave from my mother over five decades ago,” says Chandra Kala, “but none of my children want to learn these skills. They say it’s too much effort.

The traditional art of Dhimal weaving, passed down from generation to generation, is now in danger of disappearing. Like the children of Chandra Kala, who work in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, most of the young members of the Dhimal community have chosen other professions. Even those who weave have adopted modern machines.

“I […] prefer the machine because traditional looms are difficult to use and cannot be used during the monsoon season as the pits fill with rainwater, ”says Ranga Maya Dhimal, 54, from Dapgachi, an indigenous village which houses the Dhimal Community in Damak. “Chandra Kala is the only one of us who still knows how to skillfully handle the traditional loom. ”

A photo of Chandra Kala Dhimal in her youth.  Photo by Sudin KC via Record Nepal.  Used with permission.

A photo of Chandra Kala Dhimal in her youth. Photo by Sudin KC via Nepal Record. Used with permission.

According to Ranga Maya, she was able to weave 10 to 12 pétanis per year on the traditional loom, but is now able to produce 16 to 20 on her new mechanized loom.

Dhimal women weave and wear petani, black dresses up to the ankles with orange and white stripes depicting the Dhimal tribal pattern, around the waist. Chandra Kala takes up to five days to weave a single petani and can finish four to five in a month, but she doesn’t work all year. Since most looms are in the open, alcoves tend to fill with water, rendering them unusable.

Petanis woven using traditional methods are better and more durable, explains Ranga Maya. Traditionally woven clothing tends to last longer, making it a more durable choice than modern alternatives. For the Dhimal ethnic group, whose gods reside in nature itself, an aspect of their centuries-old enduring coexistence with nature is also being lost alongside their tribal weaving process.

“The process begins with sowing the seeds of the indigo plant, known as solai in the dialect of the animal, which have been passed down to us from our ancestors,” says Ranga Maya. The leaves are harvested once the plant is mature and boiled in water with thread to dye them. Dyed yarns are rich in color and more durable. Once dry, they are untangled and made into coils. They become even more durable when coated with rice water. The whole process can take about four days, after which they are woven into petani.

A portrait of Chandra Kala Dhimal.  Image by Sudin KC via Record Nepal.  Used with permission.

A portrait of Chandra Kala Dhimal. Image by Sudin KC via Nepal Record. Used with permission.

The whole process, passed down from generation to generation by the Dhimal community, is sustainable, using natural resources not only for weaving but also for dyeing. Hybrid seeds can be bought in the market, but Chandra Kala says they produce poorer dyes.

“I have woven a lot of clothes, especially for those close to me,” she says. In the past, Chandra Kala would earn 200-500 rupees (US $ 1.7-4.2) for a petani. Now she earns 1,000 rupees (US $ 8.4) per petani, but old age has caught up with her and she weaves less often due to her poor eyesight.

Since the death of her husband, Chandra Kala has taken care of her two daughters and two sons with the income she earns from weaving. It is an art that has not only been the source of Chandra Kala’s livelihood, but also her way of life. She hand-woven most of the clothes in her family’s home.

“Since I learned to weave, I only own a few clothes that I haven’t made,” she says. “Why would I buy from others if I have the skills to make clothes with my own hands?” “

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