Mangalgiri is a major weaving center. It lies across the Krishna River from Vijayawada, about half way from that city to Guntur. The town’s economy centers itself on textiles. Not only do many weavers continue to work their craft here, but Mangalgiri is also a thread dying centre.
Unlike in many smaller towns, in Mangalagiri many weavers hire themselves out to larger manufacturers. In this way they become wage earners, and neither own the loom, nor need to invest in thread. There also remain, however, independent weavers who continue to sell their cloth as they make it–piece workers. By and large the weavers here describe themselves simply as weavers. Virtually all happen to be members of the Padma Sali caste. No one I asked could tell me of weavers of other castes known to be weaving in Mangalgiri.
In addition to saris, Mangalagiri’s weavers also make shirt material. In either case the output is about the same, about seven meters per day. Thus, if a weaver is not asked to help prepare cloth for the loom, he or she can make one sari, or seven meters of shirt material per working day each month. With preparation time taken into account, the number decreases by half.
The dying industry is made up of other, unskilled workers, entirely separate from the weaving community. The thread used for dying is purchased from a processing plant in Hindupur, in southern Andhra Pradesh. Although there is a thread processing plant in Rajahmundry, much closer than Hindupur, the latter is said to provide higher quality thread. The dye for the thread is bought from large wholesalers.
About 12 weaver households remain in this small town approximately 70 kilometers northwest of Vijayawada in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh. The weavers describe themselves as weavers. Jati-wise, this group of households belong to the Padma Sali játi. Of those who continue to weave, weaving has been in the family for generations.
Although the area around Penuganchiprólu produces cotton, the processing of that raw crop, they explain, is done in Rajahmundry, on the Godavari River. (The weavers of Mangalagiri, by contrast, buy thread from Hindupuram.) Once processed, the thread is dyed in Mangalagiri, across the Krishna River from Vijayawada. Weavers from Penuganchiprólu go to Mangalagiri to purchase the dyed, but not-yet-spun thread. It is in Penuganchiprólu itself that both the spinning and weaving of cloth are done by hand.
A given house is small, and can barely accommodate the one hand-operated loom in it. Both men and women weave the textiles in this town. A household might produce 15 saris (seven meters in length) per month per loom. And for each sari the weavers receive approximately Rs.150.
Generally, members of each household will find work in the fields and elsewhere to supplement income, especially since each loom can only be operated by one person at a time.
Uppada is a small town on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, north of Kakinada. The style of sari it produces is very distinctive: silk with intricate silver embroidery throughout. There is also work done in cotton here, but the town’s renown is due to the quality of the silk output.
The system of production here is different from other villages in Andhra. While some weavers remain independent, many do piece work for the very high-end market. The looms, silk thread, all the materials of production are owned by merchants in Hyderabad. The work itself is done in Uppada. The saris themselves are not even available for purchase in the area of Uppada, but, rather, are sold in upscale stores in Hyderabad.
As a result of the intricacy of design, here the weavers might make up to two saris a month, in contrast with the 15 to 20 for weavers elsewhere.