Express press service
GADAG: It is a mild afternoon at Kundaralli tanda near Shirahatti in Gadag district. Somavva Lamani is busy with her team, assembling richly embroidered garments, with intricate patterns and glittering mirrors – a hallmark of the Banjaras, a community to which she belongs and whose craftsmanship she strives to preserve.
Somavva took on this passionate task 20 years ago, when she noticed that the demand for Banjara products and artwork was declining. She gave up her trade of selling sugar cane bread and butter and chose to save her tradition.
Two decades later, Somavva is now a brand whose special dresses are in high demand in Maharashtra, Telangana and Goa. As orders grew, she built a small team, offering employment to 10 other women. Simultaneously, she began to train those interested in traditional embroidery in her tanda.
Banjara clothing, lifestyle, traditions and customs are unique. But modernization, technology and the need for gainful employment have forced many community members to leave their traditional land and move to the big cities. Somavva, however, chose to stay in Kundralli, where she currently lives with her husband Mangalappa.
At first, Somavva sewed dresses on her own, which her family members carried to sell in other tandas and towns. When orders started to rise, Somavva struggled and decided to teach traditional sewing and embroidery to young women in her community. Mangalappa would source pieces of mirror from a nearby town, as well as other ornaments needed for the designs. Initially, when Somavva started its work, the biggest challenge was to attract sales. Moreover, she took almost two months to sew more than 10 dresses.
Her husband started visiting all the villages and towns in North Karnataka. When he visited Vijayapura and elsewhere, he was told to attend meetings at the district level and at the Banjara regional level. Mangalappa met several people at these meetings and shared his story and that of Somavva. Somavva also joined him at such meetings in Vijayapura, Sirsi, Bhimasati, Surgondanakoppa and Goa. She received much appreciation in Goa, where they joined a state-level banjara festival. This was the turning point for them, and soon after they started receiving orders from Hyderabad, Sholapur, Hubballi, Ballari, Vijayapura and other places.
“Before, it was difficult to find work. One day I thought of continuing my tradition of sewing our people’s embroidered dresses and selling them. As the Banjaras change occupations, the number of traditional weavers is decreasing. I involved people who learned to nurture our rich culture and traditions. My husband and my son also help me,” says Somavva.
Traditional Banjara or Lambani dresses (for women) include a blouse (Khanchali), boning (Batiya), and a skirt (Phetiya), all decorated with beads, coins, mirrors, and other ornaments. Somavva says her husband and son visit many parts of Karnataka to collect bracelets, chains, beads, glass, buttons and other adornments for dresses.
“We sing folk songs while sewing our traditional dresses. It is believed that by doing this, no dosha or other harm will affect those who wear them. It’s a practice we’ve been following for ages,” she says.
“My mother did not go to school, but she has become a role model for our community, and many people from other states visit us and express their surprise after seeing the designs of our traditional dresses,” said Mahantesh Lamani, Somavva’s son.
Dresses range from Rs 7k to Rs 25k
The dresses made by Somavva, which contain many ornaments and traditional embroidery, are priced according to their added value and fineness. They cost between Rs 7,000 for regular outfits and up to Rs 25,000 for special occasion outfits. People place orders months in advance.