Shahir Nivrutti Pawar’s unforgettable folk song ‘kathi na ghongada gheu dya ki re an mala bhi jatrela yeu dya ki re’(let me take my stick and woolen blanket and accompany you to the funfair) or the line from Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s verse ‘kanhoba tujhi ghongadi changli re’ (boy, your woolen blanket is good) reminds us of the fond memories associated with Ghongadi which still makes it so relevant in the villages of western Maharashtra. The artisans’ community involved in preserving this art are fast depleting and are alive today only in fewer villages of Satara, Solapur and Kolhapur and other states like Karnataka, Bihar and Telangana.
Ghongadi.com has started this initiative with the sole purpose of finding the artisans spread out in these villages, learning the art of making Ghongadi on pit loom and hand loom and passing this age old tradition to the youngsters to preserve and nurture the art so that the future generations of the country can witness this rich cultural boon.
Ghongadi holds immense significance in the various religious activities like ‘jagran Gondhal’of the Maharashtrian community. The act of reading ‘Shree Dnyaneshwari’ and poems from Saint Tukaram’s collection are done by sitting on this woolen blanket. Ghongadi is considered auspicious while fixing marriages in rural areas as well as used a seating arrangement for the guests visiting the villages. During paddy cultivation in the Konkan region, Ghongadi is used to cover the head as a protective shield against the harsh rains.
The manuscripts state that farmers and peasants used a single Ghongadi as a bedspread and blanket while they spent their entire day in farms since it was 12 feet long. With reference to historical events, it has been said that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj handed every mavla ( soldier ) 2 such woolen blankets to protect themselves. The great Indian social activist, Mahatma Phule was never seen without a Ghongadi on his shoulder.
The wise men from the Dhangar (shepherd) community predicted about monsoons by the amount of dust settled on the Ghongadi.
Will it rain abundantly? Will the fields prosper?
The answers to these questions were believed to be God sent messages to the common people by understanding the status of this woolen blanket while Ghongadi resting on the Malhari’s shoulders was considered to be a symbol of prosperity and stability.
Sumbran means remembrance. The gods of rural Maharashtra primarily Khandoba, Dhuloba and Biroba were remembered by singing rhythmic proses. These poetry forms known as ‘Ovi’ in Marathi were in reverence to the deities by remembering the sun god, the moon, the earth, the rivers, and the clouds. These ‘Ovis’ were either sung to the beats of drums and cymbals or narrated in the form of a story. During the old days, children of all age groups from the village would sit on Sumbran to listen to the ‘ovis’
Ghongadi is an indivisible part of the shepherd who till date is pictured as a man wearing dhoti and a turban with ghongadi on his shoulder and a stick for his flock of sheep. With our initiative, Ghongadi.com we provide a platform to connect these artisans from the Dhangar community, their roots and traditions and the art of Ghongadi making to the rest of the world.
Currently the average age of artisans associated with Ghongadi.com is 60 years with the highly experienced artisans belonging to the early 80s bracket. These artisans have however stopped making Ghongadi owing to the marginal profits earned as against the tremendous amount of efforts required in making Ghongadi. For the past 20 years, these artisans have turned to alternate ways of earning income and have completely stopped the art of weaving. Today, the youngest artisans working with us are in their late forties with the total count of these weavers reducing drastically.
But with our team efforts and travelling across various interior regions of Maharashtra, we have been successful in gathering about 40 artisans from Solapur, Kolhapur and Satara.
The pit loom used by our artisans for weaving this woolen blanket are inherited from the ancestors and are traditional ones. The villagers usually have a large courtyard in front of their house. The pole to hold the pit loom is dug about 1 and half meters into the ground for anchor and another pole about 2 and half meters deep is dug into the ground at a distance of 12 meters from the first one where the artisan sits and weaves the blanket. These blankets woven on traditional pit looms last for about 25-30 years since each thread is weaved extremely close to one another and with precision.
THE INTIATIVE AND OUR GOAL
Ghongadi.com is laid on the foundation of profit based, impact oriented social startup for sustainable development. We aim to provide best quality products to the customers keeping in mind their changing needs and trends. We work in close association with the artisans and a major portion of the profit is shared with them to make them self-sufficient. Optimum quality wool is used for production of our woolen blankets and our research and development team are continuously involved in collecting wool samples from various parts of India to experiment and improve the process of weaving.
We highly believe that a satisfied customer is the key to success!
Growth can be achieved only through continuous learning and evolution. With this motto, we are incessantly experimenting to improve the process and designs of blanket making. On a parallel front, we are involved in reviving the lost and forgotten Ghongadi designs along with the traditional artisans from the Shepherd community.The result of these efforts is our newly launched collection- Sumbran and Malhar now available for purchase on our website. In addition to this, we are working with the perspective of gathering literature relevant to Ghongadi in the Dhangar community and creating a digital library for the people to acquaint themselves to our enriched past.
ARTISANS, RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
The artisans working along with Ghongadi.com are in their late sixties to eighties.The next generation of these artisans families are involved in manual labor and other employment opportunities due to lack of economic dependence on making Ghongadi. Our prime focus is to encourage and work in close association with the younger generation of these artisan families to reinvent the art of weaving and make them economically independent. If the youth from these families do not actively work in preserving this art, there is a high possibility of Ghongadi and its traditional process to become extinct. Also, to make this task feasible and less cumbersome for the existing artisans, we are working to improve the traditional ways of ghongadi weaving