The Last Weavers

The Lost Art of Himroo Weaving
Abdul Hamid Abdul Razzak (Hamid bhai for short) has spent the last 10 years shifting from one temporary job to another—by turns auto-rickshaw driver, carpenter and watchman. His is a financially unstable and vulnerable life like thousands of others in the dusty town of Aurangabad, India. Yet, just like the city itself, which was once the splendid seat of power of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Hamid bhai’s present life is but the shadow of a former royal chapter of India’s history. For Hamid bhai is literally the last surviving weaver of the once-glorious craft of Himroo—the ornate brocade textile that clothed the erstwhile nobility of the Deccan region in India.
 
“Himroo: The finest fabric of the Deccan” – Marco Polo
 
Himroo was a luxurious handwoven twill fabric made of silk and cotton such that the two sides of the fabric had a different colour. It was brought to Aurangabad (in the heart of the Deccan Plateau region of central India) in the reign of Mohammad bin Tughlaq, when he shifted his capital from Delhi to Aurangabad in 1328. The name originated from the Persian word Hum-ruh which means 'similar'. Himroo was the uniquely “Deccani” interpretation of the Persian “kinkhwab” fabric. It was borne out of the interaction of the Persian weavers with the local Hindu weavers of Paithan. Himroo designs are traditionally ornate in nature with paisleys, marigolds, vines and fruits being popular motifs.
 
The Rise and Fall of Himroo
 
Himroo is intrinsically linked to the fascinating history of Auranagabad. Archival records of the 17th century show that Himroo was a premium luxury fabric for the royals of the time. The ruling Mughal nobility were patrons of the craft. Himroo was woven in rich colours with pure silk and gold threads. In fact, Indian craftsmen made silver and gold wires of such extreme fineness that the entire fabric could be woven from them, producing literally a cloth of gold (Gillow and Barnard, 1993).
 
Even after the disintegration of the Mughal empire, Himroo continued to thrive under the patronage of the Nizam of Hyderabad, the new ruler of Aurangabad. Through interviews with local historians and other stake-holders, we have been able to learn that at the peak of its glory (mid-to late-19 th century), there were approximately 2000-2500 Himroo handlooms being operated in Aurangabad city and the nearby towns of Hyderabad, Paithan, Yeola and Jalna. Himroo fabrics were greatly in demand by the nobility of the times and were tailored into royal sherwanis and kurtas (long jackets and shirts).
 
However, in the late-19th century, himroo weavers suffered greatly due to the invasion of the British and the advent of cheap mill-made fabrics from Britain. By the year 1949 there were only about 150 Himroo artisan families and, according to the Rural Economic Enquiries in Hyderabad State 1949-51, only 30 families were actively engaged in the craft.
 
It was then that a group of enterprising Himroo weavers got together and created a fabric that was machine-made but still incorporated the basic motifs of Himroo. As a result, much of the original beauty and grace of the product was lost. While the “powerloom himroo” continues to thrive today, there is no trace to be found of the original product that would have a high demand in the luxury market (Similar to the pashmina of Kashmir). Gradually in decline, it appears to have died out completely in the last 10 years. Today, there are only 4 authentic Himroo handlooms to be found in the city of Aurangabad and they are in defunct condition.
 
Hamid bhai himself was forced to stop weaving around 12 years ago when the last handloom run by the Qureshi family (the original masters of Himroo) was shut down. His fellow weavers from that time have all passed away and he remains the only one of his peers left.
 
Revival
 
Apart from Hamid bhai, the other custodians of the craft are brother Imran and Aamir Qureshi, the grandsons of Himroo master-craftsmen, Abdul Hameed Qureshi. Their emotional attachment to their grandfather led him to meticulously start saving scraps of different Himroo designs from the looms run by the family. Today, while nothing of their weaving unit remains, these little fabric swatches are the only actual physical guides to the revival of Himroo. Each piece is a marvel of handloom weaving, depicting decadent flora and fauna in rich jeweled tones.
 
The challenge of this monumental revival project has been taken up by LoomKatha, a young Indian firm that focuses on reviving nearly-extinct weaves of India and placing handloom weavers on the global market. Generously supported by Can-Pack India Pvt Ltd, as part of its Social Responsibility project, LoomKatha has re-started 2 of the remaining handlooms owned by the Qureshis. An inter-disciplinary team of designers and social science fellows has been combing through historical books and speaking to diverse stake-holders to ascertain the best way forward. Early this April, 2 looms have been re-started and Hamid bhai is finally back to doing what he does best—weaving!
 
The Himroo Project by LoomKatha hopes to have market-ready products in June 2019. However, it is a complex project given that the original yarns and loom constructions no longer exist and we need all the support we can get. Please follow our progress here and do write to us if you would like to be involved.
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