In a village about 30 kilometres from Srikakulam city in Andhra Pradesh, the softest khadi in India is woven. Ponduru, the village, has given its name to the khadi it makes, and it was first brought into the limelight by none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself. He wrote about its virtues in Young India, the national weekly that he edited. Today Ponduru khadi is available as yardage fabric, saris, dhotis, towels, shirts, etc. Ahead of Gandhi Jayanti, let's explore the years old traditions of the village that are still being followed.
Today, with a 75-year-old history behind it, Ponduru khadi is still woven by weaver families belonging to the Padmasali and Devanga communities. The weavers use a single spindle to spin the fabric. The cotton used in Ponduru is a unique variety of indigenous cotton, commonly brought in from the Nimmalavalasa village in the Srikakulam district. The Gandhi charkha is still the one being used to spin cotton in Ponduru, and as per the Andhra Fine Khadi Karmikabhivruddhi Sangh (AFKKS), there are about 950 Gandhi charkha spinners in the villages of the district and of these about 250 are in Ponduru. Entire families are involved in cleaning cotton, spinning it on the charkha, stretching the yarn, and then weaving it on the looms. The cotton yarn's cleaning and spinning are done mostly by women of all ages, while men do the stretching and weaving.
It is reported that two indigenous cotton varieties, kondapatti and errapatti, have been sustained because of the hand-spinning of cotton in Ponduru and the surrounding regions. These two varieties are ideal for the Gandhi charkha. The rest of the types of indigenous cotton died out under duress from the hybrid cotton varieties now grown in Andhra Pradesh. The hybrid BT Cotton is suited for the Amber charka, which is a mechanised version of the charkha.
A time-consuming process, the art of spinning cotton on a single spindle charkha needs patience. Also, it increases the turnaround time for the hanks, which the Amber charkha is able to produce many more of. As a result, many spinners and weavers abandon making Ponduru khadi altogether. Some weavers have moved to the use of the Amber charkha.
The handmade product made by the village of Ponduru is so unique it is not found even in the other khadi-producing villages of the same district. The government needs to undertake the official establishment of a proper ecosystem to sustain the handmade Ponduru khadi.