My experience on a field trip with Rang De: visiting Charaka in Shimoga, Karnataka

March 16, 2018
By Rang De Team

When I walked into my office the other day, a lady clad in a red skirt walked by and I started thinking, “Isn’t that colour Manjistha? And what about that other girl, that top looks like it is done in the Shibori style.”

Manjishta, Shibori, these were words that were recently added to my vocabulary after a field trip to Charaka, in Heggodu, Karnataka.

It all started with a mail from the Rang De team, about the upcoming field trips near Bangalore. Having missed many such trips in the past, I decided I was going to do this, and that is how I landed up at Charaka.

Wall art at the Charaka campus in Heggodu village

Charaka, a weavers organisation, is located at the premises of Shramajeevi ashram in Heggodu village near Shimoga. Heggodu is about 6 –7 hour journey from Bangalore and the ten of us on the field trip started our journey on the early hours of Saturday. Even with a few hiccups along the way, we were able to reach the ashram by afternoon.

After a quick refreshment, the ashram tour started. Ramesh, our multi-lingual guide and the coordinator of Charaka, showed us the various stages of converting yarn to a full fledged garment!

The very first step is procuring the yarn. At Charaka, the yarn is procured from National Handloom Development Corporation (NHDC). Then comes the process of scouring. This is done to remove the impurities and increase the absorbency of textile material. For about a day, the yarn is soaked in soap water as part of scouring. After this, it is sent for dyeing. There are two types of dyeing: hot and cold.

All the colours used in dyeing are made from natural materials. The Manjishta root is used for a type of red colour, Indigo is used for blue, Eucalyptus is used for yellow and so on. As these are natural dyes, dyed yarn has to be dried only in the shade and once it is dried, the yarn is washed, woven, shrunk and finally a garment is made.

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Yarn from the NHDC stored at Charaka
The yarn dyed using natural colours and dyeing processes
The yarn hung out to dry in the shade
Ramesh, our interpreter for the day explains the various kinds of dyed yarn

Charaka is an organisation that is one of a kind, where the entire process of weaving: starting from scouring till the garment selling, all of it happens at one place, using natural processes. In the evening, we got a chance to meet the founder of Charaka: Prasanna.

Prasanna, a theatre artist and an ardent Gandhian, moved to Heggodu after a short stint in Delhi. Soon after relocating, he realised the importance of stable income for the villagers, especially for the women folk around and that is how Charaka was born.

It is inspiring to watch the women of the community, doing the physically arduous processes on their own and the confidence with which they lead the organisation.

Prasanna has excused himself from the management of Charaka and it is the women working there who handle the day-to-day operations. The environment-friendly processes, low-cost methods help the society earn a decent living. Since the motto of Charaka is to sustain lives, they bootstrapped the venture and have rarely accepted any outside funding.

In Prasanna’s words, the biggest success of Charaka is inculcating the processes, systems into the community which worked wonders for all the people who were involved. With the help of Charaka, the community, which was mainly dependent on agriculture without any alternate income, was able to stand on their own and make a living in the village. Apart from garment-making, Charaka also reaches out to other weaving societies and conducts training about the best practices.

With the discussion on the tussle between powerlooms and handlooms, we reached the DESI store — a garment store setup by Charaka. After a shopping spree, we made our way back to the ashram. All of us were excited about our stay overnight, and we were warned about the possibility of electricity going off at night.

The process of weaving at Charaka
A visit to the DESI store near the campus in Heggodu

The night was beautiful. A star-studded sky was quickly filled with discussions ranging from constellations to grassroot entrepreneurs. This was the best time of the trip. After a quick meal, we retired to the rooms and interestingly, not having a fan or light seemed to make little difference as everyone was buoyed by their experiences throughout the day.

Shramadaan on the second day of our visit to Charaka
A discussion during the final day of the trip

The next day, we started off with the shramadaan activities and after the breakfast, we started our journey back to Bangalore. Rang De supports Charaka through micro credit, which helps Charaka to meet their capital requirements and ensure the production continues without any setbacks.

On the way back, while reiterating the story of Charaka, part of me felt good for being part of the Rang De journey and association with Charaka.

By Kranti CH

Kranti CH is a Rang De changemaker who accompanied us on a field trip to Charaka, one of the many organisations that we support with low-cost microcredit. 

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