i didn’t even wait to iron a blouse. i had to wear one of the five sarees instantly. my husband had just returned from his trip to the chilli fields of india in guntur and cuddalore with bags of dry red chilli and the sarees. there they were, the sheets of newspaper around which they’d been folded lay on the floor, i had shaken them out impatiently. there was no carry bag or box.

when he said to me he’d be going to these places away from the usual cities people visit, i was pretty envious, i would have enjoyed going along. failing which, there was no harm in looking for the weaves these areas were well known for; send the man on some saree shopping. i liked the thought of the look on his face when i suggested that in not too subtle a way.

almost anywhere you go in india, there are weavers keeping alive old, new, and ancient warp and weft. it’s a complex art and it doesn’t pay too well any more. weaver’s children want to move away, go to cities, find better paying options. can’t blame them. yet, don’t think there’s any place in the world with as many textile traditions, almost all artistic, and so unselfconsciously so. hope that never really dies, challenges notwithstanding.

guntur is a district in the state of andhrapradesh. cuddalore is in tamil nadu. both states in the south of the country have beautiful silks and cottons. i wanted a cotton saree from somewhere close to where it had been woven. searching the net, i realised, mangalgiri sarees come from guntur. mangalgiris were very popular when i was in college and later; thoughts of plain fine cotton in pretty shades with simple gold zari borders started taking over my mind. whatsapp pictures and saree names were sent… mangalgiri, guntur, gadwal, any one of these cottons would do, i said being quite considerate i thought. my husband didn’t sound too enthusiastic but promised to get me something… if he had the time. the caveat is always in place in such matters.

mangalgiri sarees are usually in cotton with a touch of zari. the weavers experiment with the look. the looms have been busy here for five hundred years or so if what wikipedia says is accurate. as with many other weaving centres, this too has something to do with conquests, kings, and dynasties. the kakatiyas, the qutb shahis, and the nizams have ruled over here. this area was once part of golconda; the koh-i-noor was mined not too far from here. as was the hope and many others.

turned out, the road from vijayawada to guntur town passes through mangalgiri. when my husband realised that, he said to the gentleman taking him around that i’d asked for mangalgiri sarees. the gentleman was good enough to tell him, in which case they should go to a shop right there, a wholesale shop. prices are one fifth what they are in cities, apparently.

don’t know if it was the price, or the prettiness of the sarees, or the wonderful salesgirl that prompted the purchase of a stash of not one, not two, but five mangalgiris. whatever it was, i’m not complaining. of the three, my vote is for the salesgirl. very much a young woman of small town india, in a very badly tailored salwar kameez, she sat there unfazed on the thick gaddi (covered with greying sheet) and tackled her english speaking, not very south indian looking customer with ease.

yes, this was a bendex border and that means a double border.

and this is a nizam border…

customer curious: nizam?


customer: like the nizam in hyderabad?!

cool girl said, yeah, the same one.

do see the video. she makes me happy for some reason. just a girl in a not too fabulous world, holding her own.

i wore my turquoise “nizam” with the crushed blouse, deciding it could be a look. it draped easily and there were endless pleats. the sarees were for around rs 1,000 each. that’s not even 22 singapore dollars. the cotton is pure, the tradition true. i hope the demand for mangalgiris is high and the weavers make a decent living.


sarees tell stories | mangalgiri cotton sarees from srinavasa handlooms, a wholesale shop in mangalgiri, bought 9 november 2016.

indrani’s index

mangalgiri,  a random shot.

 a street lined with saree shops. you buy without even knowing the name of the shop sometimes… it’s really all about the product here.

interested in sarees? like to read more? here’s

a madhubani sari or two.

red chillies of guntur… livelihood for many.

all pictures of mangalgiri and guntur courtesy photographer, i.e. my husband.