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Chirala –Famous for Chirala handlooms

Chirala is a Coastal town situated in Prakasam District in the state of Andhra Pradesh and is accessible from Vijayawada and Guntur. Chirala is well connected with trains and buses. Vodarevu Beach is 6 km from Chirala in Prakasam district. Chirala is a small village with a population of around 1,75,000. The main occupation of this village is handloom and paddy cultivation. The average educational level is 10th standard. Chirala was once known as "Small Mumbai", due to huge varieties of sarees found here in comparison with the availability of sarees in Mumbai. This town is also famous for exporting hand made cloths, cashew nuts, fishes etc. Around 60% of the population belongs to Padmasali, Devanga, Pattusali and Thokattu castes who are traditionally related to weaving. There are around 25,000 pit looms in this village.

Formation of Chirala
Chirala, which has earned a unique place in the history of the freedom struggle, had completed 400 years on April 27, 2004. The foundation for present-day Chirala was laid in 1604 AD by two Yadav’s namely Minchala Papaiah and Minchala Peraiah. The town which was carved out from
Sudhanagaram is now known as Patha (old) Chirala.

Temples in Chirala
In the town of Chirala, there is a
Venugopalaswamy (Sri Krishna) temple which was constructed in 1619 and that of Malleswaraswamy (Shiva) temple in 1620, while that the temple of Gangamma (Mother Ganges) was built a little later. As the temples did not have chariots, Chirala Ramanna Panthulu (Priest) had built two chariots for Venugopalaswamy (Sri Krishna) temple and Malleswaraswamy (Shiva) temple, towards the middle of the 19th century.

First Medical facility in Chirala
Chirala, which was also regarded as a health resort by Britishers, had got a medical facility as early as in 1906 with the opening of the
Edward VII Coronation Memorial Hospital. Dr. Baer, an American, also opened the Dr. Baer Missionary Hospital in 1912. The Europeans also started a tobacco curing factory of the ITC in 1923.

Library of Chirala
Saraswatha Niketanam library which is situated in the tiny village of Vetapalem which is about 10 km from the town of Chirala was founded by V. Subbaraya Sresti in 1918. The library has as many as 75,000 titles (some volumes date back to 1850), mainly in Telugu, Sanskrit, English and Tamil, along with a rare collection of 1,000-year-old palm leaf manuscripts of the Upanishads (holy scripts of Hindus). The foundation stone for the library's new building was laid by Mahatma Gandhi (Father of the Nation) (whose broken stick still adorns the main hall of the library) in 1929. Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then Congress president, visited this library in the year 1935 and laid a "Dhwaja Sthamba" (Flag post) in the library premises, which symbolizes the library as a temple of learning.

Contributions of Chirala in Freedom movement
Chirala has a place in the history of Freedom movement for non co-operation movement lead by
Sri Gopalakrishnayya Duggirala. Gandhiji also visited Chirala after All India Congress session in Vijayawada and Sri Gopalakrishnayya Duggirala sought advice from Gandhiji for the forward movement of freedom struggle. Three episodes during the Civil Disobedience Movement in Andhra attracted the attention of the whole country. The first and major one was the Chirala-Perala episode led by Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya.

Handlooms of Chirala
handlooms are well known for its designs. Chirala handlooms are made with cotton or cotton and silk mix. The count used in weaving gives the softness and hardness of the fabric.  The count in a handloom fabric means the number of threads woven length wise and breadth wise known as warp and wept respectively in a square inch. In Chirala counts are used upto 120 (lengths) – 120 (breadths) for soft woven sarees and 40 – 60 for dress materials. The count makes the quality of the fabric. There are some designs which are exclusively used in Chirala handlooms known as Hand butta and Kuppadam.

Hand butta is a design which is exclusively used in Chirala sarees. In this colours are given in between the zari design by hand.

Chirala Kuppadam solid saree border is registered under Geographical Indications of goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999. Sri Kurapati Subba Rao who is a master weaver of Iburupalem was awarded National Merit certificate by Indian Ministry of Textiles for the year 2005 for his talent in preparing Kuppadam solid border saree. Around 5000 looms are now preparing Kuppadam sarees.

Dyeing: - First the yarn is washed and then dipped in the required colour which is in a boiler and the worker goes on turning the yarn so that the colour is evenly mixed in the yarn. The most important aspect in this process is the mixing of colours which will give unique and durable colour to the fabric. Then it is again washed and dried. These yarns are then starched. Starching of the yarn is where the colour in the yarn will get more permanent nature and gives the yarn a polished look. The starched yarn is brought from the merchants by master weavers and is distributed to weavers. (Master weavers are also weavers but they will be having a group of weavers under them). Then it is turned in a charka. The turning in charka is where the yarn will become thread, which is used for wept.

The loading of yarn in warp is the next process. Then yarn is loaded into the looms. The length of yarn which is loaded as warp is known as
Pacham. One pacham of Chirala is 36 yards in length and a weaver can make 6 sarees from one pacham. Once pacham is loaded weaving starts.

Weaving: - The looms used in Chirala are mostly pit looms. Pit looms are looms which are fixed in the ground level and there will be a pit in which looms peddle will be placed and the weaver will sit on the floor and use his hands and legs to weave.

The weavers are into this profession traditionally. None of the weavers are trained but they have acquired this unique skill hereditarily from their ancestors. The art of weaving is passed on by way of vision and practice. There are no theoretical explanations or training for weaving. Government of India provides training to 100 weavers every year for designing. But unfortunately due to the low wages prevailing in the handloom industry, traditional weavers are opting out of this industry. New generation is not interested in this profession due to the low wages. Since Chirala looms are pit looms, during rainy season the looms are closed due to the rain water getting clogged in the ground.

The looms are mainly situated in
Iburupalem and Perala which is 5 KM each from Chirala. Kalamkari printing is also a specialty of Chirala Sarees.  There is an export market for the special quality of handloom cloth produced in this area.

The handlooms in Chirala are famous for the softness and durability. The handloom fabrics are soft and comfortable to wear and also suites all the climates. Mainly Chirala looms manufacture sarees, but now as per demand dress materials are also weaved.

Problems and requests by weavers of Chirala
The Andhra Pradesh Weavers Welfare association of Iburupalem state that the handloom industry can survive only if the government can provide a rehabilitation package similar to the one provided to the farmers who have lost crop, to the handloom industry also.  The weavers association state that only if government also takes the responsibility to support the handloom industry by the way of subsidies for yarn, marketing etc, then only the industry will last or else the end of handloom industry is not far from near. The high cost of handloom fabrics is also limiting the marketability.  The handloom industry is searching for a break through for survival.

The Andhra Pradesh Weavers Association has also made a representation on 25.10.2010 to Her Excellency the President of India regarding the problems faced by the weavers and requesting Her Excellency to suggest the Government of India to consider for a package of `10000 Crores from the
National disaster fund for the survival of farmers and handloom weavers.

Sri Padavala Lakshmanaswamy who is the General Secretary of Andhra Pradesh Handloom Weavers Congress has placed a list of demands before the Government of India for the upliftment and welfare of handloom weavers in general. The association demands for a
National Handloom policy to facilitate handloom weavers to meet the challenges of global environment. They insisted in a financial bank exclusively for handloom sector at par with NABARD with atleast `500 Crores investment is to be formed for the revival of handloom sector. They further insists that Power loom Mark is to be introduced and marked mandatorily on all power loom products to differentiate between handloom and power loom products. They demand that Hank Yarn Obligation Order must not be amended inorder to protect the handloom weavers or else supply of yarn to the handloom sector will be affected and the handloom sector will further suffer for want of raw material and also requested for a Yarn Bank at Hyderabad. They demand subsidy for raw material. They request the Government to continue Deendayal Hath Karga Protha Yojana Scheme. Relief package for flood hit handloom sector. They demand introduction of separate ITC (HS) code for the export of handloom products. They request the Government to enhance the work shed cum house scheme to facilitate more beneficiaries. Since more women are engaged in handloom sector the association demand for a separate women’s welfare scheme of `200 Crores. The association further insists that a health scheme which is to be totally funded by the Government of India may be made available to all the handloom weavers.

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