The Peacock Legacy: Navalgund Durries

For the admirers of traditional sustainable handmade decorations on festive occasions, Navalgund durries with bright colours and intricate motifs catch everyone’s attention. Native to Karnataka, they were fondly called Jamkhanas which translates to floor covering mats in Kannada. Navalgund durries are handmade out of cotton with vivid colours and striking patterns which makes them unique among other available floor coverings in the handloom market. According to popular beliefs, this heritage art started during the times of King Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur in Karnataka. In the mid 16th century, when the subcontinent witnessed a dispute between the Vijayanagara Empire and the Deccan Sultanate, the Jamkhana durri making artisans migrated to Navalgund in Dharwad district from Bijapur.

Navalgund, the name of the town, means the ‘hill of peacocks’. The region being famous for its peacock abundance, quickly embraced the peacock motifs in the jamkhanas. The handicraft remained unique to the region and has its own legacy. For durries, Navalgund in the Dharwad district of Karnataka in India has a geographical indication (GI) tag to preserve the originality of the handloom craft. In 2015, it was granted its own logo.

It is an Indian handmade carpet, made by skilled craftsmen on traditional and vertical looms. Durri’s idea is different from carpets or rugs because they are also used for bedding or packaging and are totally sustainable. However, since durrie meets the same needs as floor coverings or carpets, they can be used for the same. The GI tagged navalgund durries are available as Jamkhana which are the floor covering mats and the Navalgund-ja-namaz which are the prayer offering mats used in mosques by the Muslim communities.

Navalgund durries are exclusively handmade in an alley of traditional gifted artisans in the town of Navalgund. These are woven on the vertical loom which is locally called Khadav Magga. Jamkhana looms are permanent fixtures in the corners of households. Depending on their convenience, the craftsmen get cotton from the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation or the Hubli market.

The beautiful handmade Navalgund durries are divided into three parts: a centre and two ends, with the centre woven with geometric and simplified natural forms and the ends woven in mirrored symmetry.

The premise that the weavers do not ever use manuals to construct the designs is fascinating and hence is a legacy in itself. They craft it from memory and experience, giving each durrie its own personality. However, this does not allow the artisans to play around with the colours a lot. Red is the dominant hue, which is utilised as the background in most navalgund durries, while yellow is used to set the other colours inside it. Accent hues include green, black, and white.

The ladies of the community operate the handlooms at home and make these durries entirely. Because traditional Muslim women of the Sheikh Sayeed community were confined to their homes, this handicraft became their exclusive culture and a means of making a living at home. Navalgund durries can only ever be found here in Navalgund. The artisans keep their art of handweaving these durries a closely guarded secret, making it their legacy. The art is solely taught to their daughters–in–law, not their daughters, because they will marry and go to another family or another state, and their secret of durrie making would not be a secret anymore!

Traditional names for the motifs utilised in the handicraft are based on geometrical shapes, such as Badi Ghari, a double-edged zigzag diamond shape; Nanhi Ghari, a single-edged zig-zag diamond shape; Laheri, a geometrical pattern like a wave; Phul, a geometrical flower; Bel, a creeper pattern with a zigzag edge; Chinda, the vertical stripes, Chunnat, the twill diamonds with extra weft; Mor, peacock; Dhara, horizontal stripes; Pagadi Aata, a board of traditional Indian dice game. Peacocks are extensively featured in animal and bird motifs because they are plentiful in this area.

The handmade durries in the market are available in a variety of sizes. Primarily, the jamkhana durries are available in sizes of 3 by 5 feet, 9 ft × 6 ft, and 6 ft x 9 ft; and the Navagund-ja-Namaz of 2 ft × 4 ft, which is a prayer mat that is exclusively used by the Muslim community in mosques.
Depending on the size, style, and material, they can be used in a variety of ways. These sustainable handicrafts come in a choice of sizes that are ideal for performing Dhyan Sadhana (daily meditation). Customized durries as big as 10 feet by 10 feet in size are used in social as well as political events. They are lightweight and foldable, making them easy to move from one position to another.

In the winter, the cotton durries are warm, but in the summer, it is cool, and therefore can be used throughout the year making it completely sustainable. There is always the advantage of refreshing the appearance of the house more frequently by switching the durries with new ones rather than the expensive floor coverings. But it is sad that the artisans are quitting handicraft making to support their families and improve their life because it has low-profit margins, despite the fact that it takes a lot of effort to make because it is handwoven and sustainable.

Author: Sushant Sani

This is Sushant Saini. He is a 4th-year History research major in Shiv Nadar University, Noida-NCR. He is also minoring in International Relations and Governance Studies. He has been a youth cultural ambassador to the US in 2016-17 and was awarded Anne Walker Distinguished Service Award in 2017.

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