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Unraveling The Mystery of the Vibrant Telia Rumal

Telia Rumal, the traditional handloom textile from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, is known for its vibrant colors and intricate geometric designs. This textile is prized today across the globe for its allure, artistry, and cultural significance. The word ‘Telia’ is derived from Til (sesame) or Tel(oil), as the yarn for this textile is treated with sesame oil to help retain its color for a longer duration. In this post, we'll explore the history, distinct features, weaving process, and different categories of Telia Rumal fabric patterns available today. Without further ado, let’s begin. 

A brief history of Telia Rumal

This Andhra weave dates back to the 19th century in a coastal region called Chirala in modern-day Andhra Pradesh. During the initial days, the telia cloth was extensively exported to Africa and Arabia to make turbans and keffiyehs. 

In India, it was primarily used for making rumaal/kerchief (hence the name), lungi, and shoulder cloths for fishermen as this double ikat fabric did not let salt water go through it. It was also used to make turbans for the Nizams, who ruled this area during that period. In fact, it became so intricately linked with the turbans of Nizams that after India’s independence, when the Nizam rule ended, Telia Rumal also started disappearing. 

Thanks to the efforts of many local weavers and weaving community who made minor changes to their designs, the fabric got revived. For instance, the geometric motifs common in the older Telia clothes were slowly replaced with figurative designs in the 20th century.

Distinct features of Telia Rumal 

Some unique characteristics of the Telia rumal fabric that have made it a popular choice among cloth makers are as follows -

  1. Vibrant Colours

There was a time when Telia Rumals had a limited color palette. In fact, it consisted of just three colors - red, black, and white. The primary color of the ornamental field always determines the color of the border. For instance, if the field is black, the borders will be red. Over the years, as the utility of the fabric grew beyond turbans and shoulder cloths, more colors, including mustard, orange, green, etc., started appearing in this natural dye.

  1. Intricate Motifs

The earlier Telia Rumal fabrics had only geometric motifs. But over the years, it got replaced with more artistic designs like flowers, elephants, birds, lions, swastika, wheel, rangoli, etc. Such motifs are often embossed in squares, separated by a short strip of floral or dotted patterns.

  1. Distinctive Smell

Since the yarn on Telia Rumal is treated with the ash of castor seed pods mixed with sesame oil, it has a unique smell. In fact, this is another reason why fishermen wore clothes made of this Andhra weave. The unique smell attracted the fish to the fishermen's boat, who always returned with a good catch. 

  1. Cooling property

Thanks to its 21 days of oil treatment, Telia Rumal fabric has a cooling property. This property makes it a great choice for men and women in hot places to use as a cloth to cover their heads. It will not only protect them from the sun but also keep their head cool throughout the day. 

The weaving process of Telia Rumal

The cotton yarn is first pretreated in water and cow/goat dung for at least 24 hours. The yarn is then treated in a solution of gingelly oil and the ash of castor-seed pods. The treated yarn is then fully submerged in the oil-ash mixture for 15 minutes and then sun-dried. This process is repeated once for 16 days. Finally, the yarn is washed, dried, and made ready for weaving. The weaver prepares the warp and weft yarns.

Now, the Telia Rumal uses the double ikat technique in which both the warp and weft are resist-dyed before weaving. The required design is mapped into a graph while the weaver estimates the number of threads needed in a square inch. The weaver then folds the warp yarn and traces the design into the yarn units. Once done, the weaver bounds the weft yarns onto bobbins and uses a fly shuttle pit loom to weave the Telia Rumal.

Different categories of Telia Rumal patterns and designs 

The patterns of Telia Rumal are largely inspired by daily activities, local fauna and flora, fruits, or even popular games. Here are some popular design types of Telia Rumal - 

  1. Geometric Designs: You will find many Telia clothes adorned with intricate geometric designs such as stripes, triangles, squares, and diamonds. Most of these designs are symmetrical and repetitive throughout the cloth. This kind of handloom gives out a sense of balance and harmony to the wearer.

Source: Pinterest

  1. Floral Designs: Some Telia clothes will feature rich floral designs. They could include flowers, leaves, or vines. This type of design is often inspired by the natural flora of the world. 

Source: Asian Textile Studies

  1. Figurative Designs: This Telia Rumal design type primarily includes depictions of people, animals, and objects. This will give the wearer a sense of movement and fluidity. They are also used to tell stories or convey cultural and religious ideas.

Source: Asian Textile Studies

  1. Abstract Designs: Some Telia Rumal fabric is also weaved with various shapes and colors inspired by the vivid imaginations of the weaver. This design type will give the wearer a sense of joy and celebration.

Source: Pinterest

Wrapping Up

Since the weaving of Telia Rumal sarees is a laborious process that requires skill, patience, and attention to detail, it is one of the costliest types of fabrics available. In fact, a cotton Telia saree can cost anywhere between ₹8,000 to ₹10,000, while an oil-treated saree (which is rare today) can cost over a lakh. The average price of Telia dupattas hovers between ₹2000 to ₹3000. The intricate designs and durable texture of this Andhra weave make it a favorite among people across generations and a part of our country’s cultural identity.