The tale of prince Vijay’s arrival in Sri Lanka then known as “Rathnadeepa”, not only marks the beginning of the written history of Sri Lanka and the birth of the “Sinhala” race, but also gives the very first account of the fabric industry that had already been established among the inhabitants of Rathnadeepa.
As mentioned in the “Mahavansa” When Prince Vijaya landed on the shores of Thambapanni he was greeted by the sight of Kuweni, The Yaksha princess of Lanka, working on her weaving wheel. – “Kapu Katimin siti Kuweniya”
With a history of more than 2500 years, the hand weaving industry of Sri Lanka has come a long way from generation to generation, to where it is today. Due to modernization and the increase in demand, by today hand weaving has been mostly replaced by more modern mechanical methods and only a handful of places still use the age old technique.
A while ago while travelling to Anuradhapura we stopped at a roadside tea house and to my sheer luck, next door to this The kade was an artisan’s studio where a cheerful Nanda was hard at work on her weaving wheel. She was a kind soul who was more than exited to explain to me the process of hand weaving and everything involved. Her words told me how much she loved this process and how proud she was of her creations, rightfully so.
She also shared with us that by today she was the only one who knew how to weave by hand from the area she came from, where a while ago there were so many artisans that hand loom become the main source of income of that community. She told us how many had given up on this trade in order to find more stable jobs where-else. This was even more apparent from all the abandoned looms hovering in the background collecting dust forgotten, without anyone to use them.
The revival of hand loom fabrics have started to make a mark in the fashion scene of Sri Lanka lately, with many high end fashion brands taking an interest in incorporating these fabrics and techniques in to their collections. But will that be enough to save this age old art form from being engulfed by the modern methods and disappearing?