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As you walk past the arched doorway into the Museum of Living Textiles by the Vimor Handloom Foundation in Austin Town, Bengaluru, you feel like you are crossing a threshold into a bygone era. The museum, set across nearly 1,500 sq ft on the first floor of the home of Pavithra Muddaya, co-founder of Vimor Handloom Foundation, not only has interiors featuring terracotta hollow bricks and stone lintels, but also houses some of the most exquisite traditional sarees you’ll lay your eyes on.

Vimor’s Museum of Living Textiles is a haven for textile afficionados. Take for example the Stork and the Swan motif saree with silver, rayon and plastic in its zari. There is a Benarasi saree with ikat work that highlights cross-cultural influences, alongside vegetable-dyed sarees from Anekal in Karnataka, where the dyes have been procured from Raichur. The Paithani saree with cream colour on one edge has been designed with the thought that if draped in Marathi style, the cream would be visible on the inside of the leg as one walks. There are contemporary sarees as well, featuring intricately woven cars, aeroplanes, and gramophones.

Image: Courtesy Vimor
Pavithra Muddaya

“There are over 50 sarees on display, all largely donated,” says Muddaya, owner of Vimor sarees. “It all began with temple sarees that were brought in by a regular supplier to Vimor. Over the years, friends, family, well-wishers of our work brought in heirlooms they have had with them.”

Image: Courtesy Vimor

Vimor (meaning ‘pure’) has been reviewing, designing, and selling South Indian handloom sarees since 1974, through their store in Bengaluru. Started by Chimy Nanjappa, Muddaya’s mother, Vimor was always focussed on selling traditional handwoven sarees then known as temple sarees, which are now antique textiles (Vimor sarees have been presented to the Queen of England, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and many others.) With the design and techniques dying out, there was a need to save them for posterity. Muddaya recalls drawing designs by hand to record them before the sarees went on to be sold.

Image: Courtesy Vimor

With these designs, she has trained thousands of weavers from Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and even Bengal, and some designs have continued to proliferate with weavers passing the knowledge on. “To preserve a design and to initiate a means of livelihood through the training is what drives me,” says Muddaya.

Image: Courtesy Vimor

Vimor’s Museum of Living Textiles, now two months old, had been her dream for years, a space to showcase designs for people to explore their heritage and for weavers to find a source of inspiration. “The fact is that there is still so much to learn, which is why I call this the living museum. The idea is to revive, draw inspiration, and create a livelihood for weavers,” says Muddaya.

While Muddaya has spent a lifetime documenting designs, there are a few pieces in the museum that are still shrouded in mystery. Like the origin of the saree that is covered with hand embroidered deer, or the saree that has motifs similar to Cambodian weaves of the Khmer region. Muddaya is open to anyone who may able to shed light on their origins.

Image: Courtesy Vimor

The museum has already seen a fair share of saree enthusiasts and design students. “While everyone is welcome, I would love to see more youngsters come in to take in what is essentially their own heritage. Considering the number of textile donations we continue to have, and the desire to bring in looms for hands-on experiences and more, we do plan to expand as well in the future,” she says.

All images: Courtesy Vimor

Ruth Esther Dsouza

Ruth is an independent journalist based in Bangalore. Always in pursuit of the next story that interests her, loves her food and drink, bookworm and a sucker for sunsets and airplane journeys.