Rukmini Hall-The call of the peacock

The first time I saw a hand woven, pure silk Molakalmuru sari, I could almost see the peacocks dance on the pallu and border. After obsessing over it for a few weeks, I decided to track it down in Bangalore’s busy silk market- Chickpet. Plan B was to hotfoot it to the weaving centres in Molakalmuru town, Chitradurga district where this beautiful sari with its distinctive contrast border, rich pallu, butas and traditional temple motif is woven on a three-shuttle loom.

Sleazy touts on Chickpet’s crowded streets showered me with pamphlets for overlit, glass fronted retail outlets. “What you want?” they asked hoping I would step in for Pochampalli’s, Dharmavaram and Banarsi silks, heavy jacquards and printed silks- everything except what I really wanted. I finally arrived at the iconic sari store, Rukmini Hall, and sighed with relief. I was looking for tradition and I had found it. Beautiful, untampered with TRADITION!

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Saris were stacked neatly from floor to ceiling on wooden shelves with glass doors. They were reminders of its early beginnings in 1932 when its founder R. Subba Rao Suryavamshi set up `Seetha Lakshmi Hall” across the street with a wholesale silk trader from Dharmavaram. The partnership lasted for thirteen years till he went on to establish Rukmini Hall with an initial capital of Rs. 12,000 and his share of the business- these cupboards from the original store. The new store was a far cry from the days when he sold his saris from door to door on a cart. He named the shop after his only daughter, Rukmini Bai and ran it along with his trusted son-in-law, S Venkoba Rao Pawar. The third generation stepped in with V Govardhan Rao Pawar, the eldest grandson and his two brothers Janardhan and Murlidhar who all remember their grandfather as being principled, loving and strict.

While the Pawars trace ancestral roots to Pune, the family and Rukmini Hall are both unmistakably old Bangalore.  Many Malleswaram matriarchs have wedding saris from `Subba Rao’s Angadi’ as they called it, tucked away in their rosewood closets. Young Bangalore brides still head here during the hectic wedding season to buy rich brocades, Kanjeevaram silks and other heavy saris that will eventually become family heirlooms.  I imagine a gaggle of women sitting on these old fashioned stools, avidly discussing the merits of each metre while the store staff pull out one saree after another.Gifts will be chosen for members of each family, relatives and close friends. Bargains will be sought. The bride and her Amazonian entourage will then leave with a wedding trousseau that was woven with gold, silk yarn and many tender dreams for the future.

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The shop shelves here are lined with feminine mystique; `Payadi’ mat weave saris, one metre long zari pallus, shimmering silks with fruit, birds and flower motifs in delicate gold zari. I see an unusual palette-paddy green, mango yellow and ink blue. A luscious custard apple is woven in dull gold zari against dusty pink silk. And then I spot the elusive Molakalmuru. It has the distinctive`mail (peacock) chakram buta and the feathers fan out delicately. I am hypnotised by the call of the peacock but am not sure if I will hear it for long.

The impeccably polite V Muralidhar Rao and his elder brother Janardhan Rao Pawar both agree that handloom weavers in Molakalmuru are facing their share of livelihood and other socio-economic issues.Zari quality has changed. Units are shutting down as the next generation moves away from traditional weaving.  Prices have also fallen along with the demand for pure zari saris. While the zari count would have been 76% earlier, it is now a mere 40%. And tragically younger women today don’t buy saris like previous generations did back when the late Kannada cine star Kalpana wore Rukmini Hall saris, including the Molakalmuru in the Dr. Raj Kumar film, Eradu Kanasu (1974).

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Not much has changed in the store since its early days. The Art Nouveau inspired interiors and etched glass remain frozen in time. But along with its unique silk saris and vintage wood décor, Rukmini Hall also preserves many qualities that are fast disappearing in the shiny new, synthetic Bangalore. Their business is built on personal relationships, something management schools can never teach you. There are no indifferent and ignorant shop floor attendants. Harish’s family goes back three generations along with the owners and he knows the product down to the last weft.There is always time to chat with customers. Their filter coffee is as authentic as their warmth.Rukmini Hall’s quaint charm is like a mellow, sepia tinted photograph.  I immerse myself  in it. Because like the Molakarmuru, this old world graciousness is also dying.

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Find it at: # 711-712, Chickpet Main Rd, Bangalore, Karnataka 560053.Open from 10:30 am-7:30 pm. Closed on Sundays. Ph: 080 2225 4938 

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Originally published in the Bangalore Mirror, March 3rd 2014.Read it here.

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Images courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla, at Dejaview.

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4 comments

  1. Sudhindra · · Reply

    Great read.

  2. […] to be given to the bride from the groom’s side.  They picked Rukmini Hall,  in Chickpet, Rukmini Hall History Here  and went shopping a few days before the July 20 wedding in 1955.  They were a party of very […]

  3. In this century old Area RUKMINI HALL is one of the oldest and noted silk saree showroom. Best place to buy silk sari in Bengaluru. 🙂

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