Pupul Jayakar: the craft catalyst

Pupul Jayakar had an undying passion for preserving the country's culture and weaving tradition. She was a writer and an advocate of crafts in Indian society. The textile scholar aimed to restore India's cottage weaving industry. Her interest in rural arts and crafts, her eye for potential, and her unparalleled execution skills initiated a change in many areas of craft. Jayakar singlehandedly led the revival of arts and handicrafts in India. Hence, she established The Weavers' Service Centre formerly known as the Handloom Design Centre in the 1950s. 

The first branch opened in Mumbai, followed by Chennai, Varanasi and eventually spread to weaving clusters all over the country. Masters such as Prabhakar Barwe, Anand Mohan Naik, Gautam Waghela, Ramesh Vaghela, and Gopal Adivrekar designed textiles at the center for years to support themselves while exploring their identities as artists. The Weavers' Service Centre nurtured a certain partnership between traditional weavers and trained artists to strengthen the handloom sector and reshape traditional weaving skills and design vocabulary. In 1955, Pupul Jayakar sought the young artist K.G. Subramanyan's help while trying to set up design centres of the All India Handloom Board. She would invite Subramanyan to visit the Weavers’ Service Centre for three months every year. 

“Though I subscribed to the idea that creative artists and craftsmen are rare and especially endowed individuals, the idea of maintaining and presenting familial traditions of refined craft practice from one generation to the next intrigued me no end." [1]

K.G. Subramanyan 

The fact that Jayakar had unflinching support helped her set up the weavers service centres, marketing structures, and institutions aplenty. Jayakar took it upon herself to acquire some of the brightest painters and sculptors in India. The selection process was rigorous where prospective candidates were interviewed, with a thorough scrutiny of their portfolios. And as a result, Jeram Patel, Ambadas, Harkishen Lal, P. Mansaram, Prabhakar Barwe, Jogen Chowdhury, Manu Parekh, Haku Shah, Arpita Singh, Praful Dave, Himmat Shah, Amrut Patel, and Reddeppa Naidu were some of the many artists associated with the WSC at some point in their artistic careers.

"When you see or spot true talent, give it your total support and it will never let you down. I hope I have been able to do likewise with many young people." [2]

Pupul Jayakar

Popularly known as India's "cultural tsarina", Jayakar helped flourish and also represented the country's cultural scene for nearly 40 years. She would extensively explore remote places in India, seeking out local handicrafts and traditional expertise, and was a cultural acrobat, at home in contrasting milieux. A prominent handloom advocate, Jayakar decided to learn the intricacies of the business of textiles after Jawaharlal Nehru and T.R. Krishnamachari requested her to investigate the handloom sector and launch a sustainable industry. As she once explained, ‘A piece of fabric is a synthesis of texture, colour, and design.’ Her inherent, instinctive response to all three was latent and she consciously began to follow her judgment by studying the complex subject in practical and real terms. [3]

Pupul would involve and support huge numbers of people in specialized areas of work from the handloom sector. However, in terms of the Weavers' Service Centre, she wondered “...whether the creative perceptions could absorb new skills and technologies without a diminishing of an original creative ground.” [4] Either way, artists such as Prabhakar Barwe, Anand Mohan Naik, Gopal Adivrekar, and Ramesh and Gautam Waghela found their true calling. Jayakar's Weavers' Service Centre was hence not just a space for contemporary artists to work with traditional weavers, but a pillar and enabler of artistic sustenance, growth, and independence. 

Subramanyan mentioned that his stint at the WSC “turned out to be an education for me. It certainly introduced me to various areas of expertise I had so far been vaguely aware of. But most importantly, it brought me face to face with the problem of the survival of manual crafts in a modernizing world.” [5] 

“The nature of the challenge demanded a catalyst that would transform traditional skills of the weavers and their design vocabulary into a new contemporary framework." [6]

Pupul Jayakar

Jayakar's intrepid ability to simply take the plunge and never flinch from the impossible manifested itself in any work she took up. The young group of people working with her, respected and believed in her. She not only mentored but also groomed these young visionaries. Jayakar remained grounded and often saw the world through the eyes of her young colleagues. Enabling her to constantly evolve and rediscover herself. She often reiterated, "The brain does not age," and she preached the truth. Her mind was indeed younger than most.


[1] K.G. Subramanyan, Do Hands Have a Chance? Seagull Publication Kolkata, 2007.

[2] Malvika Singh, The tapestry of her life

[3] Malvika Singh, The tapestry of her life

[4] Exhibition Catalog, Artists from Past to Present at the Weavers Service Centre, The Development Commissioner of Handlooms, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi, 1985.

[5] Meera Menezes, IN PRAISE OF A FINE YARN, Art India|December 2019

[6] Meera Menezes, IN PRAISE OF A FINE YARN, Art India|December 2019

[7] Source of cover image: Wikipedia - Pupul Jayakar

Any questions?