The villages of Andhra Pradesh still practise centuries-old art forms, a testimony to the state’s rich history and a delightful offering for travellers. By Shibani Bawa

 

The countryside of Andhra Pradesh, most of which largely remains untouched by the touristy crowd, may appear rustic, but it is a cornucopia of treasures sans maps. Idyllic villages and dusty roads lead to gorgeous beaches, ancient temples, endemic wildlife, and a trove of indigenous crafts. During my travels through the state, I was mesmerised equally by the magic of the loom in Uppada village as weavers spun beautiful Jamdani saris in jewel colours, and by the Etikoppaka toys brought to life by female artisans with natural colours.

 

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One may find these products for sale in swanky malls and big cities, but it is in the villages that you can witness their creation from scratch. For instance, the Etikoppaka Ganesha that now sits on my work desk invariably transports me to the workshop where soft wood was transformed into beautiful artefacts such as a veena, figurines of a mother and child, birds and animals, and of course, Hindu deities. The Etikoppaka village has earned a Geographical Indication (GI) status for its eponymous craft. This means that only those craftsmen that live in the specified geographic territory of the village are allowed to use the popular product name, in this case, Etikoppaka toys. This ensures that the exclusivity of the local craftsmen is maintained, and the 400-year-old art form can continue to earn enough recognition and money so that it can flourish despite modern competition.

 

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Similarly, Uppada, a village near Kakinada, is famous for the Uppada Jamdani saris. These beautiful pieces of art were once woven exclusively for the erstwhile royal families of Andhra, and are known for their lightness and beautiful drape. The craft has been passed down through generations, and the saris are much sought after since they are completely handwoven and come with an identical pattern on both sides of the fabric. Again, the saris that I bought from the weavers occupy a much more coveted spot in my wardrobe than those bought from high-end stores. I saw them being made—the time-honoured process of natural silk being dyed with vibrant colours, spun into yarn, and put to weaving.

 

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Recognising the appeal of such experiences for tourists, the Andhra Pradesh government has initiated Project Sanskriti to promote the villages dedicated to specific arts, handicrafts, handlooms, and traditions. For this endeavour, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Authority has shortlisted 12 villages across various regions of the state. The idea is to preserve ancient art forms, create awareness, and celebrate the history and culture of the state. Srikalahasti- Venkatagiri-Madhavamala (Kalamkari saris, wood-carving); Lepakshi- Veerapuram-Nimmalakunta (handicrafts, migratory birds, puppet shows); Angallu-Adarana agro farm-Horsely Hills (agro tourism and hill station); and Narsapuram-Dindi-Uppada (lace-making, coconut products, silk saris) are the four clusters identified under the project. This categorisation aims to facilitate project management, as well as streamline activities aimed towards achieving the milestones set for the project. Even the private firms that participate in rural tourism will have to execute their ventures in accordance with the set guidelines, ensuring standardised hospitality services.

 

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One of the projects is to develop homestays with a focus on giving tourists first-hand experience of the local way of life. Since the implementation of Project Sanskriti, some tourists from Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and even Belgium have already spent a few days in the state’s countryside, learning farming, wood-carving, and weaving from the locals, and of course, sampling local cuisine. A taste of this village way of life is known to be rejuvenating for city folk. The sights, smells, and sounds of these lands offer an antidote to the hectic pace at which most of us live. Even if you do not want to pick a new craft, a trip to the village is guaranteed to help you switch off from the frenzy of the city and experience a simpler way of living.