Pioneer of Palpali Dhaka: Purna Maya Maharjan

Pioneer of Palpali Dhaka: Purna Maya Maharjan

Wife of late Mr. Ganesh Man Maharjan, the pioneer of Dhaka weaving in Nepal, Purna Maya Maharjan is considered the mother of Dhaka fabric by the fabric producers of Palpa. After her husband received a training on weaving in Kathmandu, she along with her husband, set up the workshop Swadeshi Bastrakala Palpali Dhaka Workshop in 2016 B.S (2015) (1959 A.D) with three hand looms and began producing Dhaka fabric. 

Initially, the business began as a family business. with the impeccable designs and highest quality standards of the dhaka fabric produced, the fame of the workshop’s produce soon reached every corners of the country. The demand of the fabric soared, and the individuals flooded Palpa for employment opportunities and to learn the art of weaving Dhaka fabric. Purna Maya shares that her husband never withheld the knowledge of fabric weaving and he was always willing to teach. He was an open-minded person who took solace in providing employment to the destitute. 

From 2016 B.S (2015) (1959) till 2042 B.S (1984 A.D), Swadeshi Bastrakala saw a good growth. During its heydays, the workshop employed more than 500 weavers (mostly women) throughout Nepal and the finished products were shipped to more than 36 districts of Nepal. The Palpali Dhaka cap was a basic apparel. The orders for the fabrics were booked six months in advance. In addition to the dhaka fabric, the workshop used to weave and supply bandages to the hospitals around Palpa. She and her husband themselves travelled to Kolkata for the raw materials and chose the highest quality raw materials available. The dyes from the German company was procured to color the yarns. They also benefitted from the government policy during the period. The Dhaka cap was mandatory for the government employees and security personnel. In addition, they also supplied dhoti for the female college students in Kathmandu. 

Post 2042 the production slowly began to dwindle. Many of the weavers who learnt the weaving at Swodeshi Bastrakala also started their own workshops and became their competitors by this time. This also coincided with the liberal policies adopted by the government. In addition to this, many cheaper fabrics were imported which saw dhaka fabric gradually lose its importance among Nepali people. 

The opening of the trade also fostered unhealthy competition between Dhaka producers bemoans Purna Maya. Some of her disciples have also resorted to producing dhaka fabric designs in power looms in neighboring India and selling them as Palpali Dhaka at low cost. This has hampered the competitiveness of Palpali Dhaka which she feels is the main cause of the contraction in the production of Palpali Dhaka fabric. Now, the dhaka fabric is produced throughout the country and marketed as Palpali Dhaka.

Swadeshi Bastrakala, once the epitome of Palpali Dhaka fabric now employs only about 12 female weavers and one master weaver. Purna Maya is now 83 years old but she is not short of energy. She goes to the workshop at 9 O’ clock daily and supervises the weavers and manager. There are still some customers who love the Palpali Dhaka fabric produced in her workshop and there is still demand for her fabric albeit much lower than during the heydays. Due to her age, her sons and her relatives had suggested many times to shut the workshop down and take rest but she is adamant that until and unless she is able to take care of the weavers and workers in her factory, she wouldn’t shut the beloved workshop her husband started. She pleads to all other fabric producers to not use the name of “Palpali Dhaka” for the fabric produced elsewhere in power looms to save the traditional Palpali Dhaka industry.

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