Long Thread Podcast: Avani Varia, Cultural Heritage Entrepreneur

Season 5, Episode 6: An icon of Indian textile tradition and independence, charkha spinning has mostly disappeared from contemporary life. Avani Varia works to preserve the skill, create a living for spinners, and spread the charkha joy.

Anne Merrow Oct 15, 2022 - 3 min read

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The charkha is so important in the traditions of India that Mohandas K. Gandhi proposed placing it at the center of the national flag. The wheel can signify economic independence, mindful practice, and national identity, yet the number of practicing handspinners and even people who know how to spin has dwindled.

Born into a family of traditional potters, Avani Varia's work has always involved the preservation of traditional crafts in India. Yet she carried around a box charkha for years before learning to spin on it. She was surprised to learn that her mother had learned charkha spinning as an essential part of her school curriculum. Wanting to make charkha spinning a joyful, approachable pursuit, Avani began organizing events under the name "Chalo Charkha Ramiye," which translates roughly to "Let's have fun with charkha spinning." She wrote a book by the same name that teaches techniques of charkha spinning, box charkha maintenance, and the historical importance of the tool.

Avani has found a receptive audience for her easygoiong charkha lessons, even making a splash at birthday parties. Behind the fun, though, are serious pursuits. To keep handspinning growing, handspinning teachers need to be trained—and find paying work. On the production side, the handful of traditional spinners throughout the country might be able to find an eager market for their handcrafted, sustainable yarns if they had the business infrastructure (or even mobile phones) to connect them with buyers. With Yarn Spinners Guild India, Avani is working to establish connections between handspinners and buyers, both in India and abroad.

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Avani Varia
Chalo Charkha Ramiye
Yarn Makers Guild India
Devin Helmen, "Book review: Chalo Charkha Ramiye, A Contemporary Charkha Movement"
Avani Varia, "Spinning Arts, Education and Economy in India"
Anne Merrow, Mahatma Gandhi's Charkha in Michigan