Artisan Profiles: The Grandmaster of Henavala

This is the series of blog posts where we will introduce to you the artisans behind the handwoven Hana mat. Today, Kantala engages close to 15 artisans from the industry and in this post we are introducing the most decorated artisan from the village of Henavala.

I first met Mr Harispattuwelage Gedara Dharamadasa back in December 2013. It was a meeting of both chance and design. I had heard about a village outside of Sri Lanka’s second largest city and last royal Kingdom, Kandy, and went to a regional government office in order to find my way to this village – by design. Luckily, a gentleman at the office knew a couple of people at this particular village and spoke to them over the phone in order to set up a meeting. Only one of them agreed to meet me – by chance.

Mr Dharmadasa with the numerous awards he has received. 

Mr Dharmadasa on his way to harvest Hana leaves.

Upon arriving at the village, which is nestled between picturesque mountain ranges, I met a slightly built gent with a warm smile. Since then Mr Dharmadasa has been our key partner managing all the operations in the village where the hana fibre is sourced and mats are woven.

Mr Dharmadasa, born in April 1949, is the youngest of three siblings. Born in the village of Henavala – as known back then – he attended the local school, Kengalle Central College. From an early age he showed a keen interest in the weaving technique apprenticing under his father, Mr Ukkubanda. Upon completing his secondary education at the age of 18 he undertook weaving on a full time basis.

Mr Dharmadasa (left) discussing designs with Vikum (right) and Nadishan (centre). 

Initially, Mr Dharmadasa started weaving wall decorations – continuing the traditional product his ancestors presented to the then king of Kandy. He made his first sale in 1969 to the government owned handicraft enterprise.

Mr Dharmadasa is a recipient of the highest honour bestowed upon traditional artisans in Sri Lanka – the “Kala Chakrawarthi” (translated loosely as “craft grandmaster”) accolade. He received this honour in 1999 in addition to the numerous awards and honours he has won from the National Crafts Council of Sri Lanka, World Crafts Council and National Youth Council of Sri Lanka among others.

Mr Dharmadasa’s generation is quite possibly the last generation which will engage in the industry. Of the 115 families resident in the village only 15-20 families today engage in the traditional weaving industry and this number is dwindling fast. Efforts are being made to encourage communities outside of the village to take up the traditional weaving technique. With the demand created by Kantala for the woven mat and our fair trade policies, Mr Dharmadasa now devotes a considerable part of his time to train new communities. At Kantala we are hopeful this process will take off soon and Mr Dharmadasa will continue to be beacon of this illustrious traditional art.

Mr Dharmadasa weaving a Hana mat

A message from Mr Dharmadasa for the Fashion Revolution Week 2017 campaign.


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