The Padmashali’s are the third largest community in Andhra Pradesh. They are spread all over the world, but have a visible tendency towards urbanization since the occupation of weaving and marketing cloth becomes easy from urban and semi-urban centers. This community produces cloth from cotton and animate yarn (silk).
Caste communities involved in the leather and wool-based household industries – which perhaps have an older history than cloth weaving – have developed an integrated process of production of raw material and its conversion into commodities. But unlike them, the Padmashali’s developed exclusively cloth-weaving skills. They produce cloth as a marketable commodity, without having any organic links or skills in the production of the raw material. The Padmashali men have no expertise in ploughing and their women lack seeding and crop-cutting skills. Thus, their skill structure, over a period of time, became one-dimensional. By the time the British arrived, the Padmashali’s were producing huge quantities of cloth and controlled a leading cottage industry of India.
The cottage industry of India was actually in the leading position at the time of British rule.
The introduction of the railways – starting 1853 – by the colonial British government helped penetrate the selfsufficient rural economy. With the forced introduction of machine manufactured goods, especially finished cotton goods from the factories of Birmingham (making use of advances from the Industrial Revolution) etc., from imperial Britain, the domestic textile industry suffered losses. Being an important node in the rural economy, the Padmashali community also naturally felt the impact. Today, many urban Padmashali’s have abandoned their ancestral profession and have diversified into other activities. One can see an increasing number of Padmashali’s become engineers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, advocates, IT professionals and also settled in trade and commerce etc.
Perhaps because they largely stay indoors, or because of characteristic genes, community members have developed reddish skin and are hence known as erra kulamu (red caste) among the OBCs. The Padmashali caste is highly Sanskritised, with all the men wearing the sacred thread (Yajnopavitam/Gayatri dharan). In terms of social consciousness, it is more Brahminic than any other OBC caste in Andhra Pradesh & some of them in Maharashtra also. In spite of all these Brahminic characteristics, this caste did not get integrated into ritual Brahminism and remained uneasily within the broad Vaishya category.