WEAVERS OF KANCHIPURAM
Weavers of Kanchipuram
Kanchipuram , a town famous for the GI trademark Kanchipuram or Kanjeevaram silk sarees. The traditional and exquisite silk saree is in high demand both in India and overseas and no festive occasion, wedding or a bridal trousseau is complete without this lustrous, glimmering and beautiful saree.
The number of looms in Kanchipuram is now just about 40-45. Finding a loom and the weavers engaged in making of a Kanchipuram Saree is increasingly difficult. The machine-operated mills produce much larger number of sarees in shorter span of time challenging the looms on both scale and costs. Most workers in the traditional looms are local men and daily wagers. These local weavers have inherited this art from previous generations. There are no school, trainings or workshops for weaving techniques but it is an art taught and passed on by one generation to the other.
The Kanchipuram saree is made of the finest quality of silk- the Mulberry silk. The Zari comes from Gujarat and the silk from the south of India. The silk is further dyed in chosen color, Saffron and red being the most popular. The silk yarn is ‘double warp’ which essentially means that each thread is a total of three threads twisted together to make it durable and heavier than other silk sarees. The weaving technique of ‘Korvai’ is used in which the border and pallu are in contrast with the main body and weaved separately. Weavers then use the technique of interlocking weft to complete the saree with much precision and neatness.
A heavy saree with exquisite zari and motifs take about 10-12 days of work. The cost of the saree is dependent on the amount of Zari used. Traditionally the Zari used was pure gold and silver which is now replaced with metallic or copper wires to reduce the total cost.
A traditional Kanjvaram saree can cost between INR 15000 to 500000 and above. And while machine operated mills are engaged in bulk of the business , there is a demand for the hand made Kanjivaram. However the number of weavers engaged in this art is slowly decreasing. The weavers earn just about 5% of the selling price of the saree. The remaining cost is for the contractor, loom owner and the operating costs. The handful of weavers that are engaged in the looms today ,work in small , dimly lit rooms . Their dexterous fingers moving softly over the silk threads and spin wheels. Their looms are only equipped with small cardboard cards with several holes that are their only aid in design making. This helps them design a complicated dual color motif. Their work requires extreme precision, agility with hands and the knowledge of this art form that is slowly fading away. The next generation of the weavers has taken up alternate and better paying occupation leaving little chance for this art form to survive.