Just as France is famous for its wine and Darjeeling for tea, this little town of Kanchipuram is infamous for its traditional 'Kanchi pattu'. Viewing the other side of the coin how is the life, and what is the future of these 'dream weavers'?
Kanchipuram silk sari is an integral part of every South Indian girl's wardrobe. This would be the most valuable costume for a girl on the 'D' day, her wedding. The sari holds a special and elegant position among various other traditional fabrics of India. Though silk saris are manufactured everywhere, the small town of Kanchi, located in South India is renowned for this fabric.
Woven from pure mulberry silk, this fabric is available in myriad and attractive hues. The saris are woven with three ply, high denier threads using thick zari to supplement the warp and weft patterns forming unique and intricate designs in the sari. Depending on the color combinations, and the intricate designs used a sari normally takes 20 to 30 days for completion. Woven from pure silk, this fabric enjoys an evergreen reputation for its texture, luster, finishing, and durability.
Traditional saris were woven in designs with simple gold lines, peacocks, temples, and dots. Fashion has breathed a new life into the 500 year old traditional fabric, giving them new and alluring patterns. To match with the changing trends, this silk has undergone rapid transformation. Fabulous designer silk saris are available blending the traditional art with embroidery and crystal work. Latest trend is using the images of gods and goddesses on the pallu.
With the advent of globalization, the entire world has shrunk, and these silk fabrics are available all over the world. Alluring combinations of matching hues in bright, earthy tones are used in the sari to go with the consumers tastes and preferences. Todays consumers are more concerned about the cost, weight, and simple designs with pastel shades. Also to cater to the modern day women, churidhar sets are also woven.
Silk Industry in Kanchipuram:
Around 60,000 silk looms work, filling with town with the musical 'tak tak'. This silk sari is not duplicated by power looms owing to its uniqueness. The town has an annual turnover of more than Rs.200 crores with exports comprising around Rs.3 crores. Export figures are limited due to the limitation of weaving mostly saris, which has its own demand, but is comparatively lesser over other outfits.
75% of the population in Kanchipuram makes their livelihood by weaving this fabric. Despite of its global popularity, the town does not manufacture silk or other material used in the production of the sari. The zari used in the sari is made in Tamil Nadu, but the silver wire needed for its weaving is brought from Surat as the technique behind its making is held secretly by some families over there. This makes the process time consuming and costly.
Exclusive weaving centers are set by the Government to patronize this age old craft. Researches are undertaken about the traditional patterns used by many generations, and are revived. Regardless of all these initiatives, the future of the silk industry is vague. Practices of fobbing the customers with saris woven with chemical zaris flooding the market with low cost saris are followed which poses a threat to the real craftsmen. These saris are sold in the market under the label Kanchipuram saris which is likely to damage the goodwill of the original saris. Price of raw silk has increased by 60% during the recent months, while the zari cost has soared up to 200%.
The industry requires diversification to add value added products to go with the consumers changing attitudes. Pure inland silk production should be undertaken, and raw silk should be imported through authorized Government channels with minimum custom duty. Furthermore, zari should be distributed at subsidized rates to the weavers.
Kanchipuram silk is valued for its elegance, durability, and sheen. No wonder, this is the most preferred fabric among women all over the world. By taking appropriate actions, the centurys old traditional craft can be rejuvenated, helping the livelihood of thousands of craftsmen.