A lull in the loom

But this tradition now faces a threat from the power looms.
While making a handwoven silk sari involves the craftsmanship of 16 to 20 artisans, the power loom puts more than half of them out of work. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath)
While making a handwoven silk sari involves the craftsmanship of 16 to 20 artisans, the power loom puts more than half of them out of work. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath)

CHENNAI: Known for its rich gold borders, traditional designs and dense fabric in contrast colours, Kancheepuram is one of the biggest production centres of pure silk saris. The tradition that is more than 150 years old, follows hand-weaving techniques of putting together the silk yarn and zari, a silver silk thread coated in gold colour.

But this tradition now faces a threat from the power looms. While making a handwoven silk sari involves the craftsmanship of 16 to 20 artisans, the power loom puts more than half of them out of work. The district has several co-operative folds and more than 50,000 silk weavers work under each. 

An original Kancheepuram silk sari would cost anywhere from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1,50,000. The most expensive saris are the one that are designed using pure zari thread and silk. These kinds of saris are usually worn during weddings and are mainly purchased with an intention to resell.

After the process of sericulture, the weavers buy the extracted silks from neighbouring states like Karnataka. This goes through a routine process of thread extraction, dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing.

While we recently commemorated yet another National Handloom Day (August 7), the livelihood of the celebrated Kancheepuram silk sari weavers is in doldrums. They are vehemently opposing the entry of power looms and introduction of any new techniques of production.

Their continued opposition to modernisation is rooted in preserving their rich tradition of weaving and preventing the loss of their livelihood. Most quality-conscious weavers are also concerned about the finesse of their handloom fabrics. 

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