kanchipuram silk sarees

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OVERVIEW TRADITION AND MODERNISATION OF THE KANCHIPURAM SILK INDUSTRY

Introduction: Kanchipuram is also known as city of thousand temple. Kanchipuram was the historical capital of the pallavas. It was under pallavas from 6th to 7th century AD and later became the citadel of Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings, the Muslim and the British. During the 6th and 7th centuries, some of the best temples in the city were built by the Pallavas. Kanchipuram is hailed as textile city the place is both handloom as well as machine woven silks sarees. The sarees manufactured here are famous across the globe. Kanchipuram town is also known as Silk City since the main profession of the people living in and around is weaving silk sarees, more than 5,000 families are engaged in this industry. The silk weavers of Kanchipuram settled more than 400 years ago and have given it an enviable reputation as the producer of the best silk sarees in India. Woven from pure mulberry silk and have an enviable reputation for texture, durability and finish. The sarees in dazzling colors are available in every imaginable design and variety. Kanchipuram has magnificent temples of unique architectural beauty bearing eloquent testimony to its glorious Dravidian heritage. Adi Sankara established his episcopal seat (Kamakotipeetam). Kanchipuram is the birth place of C.N. Annadurai, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu affectionately called as "Anna" by the people of Tamil Nadu. History of the Industry: History has it that Kancheepuram rose to eminence during Krishna-Deva Raya's reign, when two weaving communities - the Devangas and the Saligars transmigrated to Kancheepuram from Andhra Pradesh primarily because within this seemingly minuscule town there were more than 129 finely crafted temples. And silk was always considered the ceremonial wear at religious rituals and weddings. The Devanga and Saligar weavers were reputed for their weaving silks. Every Kancheepuram silk Saree is amongst the most superior silks in the world. Thanks to its double warp and double weft. Besides which, the gold in the motifs is incorporated by dipping the silk thread into liquid gold and silver. This enhances the beauty and the value of the silk. Kancheepuram Sarees are also known as Kanchipuram and Kancheevaram and sometimes Kanchivaram Sarees as well.

The temple city of Kanchipuram is also the silk city of India. The sarees manufactured here are famous across the globe. Kanchipuram has more than thousands of handlooms and skilled weavers that make its silk sarees one of the best in the entire world. About 75% of Kanchipuram's population is dependent on the Silk Sarees industry, either directly or indirectly. The Kanchipuram does not manufacture Silk or any other raw material that goes into its silk sarees. The Silk industry is entirely made up of Handloom weavers and merchants. The major raw materials are mulberry silk thread and metallic thread (Zari) and dye. The mulberry silk thread comes from the neighboring state of Karnataka, the metallic thread which is interwoven with the silk to give the metallic look comes from Gujarat, and none of the dyes are manufactured in Kanchipuram itself. But all these materials are brought here, and the skilled artisans weave these sarees on handlooms, each sarees becoming a unique hand-made work of art.

Processes involved in making silk yarn: The glamour of the Kanchipuram silk sarees in its colour contrasts. Temple borders, checks, stripes and floral "buttas" are traditional designs you will find in a Kanchipuram sarees. In a genuine Kanchipuram sarees, the border, body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the sarees tears, the border will not detach. A unique feature of the Kancheepuram silk sari is its strength, which is made possible by the twisted yarn double warp and double weft, that gives it the weight; its elaborate border designs usually of temples, peacocks and yali (a horse-like motif) and body patterns of floral dots, stripes and checks; its vibrant colour contrasts that are combinations of traditionally bright, earthy-scarlet, emerald green, black, ochre, purple, steel blue, peacock blue or turquoise; and its exquisite design (korvai saris) beautifully integrating the different colours of the body and the border and pallu.

Recent developments: Initially, this industry was dominated by a handful of merchants who used to procure sarees from the local weavers and sell them. This system was disadvantageous to the weavers, who did not receive just compensation for their labour. In the year 1949, the first co-operative society of weavers was formed, called the Kamatchi Amman Society. This society consisted of 79 weavers, who were provided financial support and several other benefits. Over the course of time, more and more co-operative societies were formed. Today, there are about 24 co-operative societies, most of which are managed by the Tamilnadu government. Some of the reputed cooperative societies of weavers are the Kamatchi Amman Silk Society, Murugan Silk Society, Varadharaja Swamy Silk Society and others. The Kamatchi Amman Society now has about 2000 members and is one of the biggest. Totally, there are about 50000 weavers who work through various co-operative societies.

Private traders like Nalli Silks and Sri Kumaran Silks in Chennai acquire silk sarees from independent weavers in Kanchipuram and make them available to other cities of India and in foreign countries. Now, the Kanchipuram silk industry operates mainly in two ways1) Through co-operative societies & 2) Through private traders. There are around 60000 silk looms in operation in Kanchipuram. The yearly turnover of the town exceeds Rs. 200 crores, with exports of approximately Rs. 3 crores. According to experts, the exports have not risen to their full potential, as the demand for sarees outside India is negligible. Product diversification is being considered by the industry, which would definitely lead to a rise in exports. Certain units have started weaving churidar sets. Some units are considering the production of furnishing. Extensive research has been undertaken to make the production process technologically sound, faster and better. The use of computers in creating designs is on the rise. According to A local weaver, over the centuries, several weaving traditions have been lost. However, with the setting up of weaving centres by the government, the traditions are being carefully studied, researched and revived. With technological development, computer-aided designs that are easily replicated are becoming popular. Says A local weaver: "Over the years, with changing consumer tastes and preferences, the Kancheepuram silk sari has undergone some changes." Consumers are now concerned about the price and the weight and prefer pastel shades and simple designs. To beat the competition, the silk industry came out with three types of saris to reduce weight, and, thereby, the price. These are: the contrast variety (the traditional variety in which the border and body are interlocked), the semi-contrast variety (in which there is a warp and weft with different colours in the border and warp runs from the body into the border thus avoiding interlocking of the body with the border) and the plain variety (in which the body and border are of one colour).

For a contrast sari, the weaver needs a helper (usually a child) to throw the shuttle across the sari but the semi-contrast and plain saris are produced without this help. This change led to the important social change of doing away with child labour, a practice quite common in the making of contrast saris. For the weaver it meant a fall in the wage cost and an end to child labour. But on the flip side, the plain silk saris are being duplicated by the powerlooms, which are able to sell them at a third of the cost of a Kancheepuram silk sari. Taking advantage of the change in consumer preferences, a section of weavers, both from within and outside Kancheepuram, are also cutting corners. For instance, while in a traditional Kancheepuram silk sari the norm is to have 0.6 per cent of its zari weight in gold and 57 per cent in silver, in most saris now, according to A local weaver, the gold content is less than 0.2 per cent and the silver content less than 40 per cent. Moreover, the border is also being woven using a mixture of silk and polyester. While one mark (242 gms) of pure zari costs Rs.3,150, the duplicate costs Rs.250-300, thus bringing down substantially the cost of the duplicate silk sari. This has affected adversely the sale of the pure Kancheepuram silk saris. With increasing consumer preferences for low-priced, light-weight sarees, simple designs and light colours, many changes have been incorporated in the Kanchipuram saree. Weavers have started blending silk and cotton for producing the body of the saree. Sometimes, the body of the saree is made in cotton and the border in silk. Weaving borders using a combination of silk and polyester is also undertaken by some weavers. The gold and silver content in the zari is also being reduced. This brings down the cost of the saree to a great extent. These procedures have adversely affected the reputation of the Kanchipuram silk sarees and are affecting their sales in a negative manner. The Tamilnadu government, TIFAC (Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council) and Tamilnadu Zari have jointly established a testing unit for zari in Kanchipuram, which checks the content of gold and silver in zari. This facility can be used by both co-operatives and individuals by paying a nominal fee. Weavers Service Centre, which is a unit of the Ministry of textiles in Kanchipuram, provides training and consultancy services in design and modernisation. Factors such as piling up of stocks and decline in working capital have now led the co-operative socie