Visit any city in Tamil Nadu and you are sure to meet a cab driver who’d offer to take you to a discrete albeit famous village- Kanchipuram! The logic is simple: how can one make it to Tamil Nadu and return without a woven silk saree? And there’s more to it. Perhaps, a certain cut or “commission” as they call it is also the reason they take many tourists to shop for the sarees. In fact, it is a known fact that whatever price you pay to the weavers in Kanchipuram for that prized weave, a part of it goes to the driver who takes you there.
And while we dismiss this small fact as an afterthought, this is a major contributing factor behind the sorry state of handloom weavers across the country. To start with, most of them are already working at a mere pittance for government-run projects or big firms that procure these sarees from them. Now, whatever little money they try to earn by producing material on their own, a part of it is lost into commissions.
Now, as the fashion industry collapses under the looming shadow of the novel coronavirus, it's the artisans who'll have it worst. So once it's over, it is our craftsmen who'll need our support the most. Thankfully, it is as easy as purchasing a gorgeous garment from a website or agency that supports them and pays them a considerable cut. This explains why it is important to look into the working of these handloom industries, now more than ever.
So before this lockdown is a thing of the past, we at POPxo have decided to extend our support to these dedicated artists by delving into the stories of these beautiful handicrafts. The aim is to take you all on a fabric and handloom tour of India to understand their current positioning in the fashion industry across the country. Willing to join us in this endeavour to uplift the Indian handicrafts and handlooms? Read on:
Exclusively known for rich gold borders, striking contrast, traditional designs, and dense fabric, relatively heavier than the other silk weaves, Kanjeevarams are purely hand woven with mulberry silk and pure zari. Interestingly, while Tamil Nadu happens to be the hub of Kanjeevaram sarees, the mulberry silk threads are actually procured from Karnataka. This dense silk has a lustrous quality, which adds to the glistening finish of the saree.
The zari used for the saree is also procured from a different state. Pure silver thread coated in gold colour is used to add the finishing touch to saree’s border and pallu, and these threads are specially ordered from Surat, Gujarat. Perhaps the Kanji or the starch-rich rice water retrieved after boiling rice is the only local ingredient that goes into the making of these sarees.
Kanjeevarams are known to feature motifs inspired by grand scenes reimagined from Indian epics and Pallava temples. At the heart of this practice lies the intention to tell a story, the same reason why South Indian brides are beginning to get couple portraits woven in the Kanchi pallus lately. For instance, Bigg Boss Malayalam fame Pearle Maaney got her and husband’s picture woven in the Kanchipuram saree that she wore for their wedding by Kochi based boutique, Milan designs.
However, just telling a grand story doesn’t suffice for a saree to qualify as a pure one. Such is the expertise involved in making a Kanjeevaram that a real one always feature interlocking borders. This interlocking is what imparts a Kanjeevaram saree with its signature touch. However, the technique is slowly fading into oblivion with way more counterfeit products in the markets than the original ones.
Think of Kanjeevaram silks and Bollywood together and the first name that comes to your mind is Rekha and her endless array of resplendent Kanjeevarams that have never failed to bedazzle us. Oh but the infatuation doesn’t last here and has been replicated more than once by Kangana Ranaut, who is a handloom connoisseur herself. Of late Alia Bhatt seems to be enamoured by the sparkling beauty of Kanjeevaram, something that might have its connections to the silver screen and the blue, yellow beauty that she adorned for the Iski Uski song in 2 States.
Though, it is the Bollywood brides adorned in the silken weaves of Kanjeevaram for their own weddings that have us more intrigued here. While you may remember Deepika’s bronze-tinted bridal saree, we need to go back a little to admire the saree in its true beauty. We are talking about Aishwarya’s Rai Bachchan’s golden Neeta Lulla saree that looked no less than molten gold draped around the Bollywood beauty, looking as regal as a Kanjeevaram is supposed to. And while there is perhaps a tad bit more to admire about Aishwarya’s golden saree, there’s more to inquire about and marvel at when it comes to Deepika’s saree. The following section explains why.
From Sabyasachi to designer Sailesh Singhania, a number of names might pop into your head when it comes to Indian designers who are known for their Kanjeevarams, it has to be K Radharaman's 'The House Of Angadi' that deserves a special mention here. This is the design house behind Deepika’s see-through Kanjeevaram. But wait, when did Kanjeevarams start being see-through? Well let's just end it here: when K Radharaman almost 600-years-old family legacy weaving comes together with Kanjeevarams, anything is possible! In fact, the design house can be given the credit to add brilliant innovations to Kanchi weaves that only a few could have fathomed--organza and Khadi or linen-blended Kanjeevarams being a few of them.
However, Sailesh Singhania, as well as Gaurang Shah’s luxurious weaves known for their confluence of traditional and modern motifs, aren’t far behind either.
As per a study by the National School of Journalism and Public Discourse, “In Kanchipuram, there are around 60,000 silk weavers, out of whom 50,000 weavers work under the co-operative fold.” While the co-operative setups have been established to serve the needs of these artisans, they continue to face a number of challenges, the rise of the duplicate sarees being a major one of them. Not only these counterfeit products continue to effectively dilute the authentic craft but also pose an economic challenge to those who still create authentic weaves.
Then again brokers stationed strategically in various parts of Tamil Nadu and Kanchipuram including drivers who take a cut, swallow a major part of these artisans’ income. Introduction to GSTs has also proved to be a major setback for the industry with 5% Goods and Sales Tax (GST) on silk products leading to an increase in product prices and consequently, a decrease in sales. Additionally, marketing remains a major challenge to date.
Rich and opulent, the luxurious craft of Kanjeevaram owes it to generations and generations of artisans who have upheld its beauty through decades now. If you've ever been able to enjoy the rich beauty of this craftsmanship then it is time to do your bit by investing in their craft once the lockdown days are over!
Featured Image: Instagram
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