Begin typing your search...

Traditional handloom weavers knit a sad tale

Even as the government is observing National Handloom Day in a big way, the reality is most of the traditional weavers have been struggling all through their lives. However, they hope youngsters to take up weaving as a profession and invent new variants to revive the traditional sector.

Traditional handloom weavers knit a sad tale

The deserted Devanga Weavers Cooperative Society Nagar in Woraiyur, Tiruchy.

TIRUCHY: Gone are the days when the Woraiyur Devanga Weavers’ Cooperative Society Nagar was buzzing with activities by readying dyes and drying yarns to the length and breadth of the street amidst the ‘rap trap’ noise of uninterrupted running of looms in each household.

Now, the scenario has changed completely and everything has become topsy-turvy. The once busy streets wore a deserted look and people who were involved in weaving had switched over to other professions except for one or two pedalling the looms unwilling to quit their traditional profession.

Woraiyur cotton and silk sarees are aged back to 300 BC during the Chola Dynasty when it flourished in all grandeur. Their centuries-old tradition to weave exquisite designs and patterns that attract not only domestic but buyers from abroad too. These weavers flourished in business those days and it started changing after the invasion of power looms.

Still, the areas like Manamedu, Musiri, Thatheingarpet, Tiruchy, Poovalur, Thuraiyur, Kottathur, and Paithamparai produce almost 10 per cent of the total production of sarees from Tamil Nadu.

“Since the prices of yarn had increased multiple times and the younger generation from the weavers’ community had shown least interest in taking up the traditional profession, the number of looms has decreased over the past years. Many people have joined textile showrooms as salespeople,” said AM Veeraiyan, Manager, Woraiyur Devanga Weavers Cooperative Society Showroom.

The Woraiyur Devenga Cooperative Society was formed in 1936 and flourished during the 90s until power looms and synthetic fibre fabrics invaded the sector. There were as many as 656 members till the 90s and there are just 330 members hardly less than five looms are operational now and each loom could weave 30 yards that could be divided into five sarees and they would earn Rs 2000 for it, he said.

Kumar determined to continue to weave despite all odds

“In the past, the weavers’ street used to be busy with each application of weaving. The dyeing of yarn in Woraiyur was famous among the handlooms. Since there are no takers, we have started outsourcing the dyes from places like Thuraiyur and Musiri,” said Veeraiyan, adding that the Woraiyur sarees are famous for 80/80 yarn types.

“We have regular customers from across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka and now the number of customers has declined but still, we fight to ensure our livelihood,” he said.

Veeraiyan urged the government to initiate steps to involve the younger generation in the industry and ensure they adopt the latest designs based on the market demand.

Meanwhile T Kumar (54), one of the active weavers in Woraiyur said, despite not earning much, he does not want to quit his family profession. “This loom has fed me all through my life and I grew up hearing the noise of the loom and so without this loom, I may not run my life,” he said. “Weaving has become an integral part of life and I never regret it even if I get only a minimal earning,” he said.

The traditional weavers want the department concerned to initiate steps to redefine its objectives in the handloom sector with novel designs as per the fashion trends.

Thirubuvanam sarees worth Rs 92 cr unsold; weavers blame it on lack of govt patronage

Despite it is acclaimed that the Thirubuvanam silk sarees have an indispensable position in Indian tradition, especially in Tamil customs and rituals due to the crafts of weavers capturing the cultural essence of ancient India, the poor patronage and less earning through their works led many a weaver quitting the traditional profession and found refuge in various other trades unaccustomed by their forefathers just to run their families resulting out of unsold stock of sarees worth Rs 92 crore.

It said that the city of Thirubuvanam was built by King Chola’s family and named after Kulothunga Chola III, also known as Thirubuvanam Chakravarti. The most lucrative venture of Thirubuvanam was its trade in handloom silk and pure dhotis. However, since that time, this industry underwent a series of changes and ultimately confined its production to beautifully woven silk sarees for women. Therefore, royal patronage helped Thirubuvanam to progress its craft of silk saree weaving. Under the rule of the Chola kings, the weavers of these silk sarees had plentiful resources and facilities.

While other historical evidence claims that these weavers came from the Saurashtra community. The Nayak and Maratha rulers had requested these weavers to settle down in Thirubuvanam to weave special silk items for the king’s family. Since then, a large number of Saurashtrian weavers and their families from Gujarat came here and settled down in this temple town. In due course of time, the THICO Society (The Thirubuvanam Silk Handloom Weavers Cooperative Production and Sale Society) was established in 1955 which helped in the revival of the Thirubuvanam saree production. Under this society, the weavers began gaining more profits, and weaving became more than a business- it became a way of life.

Currently, with 1,836 members, the weaving of the traditional silk sarees had flourished in the recent past but due to poor patronage from the government, a whopping stock of sarees worth Rs 92 crore still lying in the showrooms for the past two years. There are as many as 37 sales outlets in Tamil Nadu and two in Puducherryy. “People hesitate to buy handloom silk sarees for their higher price than the ones made by powerlooms. This forced them to minimise the number of designs from 22 to 11,” said S Jeeva Bharathi, a senior member and the CITU president of Thirubuvanam.

Jeeva Bharathi claimed that the Centre and State governments are not ready to support these weavers.

“The government should come forward to purchase all these stocks so that the livelihood of the poor weavers would be restored,” he said. He also stated that the younger generation from the traditional weaving community has quit the profession and switched over to other works like cooking, farming, and construction works. “We have already approached the government to revive handloom industry and there are a few positive signs that would help to these weavers”, he said.

While M Karthikeyan, Purchase Manager of THICO silks, said that the showrooms do business worth Rs 60 crore a year. “We need to have stocks to distribute when there is demand. The government has been initiating several steps to make weaving a lucrative profession. There are regular customers for Thirubuvanam silk sarees and these regular customers do not worry about the price,” he said.

Once a good-time weaver, now a watchman

tT Subramanian (74), was once a successful weaver who was running two handlooms at home in Devanga Weavers Co-op Society Nagar in Woraiyur, Tiruchy and he used to make 30-yard sarees in the past, but high price of the yarn and poor patronage, has forced him to look elsewhere and he is now working as a watchman to earn his livelihood.

“It is true. I was rather very busy once weaving sarees by my family-owned loom which I considered as the most loving instrument of my life. But what to do? At one point, I realised that the income through weaving might not be enough to run my family. As I know no other work than weaving, I opted work as watchman in an apartment in Woraiyur”, Subramanian said.

T Subramanian

T SubramanianTo run a family, at present, one must have a monthly income of Rs 15,000 and I could earn a meagre amount as a salary. When I go on night duty, I make use of the daytime by selling snacks.

“My wife is good at making eatables and she prepares everything for the sale and I sell them to the shops and I can manage to run my family now,” said Subramanian.

Though he quit weaving for the past several years, his eyes brighten up whenever he talks about weaving.

“Weaving is very close to my heart as I lived with it for several decades. I just give a blank look at the loom that is lying abandoned at home. What to do. We must accept whatever we face in our lives”, he said and expressed hope that the industry would get boosted up soon with the government support and he will return to his traditional job again.

Next Story