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.

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

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

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

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

Factors such as piling up of stocks and decline in working capital have now led the co-operative societies to offer discounts on saree prices. Sometimes. But on the flip side. both from within and outside Kancheepuram.2 per cent and the silver content less than 40 per cent. This facility can be used by both co-operatives and individuals by paying a nominal fee. Weavers have started blending silk and cotton for producing the body of the saree. While one mark (242 gms) of pure zari costs Rs. This change led to the important social change of doing away with child labour. which checks the content of gold and silver in zari. light-weight sarees. The gold and silver content in the zari is also being reduced. in most saris now. thus bringing down substantially the cost of the duplicate silk sari.250-300. 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. a practice quite common in the making of contrast saris. the gold content is less than 0. the border is also being woven using a mixture of silk and polyester. the duplicate costs Rs. according to A local weaver. many changes have been incorporated in the Kanchipuram saree. are also cutting corners.6 per cent of its zari weight in gold and 57 per cent in silver. The Tamilnadu government. With increasing consumer preferences for low-priced. which is a unit of the Ministry of textiles in Kanchipuram. Weaving borders using a combination of silk and polyester is also undertaken by some weavers. For instance. which are able to sell them at a third of the cost of a Kancheepuram silk sari. Weavers Service Centre.3. This has affected adversely the sale of the pure Kancheepuram silk saris. the body of the saree is made in cotton and the border in silk. TIFAC (Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council) and Tamilnadu Zari have jointly established a testing unit for zari in Kanchipuram. Moreover. simple designs and light colours.150. This brings down the cost of the saree to a great extent.For a contrast sari. For the weaver it meant a fall in the wage cost and an end to child labour. provides training and consultancy services in design and modernisation. These procedures have adversely affected the reputation of the Kanchipuram silk sarees and are affecting their sales in a negative manner. The government also offers . Taking advantage of the change in consumer preferences. a section of weavers. while in a traditional Kancheepuram silk sari the norm is to have 0. the plain silk saris are being duplicated by the powerlooms.

the government's shop. Ahmedabad. have managed to survive the competition. This affects the weavers as stock accumulation results in societies and private master weavers not being able to give sustained work to people. The societies ensure the quality of the silk yarn by purchasing it from Tan Silk. Chennai. through the centralised purchase committee of the government. As per these norms. These co-operative societies are now beginning to advertise their product in an attempt to promote sales and reduce stock accumulation. for instance.a rebate on these sarees. earlier there was. To discourage the use of child labour. To managing to cater to the changing tastes and preferences. Legal action can be taken against anyone selling a duplicate sarees as a Kanchipuram saree. The government has undertaken a campaign to abolish child labour from the Kanchipuram silk industry. Many private master weavers and loom owners are also affected by the unfair competition. only one designer for the 1. This industry has recently been passing through a crisis on account of the availability of fake Kanchi silk sarees. The governmentrun dye house ensures the quality of the colours. This makes their saris costlier than the duplicate ones. Some loom owners have been charged with making use of child labour. But now we get designs from the National Institute of Design (NID). any saree sold as a Kanchipuram saree should follow certain set standards regarding weight and zari and the saree should have been produced in the region. which has an annual turnover of Rs. Moreover. the Co-optex design wing and several private designers. Under this campaign. smaller societies are finding it hard to survive. committees have been formed to scrutinize saree-producing units.20 crores. We make sure of the quality. A local weaver further added: "The cooperatives use only pure zari and silk. these societies also receive cash credit from the Union Government. . the National Institute of Fashion Technology.550 looms of Anna Society. the government has developed equipment that performs the job of a helper. the weight and the pureness of silk. according to him. The Tamilnadu Government is planning to allot a special logo to Kanchipuram silk sarees to certify their authenticity to protect the interests of the weavers. weight and gold-silver norms. Also." While the larger cooperative societies such as Anna Society. The Central Geographical Indication Registry approved the application for Geographical Indication Registration of the Kanchipuram silk saree by the Tamilnadu government. the unique selling point of cooperative societies is the quality.

Stocks have accumulated. While this . any sari sold as `Kancheepuram sari' should follow the weight. The government has also developed a simple device that does the work of a helper (usually a child).200 (whichever is higher) on all saris. according to A local weaver. ranging from 35 to 55 per cent. Set up in 1963. the traditional silk units.10 crores. the Thiruvalluvar Society also trains its members to improve their skills to meet the changing needs of the market. According to him. The district administration has launched a drive to abolish child and bonded labour from the silk industry. In order to avoid losing customers to poor-quality silk saris and cut losses owing to accumulation of stocks. and 100 loom owners have been booked. For instance. Throughout the year the government gives a rebate of 20 per cent or Rs. has collaborated with several design centres in India. Along with the other silk weaving societies. the past two to three years have been particularly bad for the traditional silk weavers. The sari should also be woven in the region. including the NID and Kalakshetra in Chennai. There is also a move to blend silk with cotton in the body of the sari or make the body with cotton and the border in silk. Any duplicate sari-maker selling his product as `Kancheepuram sari' can be booked under the Act. To cater to the changing preferences of consumers. the Kancheepuram sari was registered under the Geographical Indication Act. As the first step. the Central government also gives cash credit to the societies. working capital has dipped and several weavers are unable to get continuous work. which operates with 1. apart from giving customers the option of design and colour. It will not be long before they start making furnishings. the Thiruvallur Silk Weaving Society. it has begun to sell under a brand name .000 looms and has an annual turnover of Rs. According to A local weaver. Two months ago. have begun weaving churidar sets. quality and zari norms. under the Act. the societies are beginning to advertise (something unheard of in the past).the Loom World.Several cooperative societies are now gearing themselves to meet the demands of changing consumer preferences. the societies now offer a discount on sari prices. Apart from this. This has helped considerably in clearing stocks. committees have been formed and units monitored. In a modernisation drive. to cater to the changing design needs.

he says. we will not have to depend on Surat for silver wire. has been developed only for a single-side border sari.500. is now working on how to draw wire from silver. a unit of the Defence Research and Development Organisation in Hyderabad. . Until now the silk sari has not been duplicated by the powerlooms due to its uniqueness. but soon that may also happen and the industry should be geared to take on the powerlooms as well.device. It has to adapt to the changing consumer preferences and attitudes. has to diversify and move to value-added products. The NFDDC. This will bring down costs." The future of the silk industry is not clear. It is certain that it cannot continue the same way. soon there will be one for double-side border as well. which cost Rs. The zari is made in the government-run Tamil Nadu Zari factory in Kancheepuram. particularly as the use of silk sari is falling. A local weaver said: "If this project is successful. The industry. but the silver wire needed for its production comes from Surat because the technique is a closely held secret of a few families there.