Banaras, one of the rich weaving centers of India is famous for its sarees and other dress materials. The trademark can be the silk sarees and craftwork. The globalized economy not only helped in increasing the competition in the developing countries but also it has put a threat in the skills of craftsmen and their source of earning, handlooms. This article talks about how with changing scenario and advancement of technology the weavers of Varanasi are facing difficult times.
The life of weavers in Varanasi
The weavers of Varanasi can be found mainly in semi-rural areas of Shivpuri constituency and Banda Naraini constituency. They are basically Muslims. Their whole family is involved in the handloom business from where they generate sarees with various motifs and designs on it, especially of ‘buti’ and ‘buta,’ (the single flower design on the saree is called buti and the big flower design is referred to as buta).
They start their work from 8 am in the morning and finish till 6 pm in the evening. Doing this regularly for 3-5 weeks helps them to generate two beautiful silk sarees and other banarasi sarees with motifs and patterns on them. While children go to school the men learn how to operate looms, learn designs and finally they learn how to transfer them into metallic stencils to create various types of motifs on weaves. The women on the other hand join the teamwork by maintaining the threads on the looms.
The community of weavers is known as ‘Karigars,’ and the workshop where they work is known as ‘Karkhanas.’ There prevails a skillful and well-organized management. There are 10-15 weavers under each ‘bunker,’ the leader of loom. ‘Kothdar’ is the wholesale dealer.
Effect of demonetization on Varanasi weavers
The demonetization of 2016 had affected the lives of Varanasi weavers in many ways. Due to the so called ‘note-bandi’ the weavers faced loss and trading, buying of silk threads, selling it to the middlemen which was all done in cash were all put on hold. Their monthly income which was rupees 6,000-7,000 had gone down by rupees 2,000 as transporters hiked up the charges. The handlooms were their only survival and it was going in complete loss. On the other hand the sub-sidised electricity proved of no help to them.
About the sarees and other products produced by the banarasi weavers
Banaras is world famous for its silk brocades and sarees. Some of the exclusive works of Banaras weavers are sarees various types, which are as follows:-
Tanchoi, Jangla, Vaskat, cutwork, tissue, and Butidar which is made up of silk weft and wrap.
Butidar sarees are world known. They are regarded highest in quality and design. Their patterns include various types of motifs which particularly include angoor, bal, gojar and bail.
In order to cater the need of overseas and domestic buyers’ weavers also produce stoles, scarfs, mufflers, mats, dresses, silk dhotis, wall hangings etc.
It is believed that 70% of the weaving force belongs mainly to Banaras city only.
Banaras Vs. Chanderi
The two most important clusters of North India, Banaras and Chanderi, not only share geographical closeness but they also produce products which have similar features. Similar features might be there but the vast difference is made by the quality of products.
Weavers of Varanasi are known for their intricate designs and beautiful floral motifs whereas Chanderi fabrics are known for their transparency and sheer texture.
In Varanasi designs are created in silk whereas in Chanderi the designs are drawn in silk and cotton fabrics. The Chanderi muslin has overtaken the Dacca muslin in the last decade. The Varanasi products are known for their heaviness and deep colors whereas Chanderi products are known for strong construction and fast colours.
Situation of Varanasi weavers in today’s scenario
The demand of finished sarees is going down over years. With the end decade of the 90s the labour wages have also gone down. The power looms are gradually replacing the hand looms. Besides this the shopkeepers are giving tough competition to all the weavers by their unique style, design and patterns. According to the handloom census report of 1995, the total population of weavers is 1,24,832.
The weavers who worked from 6 am in the morning to 8 pm in night, made use of various Nari, Dharki, and Anta fillings which required a lot of dedication. But in the last few decades their status had been reduced to unpaid workers. The tasks of the weavers are not given recognition, status and appreciation. Even during pricing of sarees the labour wages are not included.
The story of raw material is no better. If a small weaver wants to buy raw silk then he has to buy 5-6 kilograms of it, which obviously he couldn’t afford because he lacks purchasing power. Thus, this shows government intervention in the silk market has given no positive consequences to the small and self-made weavers.
The designs of the weavers get copied and eventually get devalued. Thus, the weavers have no other option but to sell at a price which doesn’t even make their labour cost. Moreover, declared and undeclared power cuts add to the agony.
Due to these problems, the weavers prefer migrating themselves from Varanasi to Surat, where the situation of weavers is good. Some prefer to stay and do some other jobs like rickshaw pullers; incense sticks makers and many more odd jobs which only degrade their skills and talents.
Referred to as ‘unskilled workers’ in their own field of work and occupation, if left unchecked and their talents are not put to proper use, can result in the death of the textile industry, therefore depriving future of one of its best traditions.
Author: Anjali Lavania
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