10 June 2009
We were at Melkote, about 40km from Mysore on the Bangalore-Mysore highway working on some travel stories, when we came across a small colony with a tradition of 100 years of weaving. There were about 18 houses in the colony and each house was furnished with at least one ancient handloom. I love the way one story leads to another. And i love the way our villages welcomes its guests. The artisans were more than delighted to tell us their stories. The Mysore Silk Board authorities provides them with raw silk yarn which these artists weave into beautiful handwoven sarees or dhotis. These products are then sold through 'Priyadharshini Handloom', a Government enterprise. For some inscrutable reason, i had always assumed that Mysore Silk meant handwoven silk. But of course, this isn't the case. My weaver friends tell me that most of the Mysore Silk Sarees are produced in the Mysore Silk Factory which is quickly eating up their livelihood. Narasimha Shetty (55) has been weaving Dhotis and Sarees for 40 years. He can weave a silk dhoti in two days. It will fetch him Rs.180/-. The market price for a pure silk dhoti being Rs. 1500/- and above. Weaving, is obviously a laborious task which seldom forgives a mistake made by a weaver. A flawed weave would mean paying up the cost of the raw silk. The powerloom on the other hand is more profitable, less labour intensive and the Government cared little about the poor weavers. The Silk Board authorities says that most of the production cost (of a pure silk garment) is acquired in the cost of the basic material itself. A standard roll of silk yarn (enough to weave 6m of saree) costs Rs. 1500/- and above. The beautiful Mysore silk sarees that women love to flaunt takes three to four days to weave in the handloom. The artisan gets Rs.350/- per saree which is then sold for Rs.3000/- and above in the market. According to the artisans, the texture is finer (as compared to those woven using the powerloom in the factories) and their designs remain true to their age old traditions. "Feel the texture... Dont you feel the softness on the skin? We are artists.. and these are our creations. " Venkataramana Shetty is 86 years old. He has been weaving ever since he was a boy. His 55 year old son is carrying on the tradition. But his grand children wants to work in the cities. His family tells me that he worries about his dying craft more than his health. Out of the eighteen houses in the colony, there wasn't a single home in which the next generation wanted to carry on weaving. I suppose the handloom industry would not cease to exist when the descendants of these artisans move away from the craft. But it is sad to think of an age old craft disappearing into oblivion from this beautiful village of Melkote.