Manamedu, Tamil Nadu, India...
The usage of the Dindigul sarees ranges from daily wear to other occasions. The closet of a woman offers her endless possibilities to choose from different colours, motifs, textures and patterns. All of these sarees represent a different aura of the woman and allow her to establish her sense of identity and position in society. One day she may choose to look as gracious as Lord Sita and on the other, she may choose to look as bold as Devi. These Dindigul sarees compliment and accentuate a woman and her inner beauty.
semi-formal occasions such as housewarming parties also present the opportunity for women to wear these sarees. These include slightly toned down motifs and zari work alongside contrasting colours to create a moderate yet fancy look.
Lastly, dark colours such as black are found on these Dindigul sarees that are used for daily wear. This is mainly because darker colours do not get dirty easily and are able to withstand everyday wear and tear. Thus, sarees often combine simplicity and beauty to create garments that can be worn by women for their everyday work. They not only ensure mobility of women but also add grace to their appearance.
The sarees of Dindigul are significant not only because of their designs and colours but also because of the history of the weavers that design these sarees.
These sarees have been given the ‘Handloom mark’ that was launched as a government initiative in 2006 to offer a guarantee to the consumers that the product they are purchasing is a genuine handwoven product and not something out of a power loom or mill. This also provides an exclusive identity to the Dindigul saree and contributes to their significance not only in India but also abroad. This scheme is being implemented by Textile Committee, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. In Tamil Nadu, Primary Weavers’ Co-operative Societies, Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society Ltd. (Co-optex) and individuals /master weavers /exporters have been registered under Handloom Mark Scheme for using the Handloom Mark Labels. Moreover, many of the companies that are selling these sarees have been given ‘silk mark’ which further contributes to their significance.
Another factor that we must take into consideration is that these sarees are yet to be given a Geographical Indication (GI) tag which explains their comparatively lesser popularity as compared to other sarees. However, this also helps in creating a sense of mystery and enhanced uniqueness around the sarees by making them more exclusive and special.
In addition to this, the work done by the government and the weavers in this cluster is gradually helping in the promotion of this saree and the work that goes behind it. With their different colours, shades and patterns, the Dindigul hold the potential to become as popular as the Kanchipuram saree. Therefore, they offer a promising future market and sales.
Currently, these sarees are sold between the price range of 2000-6000 rupees which makes them at par with other saree markets.
Dindigul area has five clusters under it. These are, namely- Dindigul black one, Dindigul black two, Dindigul black three, Palani and Toppampatti.
Dindigul black one has 1760 weavers whereas Black two has 2500 weavers weaving similar kind of saris on double jacquard looms since the beginning of the cluster. Dindigul black three, also known as Aathur in Chinalapatti area works on tie-dye single Ikat saris, followed by Palani and Toppampatti. The other prime source of income is agriculture.
The tradition of wearing sarees or saree-like drapery goes way back in time. Indian history has accounted for several mentions of sarees since time immemorial. Various paintings, poems, and literature point out the significance of sarees and their evolution.
The word ‘sattika’ has been mentioned in early Sanskrit literature which evolved to become the word, ‘sari.’ This sattika or sari was composed of three pieces, namely- Antriya (lower garment), Uttariya (veil worn over the head and shoulders), and Stanpatta (chest band). This is mentioned in Sanskrit and the Buddhist Pali literature of 6th century BC. Other works in Sanskrit such as the Kadambari by Banabhatta and ancient Tamil poetry, Silappadhikaram, describe women dressed in exquisite drapery or sarees.
Although in ancient India, women often wore sarees that bared the midriff, texts from the Dharma Shastra state that women should be dressed in a way that does not reveal the naval. Contrary to this idea, the Natya Shastra states that the navel is the source of life and creativity, as a result, it must be left bare while wearing a saree.
It is widely accepted and known that saree-like drapes were worn by women in ancient India wherein the lower garment was known as ‘Nivi’ and the upper body was usually left bare. Works by Kalidas mention ‘Kurpasika’ or a tight-fitting band that was worn by women to cover their chests.
Tamil works like ‘Silappadikaram’ from the Sangam period indicate women wearing a single piece of clothing to cover their lower body and head while the midriff was left entirely bare. Similar saree styles can be found in the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala.
One must also notice that in Hindu culture, all goddesses in temples and shrines are dressed in beautiful sarees. These sarees are changed regularly and special colours are worn on certain days. Festivals and other celebrations call for even more extravagant and beautiful sarees for the goddesses. Moreover, movies, TV serials, and even animated cartoons featuring Hindu goddesses always showcase these goddesses being dressed up in sarees. This further allows us to understand the deep connection between Hindu mythology and saree garments.
The literary and historical sources from India point out the different styles of draping a saree and the different names given to it. Even today, we find different sarees and draping styles all over India. It is this difference and diversity in Indian sarees that adds to their beauty and cultural significance. Every saree is an expression of a state culture embedded in the Indian culture. As a piece of clothing, these sarees speak volumes about India’s notion of ‘unity in diversity’ and how a single piece of cloth worn differently by Indian women, connects them and creates a perfectly balanced blend of religion, culture, and distinctiveness.
Since these sarees are becoming increasingly famous due to the community of weavers that stitch them. It is integral to understand the history of these weavers, that is, the Saurashtrians.
Sourashtra or “Sourashtras” refers to a community of people who had their original homes in Gujarat and presently are settled almost in all major towns of Tamil Nadu with their concentration in Madurai (their cultural headquarters) and other neighbouring areas like Paramakudi. The origin of the name dates back to the time when the ancestors of these people inhabited the kingdom of Saurashtra in Gujarat State. The Tamil name by which these people is known in Southern India is Patnūlkarar, that is silk-thread workers or weavers who speak “Pattunuli” or “Khatri”, a dialect of Gujarati.
Sourashtra, also known as Palka, Sowrashtra, Saurashtram, is an Indo-Aryan language derived from Sauraseni Prakrit. The Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 510,000 (1997 IMA), although the actual number could be double this figure or even more. The equivalent of Saurashtra in the Linguistic Survey has been recorded as Saurashtri which is yet another name of Patnuli dialect of Gujarati spoken by the silk weaving community of Madurai who is considered to have migrated from Gujarat to the south several centuries ago. On the basis of current preference for the name of their mother tongue, the name ‘Saurashtra’ and not Saurashtri has been adopted. On account of several generations of association in the Dravidian Language area, the speech is supposed to have been strongly affected by Dravidian traits.
Oral tradition states that they have migrated on the fall of Somanath Temple when Gazni Mohammed invaded and plundered Hindu Temples. It is said they lived for about two centuries in Devagiri and later moved to Vijayanagar Empire at the invitation of the Kings. They manufactured fine silk garments for the use of Kings and their families and were engaged in the Silk trade. When Nayak Kings started to rule Madurai, they were invited by the Madurai Nayak Kings and were given accommodation around Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai, where even now there are many Sourashtra families living. The migration might have taken place in various groups at different times and they settled in many places in Tamil Nadu. Later Hyder Ali invited some families from Thanjavur to settle in Srirangapattanam in Karnataka. Those people are now in Bangalore after the fall of Srirangapattanam and they are called ‘Jamkhaanadavaru’. Similarly, some families went to Andhra and settled in Tirupati. The majority of people are settled in Madurai.
In history they are referred to as Patkar, Pattegar, Patvekar and Patnulkarar. In Tamil, the weaving community is referred to as ‘Kaikkolar’. In Tamil Nadu State they are called Sourashtra (Patnulkarar) or merely Palkar.
Even though mainly Saurashtrian communities stitch these sarees, individuals from other communities such as Nadar, Modaliar, and Naidu are also involved in weaving.
Unique features of South Indian Saurashtrians
The Saurashtrian community that migrated to South India has unique features in comparison to other migratory movements of the Saurashtrians. These are-
1. The Saurashtrians who have migrated to other places did not go there collectively as a larger group, however, the Saurashtrians in South India migrated to this region in a larger collective group and that too, in a planned manner.
2. These Saurashtrians in South India are equipped with the art of weaving. The whole community is blessed with this remarkable skill. The other Saurashtrians who have migrated to different places have not taken with them a collective industry or art.
3. The Saurashtrians who have migrated to other provinces or foreign countries have been in some sort of direct contact with the original homeland. For example, the Saurashtrians who had migrated to Africa have always returned (at least some of them and at least for some time) to the homeland sooner or later. In the case when these Saurashtrians have lost the link with the homeland, they have not been able to preserve the linguistic and cultural heritage of the homeland. On the contrary, the Saurashtrians in South India had lost all the direct contact with their homeland to such an extent that, for some time, they did not know exactly where the homeland Saurashtra was geographically situated. But even then, they have been proud of being Saurashtrians and carry a sense of pride in their old language and culture of Saurashtra.
The quality of Dindigul cotton saris is known to be extremely sophisticated. Artisans use different types of lines to create a layout for these sarees. In between two lines, very fine repetitive motifs are filled. These motifs are the heart of the saree and different permutations and combinations of traditional motifs are used to decorate these sarees. For example, motifs like Temple Rekku, Mango Butta, Chakkaram, Rudhraksham, Ashvath (elephant), Darbarpetu border, Chirala border (from Andhra Pradesh). One sees an interesting blend of traditional motifs like Peacock, Mango or elephant with modern patterns, sitting in balance.
The best feature of Dindigul saris is their colour combinations, especially their use of less contrasting colours that appear to suit modern tastes. Moreover, black is a colour that the weavers of this cluster do not hesitate to work with, as against every other cluster, where it is considered inauspicious.
Mubbakam, a three-part sari is divided equally horizontally along its 6.2 meters of length (5.5 m of sari + 70 cm for blouse). There are about 25-30 designs in this pattern.
Every saree has a border of about 1-6 inches. The pallu is the most interesting part of the saree with fine repetitive jacquard motifs. In some sarees, weavers also use ½ inch small motif of body. The artisans have few traditional motifs but are now exploring new motifs and patterns according to market demand. There are no particular elements or motifs that differentiate the sari from other saris of the region. In fact, even the use of the double jacquard technique is similar to Paramakudi sari. People here understand market demand and keep evolving design and material.
Brandloom & Fancy cotton are some of the names given to the saris by their weavers here. Many weavers claim that the most preferred style of saree by the customers is the traditional saree decorated with traditional motifs.
There are a large number of challenges that are faced not only by the weavers of Dindigul sarees but also by the overall handloom industry.
Government spending is mainly directed towards the agricultural sector and other prominent sectors due to which the hand loom industry is often ignored. In particular, the handloom industry of Tamil Nadu faces a problem with a lack of financial facilities. Various commercial banks have failed to provide the cooperative societies with resources and this has directly resulted in the failure of the cooperative movement in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, there has been an unexpected sprout in the power looms which has led to a scarcity of yarn. Therefore, the main challenge is the lack of yarns. This points out the need for the government to supply yarn to the handloom industry.
There has also been a sharp increase in the cost of production of these textiles due to which there has been a challenge in the process of selling. This is further worsened by the problem faced by this industry in the marketing of its products and the pressures of globalization. It has been suggested that the government must take more initiatives to modernize the power loom sector to make it more competitive domestically and internationally. Thereby, highlighting the need to improve the infrastructure in the industry.
The weavers from Dindigul are considered to be sharp and are able to pick up new designs very quickly. It is believed that Dindigul has a society of energetic weavers walking at a pace with modern times. These weavers have been experimenting with new materials and designs in order to keep the cluster up to date with current demands and simultaneously worked on polishing their skills. However, this has also served as a drawback since the efforts of trying many things at once has resulted in the inability of this cluster in forming its own identity.
The government initiative plays an important role in the improvement of the working conditions here and also in enhancing the popularity of this cluster. The need for government initiative has been highlighted especially in the provision of LED lights since a lot of these weavers have to work in dark and dimly lit areas.
It is believed that Dindigul has a great opportunity to create its own identity through specific work directions. First, the usage of innovative geometric patterns can bring a new freshness to these sarees. Second, since Dindigul is the only cluster weaving black saris, black colour in combination with zari or other contrasting colours can open up a possibility to create even more bold and striking designs. Third, the use of silver zari with mercerized cotton can also give the sari an interesting festive look for the traditional youth of our cities. Fourth, inspiration from various painting styles can be taken, and lastly, a little usage of tie and dye can bring in new aesthetics for the sarees that can prove to be like a breath of fresh air.
Warp & weft of 80s cotton is used in cotton saris. The body has 80s combed cotton with 3200 csp (count strength product). 20/100 cgm (cotton gas mercerized), a fine and lustrous variant of cotton is used in border & Pallu. For silk saris, 75 Diner wrap & the 80s combed yarn for weft employed. Silk is sourced from Bangalore.
Bemberg cotton, from ‘Bumper’ cotton, meaning “new cotton” is used as weft and art silk (artificial silk) as warp in weaving. Cotton is sourced from NHDC or Maharashtra.
A new range of saris using pure and art silk together has been in production for 15-20 years. This higher range with similar colour combinations and motifs also fetches better prices. An extra weft is introduced for Butis like in Banaras weaves and these saris are popularly known as pure silk Maharashtra saris. Weavers explore all colours & motifs. Their designs keep changing as per the market scenario.
Therefore, cotton, art silk, zari and dyes are the main raw materials for the Dindigul sarees.
When we look at the waste generated from the saree weaving and production, we come across two noteworthy points, these are- cotton waste from pre and post customer usage and water after dyeing.
Cotton can be recycled from pre-consumer (post-industrial) and post-consumer cotton waste. Pre-consumer waste comes from any excess material produced during the production of yarn, fabrics and textile products. For example, selvedge from weaving and fabric remnants from factory cutting rooms. On the other hand, post-consumer waste comes from discarded textile products. For example, used apparel and home textiles.
During the recycling process, the cotton waste is first sorted by type and colour and then processed through stripping machines that break the yarns and fabric into smaller pieces before pulling them apart into the fibre. The mix is carded several times in order to clean and mix the fibers before they are spun into new yarns. The resulting staple fibre is shorter than the original fiber length, meaning, it is more difficult to spin. Recycled cotton is, therefore, often blended with virgin cotton fibers to improve the yarn strengths. Commonly, not more than 30% recycled cotton content is used in the finished yarn or fabric. Since waste cotton is often already dyed, re-dyeing may not be necessary. Cotton is an extremely resource intense crop in terms of water, pesticides and insecticides. This means that using recycled cotton can lead to significant savings of natural resources and reduce pollution from agriculture. In fact, recycling one tonne of cotton can save 765 cubic metres of water. This ensures that the wastage is curbed and environment-friendly methods are adopted.
Another form of wastage that takes place during the production of cotton sarees is that of the water left after the dyeing of the yarn. Most of the time, chemical dyes are used for dyeing the yarn, the water then left is polluted and harmful since it contains chemicals A lack of proper waste disposal techniques makes it worst and contributes to environmental pollution and water wastage.
The following tools and technology are used in the cotton sarees of Dindigul-
• Looms– Double jacquard looms have been used for weaving the Paramakudi sarees since the beginning. One jacquard is used for the border and the other one is used for the pallu. Jacquard border is of 120 hooks and the pallu as well is of 120 hooks. There is an 80s reed and 1:1 ratio harness.
• Paddle– Every loom setup has about 4 paddles attached to it.
• Shuttle– Every loom setup has about 3-4 shuttles attached to it.
• Warping Machines– These machines are huge and used while preparing the warp. The prepared warp is loaded into the warpers beam before the weaving process.
• Huge containers– These are used for dyeing and boiling water.
• Reel and Charkha – Reeling is done using a charkha machine. The women of the household usually take up this task.
• Computer-generated punch cards– These punch cards are loaded in the jacquard machines to create the motif patterns for the sari, border, and pallu. In the present day, the local designer makes these designs on the computer and transfers them into punch cards using simple machines. These punch cards are made out of thick paper boards.
When we look closely at the process of making these Dindigul sarees in the first place, one can say that the process is a ritual in itself. It is believed that hand loom weaving is a form of sadhana or meditation since one requires an almost meditative state of mind to achieve the rhythm and become one with the loom. This is why hand-looms are a precious part of India’s textile heritage.
Chandan or sandalwood has a prime significance in this weaving process. Owing to its auspicious properties, Chandan is smeared onto the looms of the weavers since, in Tamil Nadu, Chandan is known to bring abundance, wealth and prosperity. Therefore, all looms of the Dindigul weavers feature marks of Chandan and sometimes even photographs of deities or popular political leaders. The weavers seek the blessings of these individuals, touch the Chandan and only then begin their weaving process. These rituals attach an element of sacredness to the entire weaving process.
A weaver takes around 3 days to finish one sari wherein one day is given to Pallu only and the intricacies of silk take a weaver about 2.5 days to complete. These saris are locally wet dyed from approved dyers. For azo-free vegetable dying they are also sent to Pollachi. Pre-loom processes of warping and sizing are done in Chinnalapatti or Palangudi and finally, the warp is set on the loom by the weaver himself.
The first step in the weaving process is that of design conceptualization. 2-3 local designers usually sit down either with the master weavers or with the cooperative society to conceptualize the design and colour for the saree according to the market demands. After this is finalized, the process of weaving the saree begins. The design chosen might be a traditional one or one that is specifically requested by a customer.
Dyeing: This is the first step in the process of weaving the saree. The colours are decided as per the available shade cards or market demands. These saris are locally wet dyed from approved dyers. After finalizing the design, society or master weavers take care of the dyeing process. This dyeing process can take up to 10-12 days. Both silk and cotton yarn has different dyeing process. The arrangements for the dyeing process are entirely dependent on the colour, design and material of the saree. Some of the different colours dye colours used for the cotton threads are- green (pachai), pink (rose), yellow (manjal), magenta (vada mali), black (karaf), red (sindupu), white (velle), and blue (neelam)
Warping: This step follows after the dyeing of the yarn. The yarn is now handed over to the weaver with pre-processing until the warping is completed. The weaver along with two other people undertake the beaming process. The warp is stretched in the streets (allu neetradhu) and rolled onto the beam with equal tension while checking on yarn damages. The metal comb is used to distribute the yarns evenly while being wound into the beam. The warp is then wound onto the beam by rotating the same with a stick and carefully distributing the yarn equally. The loaded beam is then taken to the loom. Artisans attach a new yarn with the previously finished saree and pass it through the reed (72 to 75 threads /inch) After attaching every yarn, the loom is made ready for commencing the weaving process.
Punchcard making: The design is developed on a computer by a local person who is known as a ‘designer.’ Due to the jacquard limitations at Paramakudi, the maximum size for the motif or the border is 6 inches. Local designers use their creativity by repeating and mirroring the motif. They also have good knowledge about the local looms setup. Sometimes buyers may give them a printout or digital image to convert. The designers also utilize a simple machine to make these cardboard punch cards.
Two jacquard are used for weaving these saris. One is for weaving border design and the other is used for weaving designs in the body of the saree and its pallu. Punch cards are loaded in the jacquard machines to create the motif patterns in the body, border and pallu. After attaching every yarn, the loom is set ready for the beginning of weaving.
Artisans use paddles to lift the specific warp threads in the loom. Each thread of the warp can be lifted by a hook connected to a rod. After lifting the specific threads with the help of a rope, artisans pass the shuttle by hitting it. A pattern is then created on the fabric by lifting the warp threads and changing the choice of threads to lift from step to step.
The weft yarn is then inserted in the pirn using Chakra. Through a single wrap, ten saris are made in about a month. 7-8 wraps are made per design with different colour combinations. At Paramakudi, artisans usually get 800-1000 rupees per saree. If 2 members from a family are working on the loom, they will make up to 12-15 thousand rupees per month. Moreover, their occupation also gives them the freedom to work from home.
To make the one saree, the artisan has to use 2-3 punch cards wherein one set is for the border, one set is for the pallu and one set is for the body. This process is entirely dependent on the design and colour of the saree. A weaver takes around 3 days to finish one sari. One day is given to pallu only and intricacies on the silk take a weaver approximately 2.5 days to complete.
About 2-2.5 metres of a saree can be weaved in one single day. As and when the saree weaving is finished, the societies mark off the names of the weavers in their registers and accounts. A track is kept on exactly how many sarees a weaver is supposed to weave and till when he is required to make the final delivery. This ensures that the process is systematically carried out and there is no room for confusion.
List of craftsmen.