Madurai: Not far from the heart of the city of Madurai, is the settlement of Krishnapuram, which also bears the name of the colony of weavers, a reference to the primary vocation of those who settled there. The hand-weaving community originates from Saurashtra, which is the peninsular region of Gujarat, which covers almost a third of the western state. The community of Saurashtra migrated to Tamil Nadu around 400 years ago and made the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu their home.
Having fully assimilated into Tamil culture and traditions, they are almost indistinguishable from the locals here, speaking Madurai Tamil and dressed like those who have belonged here for ages. However, the bond of communities with their mother tongue remains more intact than ever. They say that whenever they met another person from their community and region, they struck up a conversation in their own language.
Of the nearly 300 families who live in the weaving colony, about 200 own the traditional wooden hand-weaving equipment, which occupies almost a 150-square-foot room.
Haridas Vinayaga, a trader who has been closely associated with the handloom industry, says younger generations have started to move into other professions and settle down well in life. This art form is passed down from generation to generation, but today only the elderly continue it, as they have no other choice for their livelihood. They desperately need government support
In stark contrast to almost 25 years ago, their artistic work of hand-weaving cotton sarees is now in danger of ceasing to be. Over the past quarter of a century, the emergence of synthetic materials, machine looms, and sales of handloom garments have shaken their hopes for a better life and livelihood.
The weavers say that until the mid-1990s, the state government provided them with the raw material and purchased the finished saris, under a cooperative system. But the government not only stopped buying from hand weavers, it also started sourcing machine-made saris, dealing a bodily blow. Since then, the weaving community has relied on private suppliers who sell them the raw material and later pay a paltry sum of Rs.200-250 for ahandloomsari.
A family of four – Ganesh, Rajeshwari, Kannan and Dhanalakshmi work on the looms installed in their homes. It takes almost two days of everyone’s effort to make a single saree that costs around Rs.1000, which eventually sells in stores for over Rs.2500. The weavers lament that middlemen make a significant portion of the money under the current arrangement. They say a family of four has to work hard to earn around Rs. 8000 per month.
The main requirements of families of weavers are a geographical indication label for their products, authentication for real handloomsaris, minimum guarantee of weavers, among others. They hope Prime Minister Narendra Modi and help their community, which belongs to the home state of the Prime Minister himself.
As he campaigned for the NDA candidates in Madurai on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modis’ speech was filled with references to the region’s leaders and cultural icons. The star NDA activist also spoke about this vibrant community in the Saurashtra region, which has made Madurai their home for the past 400 years.
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