GI TAG PRODUCT – KANCHEEVARAM SILKS AND SAREES
In 2005, the Government of Tamil Nadu applied for Geographical Indication for Kanchipuram Saris.The Government of India has recognised it as a geographical indication officially since the year 2005-06.
The Kanchipuram silk sari is a type of silk sari made in the Kanchipuram region in Tamil Nadu, India. These saris are worn as bridal and special occasion saris by most women in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. It has been recognised as a geographical indication by the Government of India from 2005–2006.As of 2008, an estimated 5,000 families were involved in sari production. There are 25 silk and cotton yarn industries and 60 dyeing units in the region.The occasion of marriage for a South Indian bride is incomplete without a Kanchipuram saree in her trousseau. Among the wide range of silk sarees available in India, from the Benares silk saree to the Patola from Patan, the Kanchipuram saree holds a special position. The strength and magnificence of the Kanchipuram saree make it one of the favourites among ladies all over the world.
These sarees have borders and pallu in a contrasting colour with heavy gold weaving. Kanchipuram sarees traditionally had designs representing simple gold lines or gold dots. The designs on these sarees were inspired by the designs in South Indian temples or natural elements like birds, leaves, etc. Some of the best-known patterns in Kanchipuram saree borders are Rudraksham (representing Rudraksha beads), Gopuram (representing temples), Mayilkan (Peacock eye) and Kuyilkan(Nightingale’s eye). Keeping in view the changing trends, Kanchipuram silk sarees have undergone a transformation. Even Kanchipuram designer silk sarees are available, with embroidery or crystal work done on the traditional silk saree. One of the latest trends in these sarees is using ancient paintings and the images of gods and goddesses in the pallu.In an authentic Kanchipuram silk saree, the body of the saree and the pallu are woven separately and then stitched together.
The distinctive weaving technique of a Kanchipuram silk saree uses three single threads of silk yarn along with zari, that is, silk threads dipped in liquid gold and silver. The mulberry silk comes from the state of Karnataka and the gold zari comes from Surat. In spite of Kanchipuram’s becoming a world-famous silk industry centre, the town does not manufacture silk or any other raw material used in the production of a silk saree.The town of Kanchipuram is well known as Silk City because most of its population is dependent upon the silk industry. Skilled and semi-skilled weavers from neighbouring towns like Salem, Arani, Coimbatore and Kumbakonam are also involved in the production of silk sarees.India is the world’s second-largest producer of silk, contributing roughly 18% of the total world production of silk. In India, silk production is concentrated mainly in South India, Assam, and West Bengal to a certain extent. Kanchipuram is a significant producer of silk in South India.Initially, this industry was dominated by a handful of merchants who used to procure sarees from the local weavers and sell them.
This system was disadvantageous to the weavers, who did not receive just compensation for their labour.In the year 1949, the first co-operative society of weavers was formed, called the Kamatchi Amman Society. This society consisted of 79 weavers, who were provided financial support and several other benefits. Over the course of time, more and more cooperative societies were formed. Today, there are about 24 co-operative societies, most of which are managed by the Tamil Nadu government. Some of the reputed co-operative societies of weavers are the Kamatchi Amman Silk Society, Murugan Silk Society, Varadharaja Swamy Silk Society and others. The Kamatchi Amman Society now has about 2000 members and is one of the biggest. Totally, there are about 50,000 weavers who work through various co-operative societies.There are around 60,000 silk looms in operation in Kanchipuram.
The yearly turnover of the town exceeds Rs. 200 crores, with exports of approximately Rs. 3 crores. According to experts, the exports have not risen to their full potential as the demand for sarees outside India is negligible. Product diversification is being considered by the industry, which would definitely lead to a rise in exports. Certain units have started weaving churidar sets. Some units are considering the production of furnishings.Extensive research has been undertaken to make the production process technologically sound, faster and better. The use of computers in creating designs is on the rise.With increasing consumer preferences for low-priced, light-weight sarees, simple designs, and light colours, many changes have been incorporated into the Kanchipuram saree.
Weavers have started blending silk and cotton to produce the body of the saree. Sometimes, the body of the saree is made of cotton and the border of silk. Weaving borders using a combination of silk and polyester is also undertaken by some weavers. The gold and silver content in the zari is also being reduced. This brings down the cost of the saree to a great extent. These procedures have adversely affected the reputation of the Kanchipuram silk sarees and are affecting their sales in a negative manner. The Tamilnadu government, TIFAC (Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council) and Tamilnadu Zari have jointly established a testing unit for zari in Kanchipuram, which checks the content of gold and silver in zari. This facility can be used by both co-operatives and individuals by paying a nominal fee.The Weavers Service Centre, which is a unit of the Ministry of Textiles in Kanchipuram, provides training and consultancy services in design and modernisation.Factors such as stock piling up and a decline in working capital have now led theco-operative societies to offer discounts on saree prices. The government also offers a rebate on these sarees. Moreover, these societies also receive cash credit from the Union Government.
These cooperative societies are now beginning to advertise their products in an attempt to promote sales and reduce stock accumulation.The Central Geographical Indication Registry approved the application for Geographical Indication Registration of the Kanchipuram silk saree by the Tamil Nadu government. As per these norms, 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. Legal action can be taken against anyone selling duplicate sarees as a Kanchipuram saree. 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. This industry has recently been passing through a crisis on account of the availability of fake Kanchi silk sarees.The government has undertaken a campaign to abolish child labour in the Kanchipuram silk industry. Under this campaign, committees have been formed to scrutinise saree-producing units. Some loom owners have been charged with making use of child labour. To discourage the use of child labour, the government has developed equipment that performs the job of a helper.The Kanchipuram silk industry has managed to survive many highs and lows and has made its presence felt internationally. However, the biggest challenges faced by it today are undertaking modifications to suit changing customer preferences, the use of modern technology, and product diversification.
The saris are woven from pure mulberry silk thread. The pure mulberry silk and the zari used in the making of Kanchipuram saris come from South India. Three shuttles are used to weave a Kanchipuram sari. While the weaver works on the right side, his aide works on the left side shuttle. The border colour and design are usually quite different from the body. If the Mundi (the hanging end of the sari) has to be woven in a different shade, it is first separately woven and then delicately joined to the sari. The part where the body meets the Mundi is often denoted by a zigzag line. In a genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, the body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the sari tears, the border will not detach. What differentiates the Kanchivaram silk saris from the others.
Saris are distinguished by their wide contrast borders. Temple borders, checks, stripes, and floral (buttas) are traditional designs found. The patterns and designs in the Kanchipuram saris were inspired by images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds, and animals. These are saris with richly woven mundhi depicting Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and epics from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kanchipuram saris vary widely in cost depending upon the intricacy of work, colours, pattern, the material used like zari (gold thread), etc. The silk is also known for its quality and craftsmanship, which has helped earn its name.
Kanchipuram saris woven with heavy silk and gold cloth are considered to be special and are worn on occasions and festivities.