In the local Silk Expo
It was a lazy Saturday morning. The morning newspaper had an innocuous pamphlet advertising a silk expo in the neighbourhood. Since we did not have any particular plans for the morning, we decided to visit and have a look.
A brief and leisurely walk later, we were outside the hall that housed the exhibition. It looked pretty plain on the outside and a few people were wandering in as we reached the place. A hastily constructed bamboo gate with a flex banner announced the silk expo. We went in with no major expectations…actually we felt our spirits dampen a little!
On entering however, we were very pleasantly surprised. Rows upon rows of neatly organised stalls greeted us. Each of them had a simple banner announcing the region or state they were from. It seemed as if the entire country had been assembled in that small space.
Silks and their names!
What really struck us, however, was the riot of colours in each of the stalls. Weavers from each and every corner of the country were there showcasing their silks. Chanderi, Banarasi, Bhagalpuri, Matka, Muga, Tussar , Kanjeevaram, Taant, Baluchari, and many more. Some of the silks were associated with the region they came from, some from the base silk on which they were woven and some from the typical kind of weave that embellished the silk.
Most of the weavers were very knowledgeable and passionate about their silk sarees. The gentleman from the Banarasi Silk counter explained in great detail about the making of the different types of banarasi sarees. He talked about the exclusive ones woven using real gold threads. I asked about the Tanchoi Banarasi and brocade Banarasi sarees which my mother had in her wedding collection. He gave a lot of details about them, adding that such sarees were gradually becoming rare now-a-days given the work involved and the resultant final cost. He used words like ‘Taana’ and ‘Baana’ (warp and weft) and I instantly connected them to compositions of Kabir that used these commonplace words to create hymns of outstanding luminosity.
Learning about Silks
In one corner was a counter set up by the Ministry of Textiles. The lady official took great interest in explaining to us the various aspects of silk farming or sericulture. It involves growing the silkworms, understanding their lifecycle and the process of extracting the silk threads from the cocoons of the silk worms. An elaborate process that involves boiling the cocoons, washing, extracting and dyeing the threads. While we were aware of the overall process, her detailed explanations acted as a wonderful refresher for us.
India is one of the largest producers of silk in the world. The main types of silks available in India are Mulberry silk, Tussar Silk, Eri and Muga silk. Mulberry silk is the premium quality silk, known for its softness. Tussar silk, with its slightly rough texture, is quite popular in the East, especially in Bengal and Odisha. Muga, also known as the golden silk, is produced in Assam. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Assam are among the main silk producing states.
We also met some young weavers from Bhagalpur in Bihar, West Bengal and Karnataka. Along with the traditional designs and motifs, they are experimenting with new designs and patterns. These were lighter weight sarees for younger women.
Engrossed as we were in so many stories and experiences, that we lost all track of time. Many hours later, when we came out of the expo, we came out richer with the knowledge of the rich textile heritage of our country . We felt confident that it would continue into the future given the active involvement of the younger generation of weavers.
Picture Credit: (a) Kalabhumi Museum, Bhubaneswar, (b) Govt of India, Ministry of Textile