Handloom Ilkal Saree and the Tradition at Stake

With power loom industry overpowering small-scale handloom sector in rural Karnataka, the weaving art is at high risk. Read the full report on the condition of the handloom weavers of the unique Ikal saree.

Shashi Kumar Sinnur, a 29-year-old Ilkal saree weaver from Hanamsagar, Karnataka worked in Handloom for several years, but was forced to shift to power loom after the downfall of their family handloom business.

“The new generation is leaving the handloom job and moving to another occupation. In a handloom machine, four people work together but don’t earn enough to feed their family. That’s why even I left handloom machine work and started working in power loom industry,” Shashi said.

He is not the only one who has parted his ways from the handloom industry. Many Ilkal saree handloom weavers are going through a very tough phase after the Power loom industry taking over their business. The prices of the raw material of saree have increased rapidly, but the price of the final product, that is saree, has remained constant.

All the burden eventually comes down on the weaver since the raw material price is increasing day by day but and the selling price of saree remains the same.

The journey of Handloom Ilkal Saree

On 16th October 2006, Ilkal saree was registered under a Geographical tag. This saree was earlier famous in Maharashtra and slowly it shifted to the neighbouring villages surrounding Ilkal town of Bagalkot district. From there, it further shifted to Dotiyal, Hanumsagar villages of Koppal District. Later, these places became famous for their handloom craft. However, the handloom weavers continue to struggle to earn a decent living.

As per a report in The Hindu, “The number of handloom industry has declined from 40,486 in 2009-10 to 29,377 today after the coming of power loom industry. The power loom Industry has increased from 60,000 in 2009-10 to 1.20 lakhs now.”

This is the scenario of the Ilkal village of Bagalkot. But the villages in Koppal district are in different conditions. In Dotiyal village, there is only one power loom industry, nine powers loom machines in one and two power loom machines in another. The cost of one power machine is Rs 1,20,000 which is expensive and many villagers can’t afford to buy one.

“When I started working, there were six women in my house for handloom work, now only three women are left. All my kids used to work too, but now everyone is opting education over this work. Before me, my mother in law, my sister in law, all of them were into this work,” said Lakshmi Bai, a handloom weaver.

Lakshmi learned the art of making handloom sarees from her husband. She has been making beautiful Ilkal sarees from last 16 years. “It’s really hard to make one saree. The thread is really thin and is not clearly visible,” Lakshmi shares.

She added that weavers do not get enough money for the hard work that goes into making one saree. This is one of the reasons why they don’t want to continue this.

“I feel peace doing this because of its good for me. This work gives me satisfaction,” she said.

Why Handloom?

Compared to the power loom, handloom sarees are much better in quality and can be used for about 100 years. The handloom sarees’ colour also doesn’t fade away for a long period.

The handloom weavers claim that the way sarees are made in power loom can’t compete with the quality of handloom sarees. The power loom machine can’t provide a certain typeof embroidery.

At least two people are needed to work for five hours every day to make one handloom saree. Lakshmi and other women like her not just weave the saree but also stick it and make it ready for sale.

“Our generation is the last generation in this field. My kids don’t want to work in this profession, we have sent them for studies. After me, my kids are not going to work,” said Lakshmi.

In the power loom machine, two to four sarees can be made in one day while in the handloom machine, it takes four days to make one single saree.

The handloom machine requires large space. In the same space, four power loom machines can be set up. Powerloom also gives more profit since the production is high.

However, power loom is costly and requires an initial investment of Rs 1,20,000. After setting up the weaver needs to pay Rs. 30,000 for electricity supply on a monthly basis.

This becomes expensive for many weavers who can barely afford their basic livelihood.

“Our caste has been doing this work past 40 years and we call it “Kulkasbu”. We study less so don’t have scope to get a job that’s why we are doing this work continuously from past many generations. I go to the factory at eight the morning and return at six in the evening. Once I get married, I won’t allow my kids to do this work since we don’t get any profit from this,” said Sashi Kumar.

The road ahead

The Ilkal saree got its geographical indication for its craft made by the handloom machine and that machine is dying slowly. The geographical tag should be converted into a value proposition tag, which is the symbol of origin and quality.

Out of 341 Geographical Indication Tag, Illkal saree is the one which got this tag. The original handwork on the saree is taken away by the power loom industry. The handloom craft can be preserved by paying more amount to the handloom weaver for the saree.

H. N. Chillal, Bank Manager of Ilkal Bank Co-Operative Bank Ltd said: “If the weavers are doing training from Government Textile Department, then they receive a certificate from the government. In this training process, the weaver is paid a stipend.

In many families, children learn from their parents and don’t get training from them. Once they get training from their parents, they don’t get the certificate. That’s why they don’t get any loans from the bank and help from the government. If they have a certificate, they will get help from the government. The power loom Industry is also not working that much. arlier they used to get subsidies, now they are not getting. About 10 years ago, the weavers used to get eight to 10 percent subsidy would also easily get a loan, which has become difficult now.”

This story was brought to you by the support of  A Green Venture.

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About the author

Soma Pal