High demand for Udupi saris, but few left to weave them

The demand for Udupi handloom sari, which enjoys the Geographical Indication (GI) tag,is on the rise, but the number of weavers in the temple town is declining.

The Udupi Primary Weavers’ Service Cooperative Society, which used to have around 500 weavers about 35 years ago, is now left with just 18, most of whom are above the age of 60.

“A weaver gets Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 a day if he weaves all day. But one can earn Rs. 500 to Rs. 600 a day doing other work. The children of weavers are in well-paying or professional jobs. The few weavers left are continuing with their family occupation,” said Sadananda Kanchan, managing director of the group.

The speciality of a Udupi handloom sari is that it is made of pure cotton, has art silk design on its border and ‘pallu’, and is very durable.

These saris are available in both 80×80 counts and 60×60 counts. The higher the count, the lower the weight of the sari. “We had two weavers who used to weave saris in 80×80 counts. Both have become old and are unable to weave now. A few who can weave saris in 80×80 counts may be there in other weavers’ societies. But now, we produce only 60×60 count saris,” said Mr. Kanchan.

Devaraya Shettigar, 70, who has been weaving saris for over 40 years, said a weaver has to work through the day and even then would make about Rs. 200. “But one could easily earn three times as much in other work in our district. The younger generation has taken advantage of government scholarships and got good jobs. Besides, handloom saris have to face competition from power loom saris,” he said.

The rise in demand for Udupi handloom saris in the past couple of years is owing to increased awareness and change in dress tastes. “A few years ago, only older women wore these saris. Now the younger lot too prefer them. But the demand has increased too late in the day,” said Mr. Kanchan.

According to him, the government should set aside 10 acres of land, train youth in weaving Udupi saris, provide them at least Rs. 500 a day, besides providing housing and taking an undertaking from them to commit to weaving for at least 20 years.

Other societies such as the Shivally Primary Weavers’ Service Cooperative Society, Brahmavar Primary Weavers’ Service Cooperative Society, and Basrur Primary Weavers’ Service Cooperative Society are also struggling to survive.

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