The tale of a Benarasi Sari


These weavers are working on both punch card jacquard looms and the old style of brocade weaving using tedious string tie ups. The man on the high bench behind the loom does his part of the patterning by tying up the appropriate warp threads in the correct sequence. He has a completely complicated and detailed job, managing the 3500 or so warp threads! The man on the bench manages the many spools of different color areas in the brocade, as well as operating the peddles and throwing the shuttle to weave the ground cloth.

This old style of patterning was replaced by jacquard machines with punch card operation. Heavy cardboard punch cards are fed through a mechanism that lifts the appropriate threads, allowing a weaver to work alone to create very complex patterning. These skills have been traditionally passed down by masters to their sons and charges. Weaving, because of it's low status and pay is no longer a sought after profession for the coming generations, and many Benaras weaving families are ending their traditions with the death of their elders. The weavers are living hand to mouth for the most part, and can't afford to invest in materials themselves and sit on the products until their eventual sale. Most work as independent contractors for a guaranteed amount.

It is impossible to keep a craft alive and thriving without masters dedicated to innovation and excellence, and a cultural and economic environment of support. In recent years Varanasi sarees have retained their mystique as a perfect wedding sari, but are not so much in fashion, so the industry is definitely in a down phase.

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