A Culture in Transition

2018 | Anakaputhur

The weavers’ lives and evolution in Anakaputhur is a paradigm of the conflict between craft and industrial sectors—one of the biggest problems in a country like India with its deep roots in tradition and craft culture. The constant overlap of style and the consequent demotion of identity of the crafts, affects the artisans’ livelihood. Their skills get undermined and their work loses its value. This research document is a study of the weaving cluster to help solve these problems and find a balance between tradition and change.

This document tells the story of a small weaving community in Chennai with a hazy past going back to when the region was famous for the weaving of Madras Checks. The Real Madras Handkerchief (RMHK)—a square cloth containing patterned checks— has had a colourful and rich past and has played a big role in how the history of Madras has shaped itself. The lives of the weavers in this suburb have changed considerably over the years and my aim was to understand this change and transition. The main objectives were: to observe the traditional skills and abilities that have endured over time, to find out the source of the weavers’ inspiration today and to assess the future of the craft and community.
The weavers of Anakaputhur specifically catered to the Nigerian market by exporting the Real Madras Handkerchiefs (RMHK) to the Kalabari tribe.

The weavers who had been familiar with weaving only the RMHK, had to essentially rewire their entire operation, right from the starting point of sourcing raw materials for their survival. A small group of weavers, headed by Sekhar, engage in the weaving of plant fibres in Anakaputhur today.

The new techniques were introduced to the weavers when students from KR College of Arts & Science, Kovilpatti, initiated a project in collaboration to observe the practical use of the blended cotton-banana fibre. Sekhar took the initiative to take this learning forward and use it as an opportunity to revive weaving in the community. He started experimenting and learning about other such resources that could be tapped. He is now a world record holder in the Limca Book of Records for weaving a single saree with 25 different natural fibres in 2011.

The study on this community becomes a good resource and example for many stakeholders. Governments working on new policies can realise the shortcomings and areas where the current policies fail to reach the people. Institutions and organisations working for the welfare of the craft sector can realise the need for their immediate intervention in these areas and the need to provide raw materials from non-mechanised sources to truly imbibe the values of ‘handmade’ and ‘ecofriendliness’ in the handloom sector.

Exerpt from the research document