KOLKATA: There was a time when every self-respecting Bengali bride had a Baluchari sari tucked away in her cupboard. Created through a special two-part horizontal and vertical weaves, these silk saris seamlessly meshed into each family’s heirloom folklore. The traditional motifs -taken from the epics and religious texts - shone through generations.
But, faced with competition from its comparatively cheaper rival, the Benarasi silk, and changing tastes, Baluchari is in a bind. The designs typically drawn from Hindu texts, also seem to find no takers among Muslim women.
More importantly, the very socio-economic fabric of the Baluchari weavers is turning threadbare. A handful of mahajans now control 80 per cent of the trade, having rights to the coveted designs. They provide the weavers with the loom, yarn, designs and call the shots.
“A Baluchari loom costs about Rs1 lakh, making it impossible for the weavers to own one, pushing them into the clutches of the cartels,” said Prof Nihar Hazra, who has done much research on the Baluchari weavers.
Though production amounts to over Rs49 lakh per month, the weavers barely receive Rs16.40 per day,” says Hazra.
Balucharis command anything from Rs1,500-Rs30,000 from retail shelves. Taking note of the plight of the small weavers, the Bankura district administration has now decided to give Baluchari a nifty touch under the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojna (RSVY), a focused joint Centre-state developmental programme.
The National Institute of Fashion Technology (Nift) has been roped in to train the weavers in a software it has created for evolving newer designs.
“The designs were losing their appeal because they lacked variation,” says Partha Ghosh, officer in charge, RSVY.
There are 550 mills in Bishnupur and Panchmura with 200-odd spinning the coveted swarnachuris (gold coloured). Meena balucharis are comparatively less expensive.
Though many of the weavers may not have seen a computer in their lives, Nift will instruct them in phases. Bishnupur’s KG Engineering college will provide the infrastructural support.