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Kancheepuram – Silk City with Thousand temples

Kancheepuram (Kanchi) district is situated on the Northern East Coast of Tamil Nadu and is adjacent Chennai. It is bounded on the west by Vellore and Thiruvannamalai district, on the north by Thiruvallur and Chennai district, on the south by Villuppuram district and on the east by Bay of Bengal. Kancheepuram is 75 kms away from Chennai and is well connected by a good network of roads. There are frequent bus services from Kanchi to Chennai, Bangalore and other places. The nearest airport is Chennai International Airport, just a 2 hours drive away. Kancheepuram can be reached from Chennai central railway station and Arakkonam railway station. The total population comes to around 30 lakh and around 30% are in the profession of weaving. The main castes in the weaving profession are Senguthan, Padmasali, Zorastrian and Senia Chettiar.

Kancheepuram was the historical capital of the Pallavas during 7th to 9th centuries. Kancheepuram is one of the seven sacred cities of India. It later became the citadel of the Cholas, Vijayanagar kings, the Muslims and the British. During Pallava times, it was briefly occupied by the Chalukyans of Badami (a city in Karnataka) and by the Rastrakutas when the battle fortunes of the Pallava kings reached low ebb. Many of the temples in Kancheepuram have beautiful sculptural works of Pallava and Chola periods. The remains of a few Buddhist stupas seen here bear the testimony that Buddhism also prevailed here for a while. One of the Acharya Peetas of Sri Adi Sankaracharya - The Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam is situated here. Sri Adi Sankaracharya was an Indian Philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta. His teachings are based on the unity of the soul and Brahman - non-dual Brahman, in which Brahman is viewed as without attributes. It has been a centre for Tamil learning and Culture for centuries and gives us a clear picture of the glorious Dravidian Heritage of the Vaishnavites and Shaivites.

Kancheepuram is also known as city of thousand temples. The main temples are as follows.

  • Kailasanathar Temple

Dedicated to Lord Siva, Kailasanatha is one of the earliest temples built by Rajasimha and his son Mahendra in the 8th century A.D. There are 58 small shrines situated round the main shrine. Fresco-style paintings adorn the inner walls of the shrines. Sandstone was used in the construction of this temple. It is the only temple at Kancheepuram in which original sculptures of the period of construction of the temple is not disturbed by the additions of sculptures of the Cholas and Vijayanagar rulers. Fragments of the eighth century murals which once graced the alcoves are a visible reminder of how magnificent the temple must have looked when it was first built.

  • Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple

Built in the 14th century by the Cholas, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi – Tripura Sundari or the universal mother goddess, the presiding deity of Kanchi. Here, the goddess is worshipped in the form of a Chakra placed in front of the idol. An image of Sankaracharya is also worshipped. Sri Sankaracharya is said to have defeated Buddhist philosophers in a debate here. It is one of the three holy places of Sakthi worship in India. The other two being at Madurai and Varanasi.

  • Varadarajar Temple

Varadarajar temple is a massive and impressive edifice. This is another Vishnu temple on Hastagiri rock at the end of the town. The Hundred-Pillar-hall erected during the Vijayanagar period in this temple is noted for its exquisite sculptures. The ornamental rings carved out of a single stone in a chain at the four corners are the special features of the hall. The riders on horseback, beautiful figures of Rathi (Goddess of Sex) and Manmatha (God of Love) and exquisite temple jewellery are other notable features. This temple provides a glimpse of a 16th century pillared pavilion with an exuberant workmanship.

  • Vaikunta Perumal Temple

This is one of the important Vishnu temples built by the Pallava king Nandhivarman Pallavamalla in the 7th Century A.D. This temple was built a few years after the construction of Kailasanathar temple. Numerous inscriptions are found in this temple relating to the wars between Pallavas and Chalukyas. Besides these inscriptions, the battle scenes of the Pallava Empire with Gangas Empire and Chalukyas Empire are depicted in bas-relief around the main Prakaram (corridor).

Apart from its temples, this small town is also known for its thriving handloom industry. Kancheepuram is also known as Silk City, since the main profession of the people living in and around is weaving silk sarees. The silk weavers of Kanchi settled more than 400 years ago and have given it an enviable reputation as the producer of the best silk sarees in world. Kancheepuram is popular for its famous silk sarees with renowned craft works a traditional home industry

The specialty of Kancheepuram Saree is that in 1.2 inches of warp frame there will be 60 holes in which there will be 240 threads in Warp and around 250 to 300 threads in the Wept which gives strength to the saree. Kancheepuram sarees are known for its weight because of this. A regular Kancheepuram saree weighs around 600 grams. The width of a regular saree will be of 45 inches, but width of Kancheepuram saree will be of around 48 inches. Silk used to weave Kancheepuram sarees come from Bangalore, Dharmavaram, Hosur and Coimbatore. There are around 50 silk twisting factories.

The zari used in Kancheepuram saree is original gold and silver. In 1 Kg of zari there will be approximately 50%+ silver, around 5 -51/2 Gms of gold and balance silk. First silk is rolled with silver and then gold is coated. But now only 420 to 470 gram of silver and 3 to 3.5 Gms of gold is there in the zari. The zari used in Kancheepuram saree comes from Surat in Gujarat. Only a handful of families have the knowledge of zari making which is a big challenge in getting zari.

Kancheepuram sarees are loaded in pavvu and one pavvu will make 3 sarees which will take around 45 days to complete weaving. Weavers get around `3000/- per pavvu and the rate differs on complicated designs. Kancheepuram sarees are most sought for in South Indian weddings. Usually a Kancheepuram saree costs from `5500 onwards. The weavers are in this profession by tradition. New generation is not interested in continuing this profession.

Dyeing: - First the yarn is washed and then dipped in the required colour which is in a boiler and the worker goes on turning the yarn so that the colour is evenly mixed in the yarn. The most important aspect in this process is the mixing of colours which will give unique and durable colour to the fabric. Then it is again washed and dried. These yarns are then starched. Starching of the yarn is where the colour in the yarn will get more permanent nature and gives the yarn a polished look. The starched yarn is brought from the merchants by master weavers and is distributed to weavers. (Master weavers are also weavers but they will be having a group of weavers under them). Then it is turned in a charka. The turning in charka is where the yarn will become thread, which is used for wept. The loading of yarn in warp is the next process. Then yarn is loaded into the looms. The length of yarn which is loaded as warp is known as Pavvu.

Weaving: - The looms used in Kancheepuram are mostly Frame looms. Frame looms are looms which are fixed in a frame and looms peddle will be at the floor level and the weaver will sit on stool and use his hands and legs to weave.

To create designs in the sarees, first the design is been made in a computer and then that design is punched into thick cards and then this card is loaded into the Jacard in the loom, so that according to the designs and the holes in the card, the needles will pull and put the threads which will create designs in the saree while weaving. Jacard is a box like structure at the top of the loom which contains needles which will read the punch card of designs.

The weavers are into this profession traditionally. None of the weavers are trained but they have acquired this unique skill hereditarily from their ancestors. The art of weaving is passed on by way of vision and practice. There are no theoretical explanations or training for weaving. But unfortunately due to the low wages the traditional weavers are opting out of this industry. New generation is not interested in this profession due to the low wages prevailing in the industry.

The handlooms in Kancheepuram are famous for the softness and durability. The handloom fabrics are soft and comfortable to wear and are suitable for all climates. Kancheepuram looms mainly manufacture silk sarees.

The weavers demand that only if a rehabilitation package similar to the package which was offered by the government to the farmers, who have lost crops, is provided, and then only handloom industry can survive. The weavers state that only if government also takes the responsibility to support the handloom industry, then only the industry will last or else the end of handloom industry is not far from near. The high cost of handloom fabrics is also limiting the marketability.  Even though the Government of Tamilnadu is doing its best for the marketing of the handloom fabrics made by the weavers of Tamilnadu through Co-optex, the weavers feel that it is not sufficient for the survival of handloom sector. Co-optex is a co-operative society for procuring handlooms product from the weavers and sell these handloom products through its outlets.


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