October 29, 2019
Here’s a peep into the story of the silk shawl that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Chief designer M Dharmaraj talks about the days and nights that were spent on creating the flawless piece.
Known for their creativity and workmanship in silk weaving, it’s happy times for the Sirumugai weavers with orders flowing in for the festive season.
Sirumagai is a small weaving village that shot to international fame for weaving the handmade silk shawl that was gifted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his two-day visit to the country.
The chief designer of the embossed shawl, M Dharmaraj of Sri Ramalinga Sowdambgai Handloom Weaved Cooperative Society, shared with The Covai Post, his team’s experience of creating the embossed 2.25-metre-long shawl that weighed about 550 grams.
“We were excited when the Department of Handlooms and Textiles (DHT) placed an order with the society, and we were entrusted with this huge responsibility,” he said, adding, it was a confidential project.
Dharmaraj said the Xi-image embossed bright red shawl with zari embellishments was designed with a lot of focus and care. “Getting the portrait as it is on the shawl required a lot of work.”
“Initially, the shawl was woven in blue silk thread with golden zari, but it was rejected and we were instructed to do the whole thing in red, as it symbolises China’s flag,” he said. They had to start all over again, which they did with zeal.
The team worked 15 days day and night to complete the project.
“I even heard the clickety-clack of the loom in my sleep,” said Dharmaraj.
Manoj Kumar, one of the weavers, said, “Mistakes were out of question, and we put in immense concentration while weaving this shawl.”
“We took just two-hour breaks, and ate a couple of idlis at night. This is because too much food makes one sleepy, and we simply couldn’t afford to lose focus,” he spoke of their creation, his voice breaking down with emotion.
This is not the first celebrity work Sirumugai weavers have undertaken. Similar shawls with the embossed images of Mahatma Gandhi, Anna, Jayalalithaa and Modi have also been done by them.
Some of their outstanding works includes a wall hanging that has a tree and portrays the faces of eminent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru etc etched on its branches and Ashoka Chakra on its borders. It won an award in the international competition held for the handloom weaves abroad.
They have also knitted a sari called Mayilthogai, which has 164,492 colours in tiny checks.
They have traced 1,330 couplets of the Thirukkural in one single sari.
Located about 60 kilometers from Coimbatore, the village is home to 10,000 weaving families. The weavers here specialise in light weight soft silk saris, a material that is acquiring popularity in Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and also in some parts of North India. Donning vibrant colours with contrast patterns, this is a good alternative to ‘Kanjeevaram’ silk.
Undying love and passion for weaving and the pride they take in their works, encourages the weavers to continue practising this trade despite low wages. Unfortunately, they do not want to hand down this tradition to their children.
“We want them to be educated and get lucrative, white-collar jobs,” they say.
Uniform rows of the colourful yarn are transformed into woven wonders by these creators, and it can be only hoped that this artistry gets a new lease of life, perhaps through government support, and is passed down the generations.