Buying silk at the Silk Mark Expo not only makes you happy, it is also your way of supporting weavers in remote places . So, you now have a watertight reason to go there and shop

You may or may not buy the sari, but be sure to visit the stall belonging to the Maharashtra Small Scale Industries Development Corporation Ltd. Take a look at the Paithani sari that takes its name from the small taluk of Paithan on the banks of the Godavari.

They say weavers have been weaving these beautiful silk saris for more than a thousand years. W.B Tayade tenderly unfolds a sari to give us a better look. It is shimmery white with gold buttas and has a colourful border with traditional motifs (of peacocks, paisley, parrots, lotus, and so on). “Rs. 44,000 madam”, he says. This particular sari has taken them more than six months to weave because the fine workmanship requires intense concentration and the weaver can’t work at it for more than three to four hours a day on it. While once they used zari of pure gold, now they also use silver. Tayade’s stall is one of 50 that make up the Silk Mark Expo (an initiative of the Central Silk Board, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India). The weavers come from 13 States. And weavers from Andhra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal seem to be there in great numbers.

No middlemen

Says T. Siva Kumar, Assistant Director, Central Silk Board: “We have identified manufacturing clusters with small weavers and artisans in remote areas and provided them a platform to sell their work directly to the customers. There are no middlemen involved.”

That is the nicest thing about the exhibition. Many of the stalls are manned by weavers themselves. And they are more than happy to share the finer aspects of their craft with you. Such as Prosenjit Das from Santiniketan who has a bewildering array of kaantha saris in his stall called Madhabi.

One stands out. It is in a rich cream background with the kaantha stitch running right through in lines of blue, pink, green, yellow, red….It is elegantly simple. Prosenjit pulls it out and explains that this is the basic Nakshi kaantha, the kind traditionally used to make baby quilts. He also shows you intricately embroidered dupattas in silk and tells you how you could also attach them to a plain silk sari and create a resplendent pallu!

Siva Kumar says the R&D department of the Central Silk Board has come up with innovative ideas in order to suit modern requirements. And indeed, some of the saris are perfect for today’s woman. While there are heavily embellished saris with lot of zari work, etc, there are many more that are more user-friendly and wearable and not just to be hung up in cupboards and admired from a distance. An example of the traditional and modern are the light-weight Kanjeevarams in Mallikarjuna Silks in stall number 32. They come in jewel tones and the only embellishment they have is a tissue pallu. Absolutely stunning.

Thanks to initiatives such as this one by the Central Silk Board and the Silk Mark Organisation of India, we get to see such fine craftsmanship from all corners of the country. Not just saris, the expo also has garments for men and accessories such as silk purses. There are silk fabric s as well.

According to Siva Kumar, the Silk Mark Expo has been happening annually since 2008. Special incentives have been given to tribal areas. “A lot of Naxals are turning to silk weaving. It is labour intensive and the State governments support such initiatives. Through such expos, there is a transfer of wealth from the urban areas to the rural. Transactions worth as much as Rs. 35 crore take place,” he says.

Fifteen expos are held all over India. And a lot of the woven silk products such as hand knotted silk carpets are wholly exported. (There are free educational CDs on the silk weaving process that are available on request from the organisers).

The Silk Mark Expo is on till October 7 at the Suguna Kalyana Mandapam on Avanashi Road between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. The entry fee is Rs. 20. There is parking and credit cards are accepted.