‘Tourists prefer it whereas locals are ignorant of its worth’

Madurai takes pride in Sungudi, the traditional textiles unique to the temple city.

‘Madurai Sungudi’ was the first product from Madurai to be conferred the Geographical Indication (GI) mark by the Geographical Indications Registry in 2006.

Though the sari is a source of Madurai’s pride, the Sungudi production and manufacturing units here are plagued by several issues such as the lack of patronage and shortage of labourers.

The Sungudi units are kept alive by less than 300 artisans and weavers of Sourashtra community, who migrated from Gujarat and settled in the city a few centuries ago.

“Almost all those who are involved in the ‘Madurai Sungudi’ production belong to Sourashtra community. The making of Sungudi textiles requires a lot of patience and is completely dependent on manual labour. The tech-savvy youngsters of the community are now attracted to the information technology sector, putting the future of our units in doubt,” says P.S. Motilal, secretary of Madurai Sungudi Manufacturing and Sales Association.

Getting workforce for the tying and dying units has become a difficult task, say the manufacturers.

“It takes 10 to 15 days to manufacture a traditional Sundgudi sari. The womenfolk from our families run the tying units and we outsource the saris for dying,” says A.K. Ramesh, secretary of the Federation of Tie and Dye Associations (FTDA).

Sustaining in the competitive market is not an easy task for the Sungudi manufacturers and they are consistently introducing innovative and creative patterns in their textiles. “The traditional Sungudi sari was hand-woven, had single dot patterns and dyed with natural dyes. We have introduced Sungudi saris with dot patterns in two different colours, but with chemical dyes,” says A.R. Vasumathi of a tying unit.

As more efforts are put into manufacturing, the prices of the Sungudi textiles shoot up. To overcome this challenge, block printing, wax printing and screen printing patterns have been introduced, she adds. Shirts of natural dyes and with the traditional Sungudi patterns are a hit in North Indian states, says P.S. Ravikumar, a manufacturer. Sungudi salwars, shawls, bags, bedspreads and pillow covers were introduced recently to capture the market, he adds. However, the biggest challenge the manufacturers face is the lack of knowledge about the value of the traditional Sungudi among the Madurai residents.

“The modern printing methods require lesser time when compared to the traditional methods, and the textiles produced using modern technology are priced at least three times lesser than the traditional Sungudi textiles. Because of the price factor, Sungudi saris with modern patterns are the most preferred by the people in Madurai and the traditional Sungudi is almost non-existent in the showrooms here,” says Mr.Ramesh.

Foreign tourists and North Indians prefer traditional Sungudi textiles, whereas the locals are completely ignorant of their worth, rues P.K. Madhanlal, another manufacturer. Maa Madurai Potruvom celebrations created an awareness of the Sungudi textiles in several colleges. The government handicraft and handloom units should come forward and patronise Sungudi to revive its glory, says Mr.Ramesh.

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