Two weavers from Sirumugai, V. Gunasekaran and N. Tyagarajan, travel to the capital to receive the National Award for weaving. K. Jeshi reports

A blue kora cotton sari lies out on a mat. Floral motifs in zari and a maroon silk border make it striking. Embossed star and diamond designs beautify it further. This unique weave has won V. Gunasekaran, a weaver from Moolathurai village in Sirumugai, a national award. Gunasekaran sits cross-legged at the mat, unfolds the sari, shows off its beauty in all glory, and smiles warmly. “The award comes as recognition for the 40 years I have spent weaving,” says the 55-year-old weaver.

In Alangombu village, weaver N. Tyagarajan is also full of smiles as he displays his ‘Thiraiseelai’, a wall hanging woven in pure silk. There’s a central tree motif in zari that has the faces of 10 national leaders on its branches. Asoka Chakra motifs make up the border. “I take up every new design as a challenge and I am happy to get the award,” says Tyagarajan, a weaver for 25 years.

Both Gunasekaran and Tyagarajan are a part of the 529 weavers who are attached to the Alangombu Devanga Handloom Weaver’s Co-operative Society in Sirumugai, about 60 km off Coimbatore. The society supplies the raw material, such as the cotton and silk threads to the weavers, who in turn weave saris out of them. “It’s a proud moment as the designs have made it to the top from hundreds of entries,” says R. Chandrasekaran, manager of the Society. “Every year, about 500 different designs are sent to the Weavers Service Centre in Chennai. They shortlist about 10 designs, and send them to the office in Delhi, where they select the winning design.”

The loom at Gunasekaran’s home goes clak clak as he weaves an embossed design. “Such designs are often done on power looms. In handloom weaving, I had to paddle the loom 22,000 times to create the designs.”

Along with the floral buttas, pallu and border designs, the embossed designs are punched on additional jacquard boards. It burdens the loom by another 25 kilos. “We have to spend an extra Rs. 5,000 for putting the additional boards. In the case of silk saris, we can weave about 100 silk saris in embossed design with this arrangement, while in the case of Kora cotton, the threads are thinner and we restrict it to just 40 saris. Cotton weaving is therefore risky and expensive. The kora sari, including its border, has about 9,300 fine kora lines and it involves meticulous weaving. One single mistake damages the design,” Gunasekaran explains. It takes them four days to weave a kora cotton sari. When he breaks for food, his wife G. Chitra takes over. Every member in the family plays a role. “It’s a 16-hour day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” he says.

N. Tygarajan started off with weaving the achada worn by the Baduga community, before moving on to saris. He also wove Kalakshetra designs in the Kanchipuram method of weaving. He holds the award-winning wall hanging and points out the faces of Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Sasthri, Jawaharlal Nehru, Balagangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdu Jaffer Khan, Netaji, Bhagat Singh, Dr. S.Radhakrishnan and Indira Gandhi. They are easily recognisable. “Finalising the design took about one month. It involved both the designer and the appraiser,” he says.

He says the award is motivating and gives them an opportunity to showcase their skills. “The thickness of the silk and the zari matters. A total of 5,175 jacquard cards were used to punch the designs and 480 jacquard boxes, and 120 jacquard hooks were attached to the loom to weave.” Tyagarajan’s 80-inch wall hanging is priced at Rs. 3, 200 while the embossed design saris are upwards of Rs. 2,400.

Lack of a standard income worries the weavers. And, that is one of the reasons why the younger generation opt for careers in engineering, IT and software. “My daughters are not interested in weaving. However, they show interest in designing,” he says.

Chandrasekaran says a weaver makes about 10 saris in a month and gets approximately Rs. 6,000 as wages. The society provides pension benefits and a number of security and savings schemes, and health schemes. He hopes the younger generation return to their roots in the future, and take up weaving.

N. Tyagarajan and V. Gunasekaran, awardees for the year 2009 and 2010 respectively, will receive the National Award from the President, Pranab Mukherjee, on November 9 in New Delhi.