Life & Style

Wedding saris with couple portraits: Sirumugai’s experiments with silk

A newly-wed in the sari

A newly-wed in the sari | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“I made a little story for the couple,” M Dharmaraj tells us, opening out a maroon silk sari he designed. His daughter-in-law wore it on her wedding day, and Dharmaraj has preserved it at his home office in Sirumugai, a silk hub 38 kilometres from Coimbatore. The sari is what is popularly known as the ‘Manamakkal’ or bride-and-groom sari. Its defining feature is a large portrait of the couple woven in golden zari across the pallu. Dharmaraj has added special elements to his daughter-in-law’s sari by incorporating several portraits of the couple so as to tell a story.

“I arranged their pictures in a sequence that depicts their life together,” he smiles. The panel is on the sari’s border and the story starts with the bride all decked up, waiting for her big day. She is then joined by her husband, and in the next photo, they exchange rings, following which they are all smiles. “I did it as a surprise,” recalls the 59-year-old. The sari, a glittering beauty with silver brocade work all over, cost ₹ 1,35,000.

Weaver A Shanmugasundaram at the electronic jacquard loom in Ramalinga Sowdambigai Weavers’ Society

Weaver A Shanmugasundaram at the electronic jacquard loom in Ramalinga Sowdambigai Weavers’ Society | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

Sirumugai rose to fame in 2019 for a tomato-red silk shawl that a weaver from the town wove for Chinese President Xi Jinping, to be gifted to him during his visit to Mamallapuram. However, the town, which is home to around 5,000 weaver families, has been trying out unique experiments on saris right from 2007.

Watch | Sirumugai’s unique wedding saree

It all began with R Radhakrishnan, the then manager of the Sirumugaipudur Sri Ramalinga Sowdambigai Weavers’ Cooperative Society. He initiated the Mayilthogai sari, which featured over 1,64,492 colours as tiny checks; and another that carried all the 1,330  Thirukkural couplets. The latter won a National Award, which was presented to the weaver in New Delhi. “When we could weave even the Kural on a sari, I thought why not try out portraits,” says Radhakrishnan, who is now retired.

Designer M Dharmaraj, the man behind these creations

Designer M Dharmaraj, the man behind these creations | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

This was in 2012 and Radhakrishnan mulled over the idea for a year, and decided to go ahead with it in 2013, when his son R Arun Babu was to get married. He roped in designer Dharmaraj and got to work: the sari was to feature the couple’s portrait in golden zari in the pallu. “We took over a month to finish it,” recalls Radhakrishnan, “Given that back then computers had not yet entered our field, it was quite a task.” They had to do everything by hand, including creating patterns on the punching cards that produced the pattern.

The sari turned out to be a stunner. “We displayed it the night before the wedding at the wedding hall for the guests, most of whom were from the weaving community,” says Radhakrishnan. The sari is preserved as a sample at the Society’s office today. From then on, orders poured in at Sirumurai for the Manamakkal sari from across India, as well as abroad. “This includes places such as Chennai, Tiruchy, and Kanyakumari, apart from Andhra Pradesh, the US, and Singapore,” explains Dharmaraj.

Designer Dharmaraj designs all of them on his computer, and the saris are woven by weaver A Shanmugasundaram at the electronic jacquard loom in Ramalinga Sowdambigai Weavers’ Society’s office.

“The saris start at ₹65,000 and can go up to ₹2 lakh depending on the pattern,” explains Shanmugasundaram. The couple can send the photo of their choice and Dharmaraj designs the sari around it. “I usually suggest they go with maroon, a colour that will show-off the woven portrait in all its glory,” adds Dharmaraj.

Sirumugai has master weavers and designers who are experts at weaving these saris

Sirumugai has master weavers and designers who are experts at weaving these saris | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

Walk into any stop at Sirumugai to place an order for the bride-and-groom sari, and it will end up at Dharmaraj’s table, who will then send it to the Society’s specialised loom to be woven. After a lull during the pandemic-induced lockdowns and low-key weddings, he says that orders have begun to come in again. According to the Society’s manager N Visalakshi, they have received five big orders over the last one year alone.

Dharmaraj’s second son D Gopinath is also in the silk business. He helped design his wife G Lavanya’s wedding sari. “I loved it,” grins Lavanya. “It was exquisite. Of course, I had to drape it such that the pallu was spread out to show the design.”

Dharmaraj admits that a grand wedding sari is a display of wealth. Which is why people spend a lot of money on them, despite the sari being worn perhaps just once or twice in a bride’s lifetime. “But they benefit the weavers,” he adds. “They get to make more for weaving saris with intricate workmanship.” For, in the end, everything is in their hands. “Several days’ work for something that may cost over a lakh,” says Dharmaraj, wryly. “I sometimes wonder: all this for just a sari?”

Sirumugaipudur Sri Ramalinga Sowdambigai Weavers’ Cooperative Society can be reached at 04254 252022.


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Printable version | Jun 9, 2022 2:13:52 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/wedding-saris-with-couple-portraits-sirumugais-experiments-with-silk/article65421909.ece