Soft cloth, bright colours, distinct dots... it’s Sungudi

Sungudi sarees on display for the upcoming Deepavali festival in Madurai.

Sungudi sarees on display for the upcoming Deepavali festival in Madurai.

For ardent lovers of sari, the famous Sungudi cotton is a geographical indicator of Madurai in the world of Indian textiles. The cloth is soft; the dyes are bright and the dots distinct, thus enticing several takers. With the onset of festival season, buyers of Sungudi saris have sharply risen, says textile businessmen in Madurai.

T.N. Venkatesh, Managing Director of Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, popularly known as Co-optex, says handwoven saris are particularly in demand. “We get many orders for this range. The traditional dots are largely preferred, though it costs time, effort and money. The hand-painted wax-resistant designs and motifs are more in demand,” he says.

The price of handwoven six yard saris range from ₹800 to ₹1,500 as pure cotton combed yarn is used. Powerlooms sell saris for far cheaper rates. These saris usually range from ₹300 to ₹500. The units also make eight, nine-and-a-half and 10.5 yard saris. To appeal to younger buyers, there are salwar materials, stoles and dupattas too.

A total of 15 designs have been introduced in the Sungudi range to provide variety to customers as there is year-round demand, says a senior executive at the Madurai division of Co-optex. Co-optex’s target this season for all varieties, including cotton and silk saris, has increased from ₹14.28 crore in 2016 to ₹16 crore this year for six districts - Madurai, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Theni, Dindigul and Virudhunagar.

Despite this rise, there are far more takers for the cheaper powerloom Sungudis, says R.S.J. Sivakumar, owner of Ranee Saris RVS Tex. “There are people who place bulk orders for a single pattern. Many walk in and buy this variety as there is value for money,” he says. The sales volume triples during Deepavali season and this producer sells about 2,000 saris a quarter.

“People fail to see the quality and longevity of the handwoven Sungudi,” says K. R. Ramkumar, manager of Madurai’s Thiruvalluvar Weavers’ Co-op Production and Sales Society. Each dot of Madurai Sungudi sari is hours of labour for those who weave and others who dye the cloth. Weavers from Valluvar Colony barely make ends meet as they get only ₹420 per sari. The process takes two days and the weavers are more than 70 years old.

The younger generation has left this tradition due to lack of belief in the future of Sungudi sari and fund crunch. The number of society weaving looms has come down to about 25 in Madurai. “There were 50 units in and around Madurai. Now we have only about five,” says T. M. Kumaran.

“The next five to 10 years maybe the last of this tradition. We will only learn about Sungudi in history books,” he says. He fears all weavers will be replaced by machines and originals will cease to exist. Both weavers and dyers appeal for more funds and hope that tables will turn for them. “Place our weaving units in prominent parts of the city near Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Tirumalai Nayak Palace as it will attract foreigners and tourists who would not mind spending on original saris. It would also be a tourist attraction,” says Mr. Ramkumar.

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Printable version | Jun 28, 2022 4:28:05 pm |