Southern city of silk Karnataka

Odds galore, but Karnataka’s silk city Ramanagara survives

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Despite challenges such as lack of cutting-edge technology, drought, demonetisation and GST, silk remains a way of life for farmers, reelers and weavers.

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Driving from Bengaluru to Mysuru, it’s impossible to miss the signboard that says ‘Welcome to Silk City Ramanagara’. Nondescript though it looks, the town happens to be the centre of Karnataka’s silk industry, where silk moths are reared, cocoons nurtured and processed, and pure silk woven.

The genesis of the famous Mysore Silk goes back to the late 18th century when the region was ruled by Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. The king, who died fighting the British, was the first to import silk cocoons from China and reportedly sent his people to Bengal to learn sericulture so that they may establish a silk industry in his kingdom.

Tipu’s dream became a reality in the middle of the 19th century when the first filature — the place where silk is drawn from cocoons — was established in Bengaluru by an Italian industrialist.

The celebrated crepe silk sari is traditionally made of pure silk interwoven with gold zari threads, and has been an enduring symbol of the marriage of heritage and modern enterprise. Mysore Silk, crafted under the aegis of the Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation, now has the additional distinction of a GI tag.

Today, Karnataka is one of India’s largest raw silk producers, with sericulture concentrated around Mysuru, Kolar, Bengaluru Rural and Chikkaballapura districts in the Old Mysore region.

In recent years, however, the industry has found itself up against many odds, the biggest threat being the import of cheap raw silk from China. But other factors such as the lack of cutting-edge technology, drought, demonetisation and GST have also challenged sericulture here, with many workers migrating to other professions. But for the thousands who remain — farmers, reelers, weavers — silk remains a way of life.

(Text and images by K. Bhagya Prakash)

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