History & Culture

The Kanjeevaram legacy

B Krishnamoorthy was 15 years old, and had just passed Class X, when he became an apprentice to his father, master Kanjeevaram silk sari weaver K Balaraman, in 1975.

After learning the basics of the loom, he was sent to another senior weaver to learn the nuances of unique techniques such as ada katradhu (or jala). Driven by his passion for line drawing, young Krishnamoorthy began to learn drawing from A Ramaswamy in Kanchipuram, for three years. A solid grounding in drawing helped him with graph drawing, important in the process of creating designs.

“As a third generation weaver, my intention was to learn and understand every aspect involved in the Kanjeevaram weaving tradition. I enjoy each and every process of silk sari weaving because of this knowledge I gained along the way,” says Krishanmoorthy.

He adds that the greatest moment in his life was when his work was selected for a National Award in 2010. “I had woven a Kanjeevaram silk inspired by the odiyanam (ornamental hip belt), and designed it thematically. When I received ₹1 lakh cash along with the award, that set me thinking about my responsibility as a weaver.”

Even while working as a pattern maker and graph designer at Co-Optex, from 1980 till 2004, Krishnamoorthy continued to weave silk saris and catalogue the designs that his father and grandfather had created. Between conducting seminars for textile and design students, he decided to document the samples he had created or safely preserved and put them together into a reference library for anyone interested in handloom.

The Kanjeevaram legacy

“My initial investment towards this goal was the National Award money. With that, I purchased the yarn and other things required and began to weave. I ended up with 5,015 basic designs, woven in 25-metre silk fabric with 60 inches height. I have identified the names of just about 150 designs so far,” he says.

His efforts led him to weave another catalogue of 114 supporting designs (used in the pallav and borders). These include forgotten traditional designs in 5.5-metre width, 48-inch height silk fabric. “Some of us weavers ourselves do not know the names of the designs we weave. In ancient times, handloom weavers went by the instructions given by the loom owners or buyers,” he says.

Krishanmoorthy explains how ‘MS Subbulakshmi saris’ were common reference points a generation ago. He adds that Kanjeevaram silks had just 15 basic colour combinations then. Designs were mostly inspired by the temples in and around Kanchipuram. “Now, due to the increasing market, we have introduced newer colours as well as geometrical and floral designs,” he says.

He is supported in this endeavour by his wife K Jayanthi, also a National awardee ( for her silk sari inspired by Kanchi Ekambareswarar Temple in 2014). His team of artisans also includes includes his wife, father, cousins and staff. Together, they have created masterpieces in the Kanjeevaram silk weaving tradition for the repository. A fine example is his six-metre high Indian animal wall hanging, with a thilagam (tear drop) motif made in the mirror image technique, using Ahimsa silk with natural dye and pure gold zari. “I began to weave saris that have a single motif such as peacock, Annam or parrot,repeated 108 times in the sari. The core idea behind all these master craftsmanship is to preserve the art to posterity and to showcase the myriad possibilities in this weaving tradition. My son and daughter have taken up jobs in IT industry and I feel responsible to save the art and therefore I have been training more than 20 weavers and am willing to teach anyone who shows interest in this art,” says Krishnamoorthy.

The Kanjeevaram legacy

Over a period of 40 years, this master weaver has carefully collected many such samples and graph designs along the way. Students from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, the College of Fine Arts in Egmore, Indian Institute of Handloom Technology in Salem, Stella Maris College in Chennai and Anna University regularly visit his loom in Kanchipuram.

One-stop guide

Hand drawing of graph design is no longer in vogue, says Krishnamoorthy. All graph designs are now done on the computer by artists who take up such work. “Which is why my collection of hand drawn motifs are valuable, and I think each of them are a work of art by itself and collected over a period of four decades.”

Having created most of the repository, his next challenge is preserving and managing it. He says, “I have begun to upload some of my work onto my computer. I used the lockdown to streamline my documentation processes. I hope to create a one-stop reference guide, a kind of library, which I would like to publish in a book format.”

He says that apart from designs and patterns, he has also created 200 different motifs, and the collection is growing by the day. “Whatever I have created and documented can be replicated by weavers across the country in silk and in cotton, not just the kanjeevaram. ”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 2:12:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/kanjeevaram-traditional-silk-sari-weaver-b-krishnamoorthy-has-meticulously-created-a-repository-of-designs-motifs-and-graphs-as-reference-guide-for-textile-students/article35582712.ece

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