SR Vejay Ganesh, 35, and his brother SR Vishwanath, 40, have been relentlessly striving to revive the korvai , a prized textile weaving technique of Tamil Nadu for the past 12 years. The brothers belong to the eighth generation of heritage silk weaving Sourastrian community, and the loom was founded in 1885 in Thanjavur by their ancestors. They learnt weaving from their father SV Rajarathinam (71) as children, and it was in 2008 that they shifted their focus to revival of korvai .
“An ancient weaving technique, korvai is labour-intensive and requires two weavers to handle the shuttles at the loom. Years ago, most weavers quit weaving and took odd jobs as the income from weaving was meagre. As a result, this highly specialised technique languished and was on the verge of extinction,” say Vejay. In 2007, he met textile researcher and revivalist Sabita Radhakrishna through the Crafts Council of India, who mentored him to revive the korvai . Today, Vejay has developed over 300 korvai designs and trained scores of weavers in this technique.
During the lockdown, the brothers continued to engage weavers, as they had their regular demand from customers, especially via their online store ( www.sagunthalai.com ). “We ensured that weavers had the mask on and had the environment sanitised. As the looms are six to eight feet apart, physical distancing was not an issue,” he says.
Vejay has adapted to the times and sells his products (silk and cotton saris) online. He used to make monthly visits with his latest collection to the homes of his 600-plus customers in Chennai. But now this system has been paused due to lockdown, which is why, adapting to the new normal, he is focusing on social media to reach customers.
The brothers, both master weavers, have 10 looms in the terrace of their house in Thanjavur and employ weavers to weave traditional silk saris. “I had come across an old loom in which korvai dhotis were woven. I refitted and remodelled it to weave a korvai sari. With this innovation in 2011, I could weave a korvai with a 10-inch border,” he says.
Once this improvised loom idea caught on, the weavers could comfortably weave four saris in a month, and what was even better was it did not require two weavers to handle the shuttle but one. “There was a boost in productivity and more weavers started showing interest in this technique.”
- Korvai is an heritage weaving technique. The body of the sari is in a different colour contrasting with the border which is in one solid colour where the weft of the body colour does not interlock with the warp threads of the border making it a double shade.
- In this technique the body of the sari is woven separately and the border separately on the same loom and the two interlocked by skilful weaving.
“Using my own funding, I have in the past few years trained 45 young weavers in Thanjavur region in korvai weaving techniques, of which about five of them are showing excellence in the art. Technology has largely enabled and empowered us and I think it is essential,” says Vejay.