Dindigul, a small town 66 km from Madurai, is very famous for its gorgeous organic cotton saris whose softness, durability and fine finish are their claim to fame. The weavers here create the most beautiful traditional designs with wide contrast borders. The saris are extremely graceful and are the preferred choice for office going women.
Dindigul is believed to be an ancient settlement ruled by numerous kings and dynasties, some including Early Pandyan Kingdom, Medieval Cholas, Dindigul Sultanates, Vijayanagara Empire and the British. Such a large number of authoritative figures have made it ripe with cultural influences, a fact that is clearly reflected in the handiwork of the weavers even today.
Here, weaving is a community based occupation from ancient days. It is very difficult to trace accurately the evolution of weaving industry at Dindigul, since no one has maintained reliable records of the development of the industry from its inception. However the deeply entrenched local tradition of weaving Bemberg (a supreme variety) of cotton had been replaced by organic cotton weaving. This new development springs from the initiative of Cooptex, the TN handloom weaver’s cooperative society.
Cotton grown on fields kept fertilizer and pesticide free for three years at a stretch is termed organic. Yarn made from this is skin friendly and makes the weaving process much more profitable as the turnaround time for completing each sari is relatively less. Starting out by replacing the Bemberg blend of art silk and cotton with a combed cotton yarn in warp and weft, the weavers graduated to fully organic cotton fabric in 2015. To ensure the resulting product is not overpriced, agencies like co-optex made sure that they are available to all at reasonable rates. The “organic” certification also ensures a positive exposure to overseas consumers who view this tag as a preferred characteristic and thus helps generate exports.
The spun yarn is then dyed using azo free dyes, is colorfast along with being 100% skin friendly, cool and ideal for summers. In organic cotton saris the 80s combed organic cotton yarn is itself plied for the threadwork, resulting in a light weight sari. This process is a little more time consuming but the resulting product is noteworthy.
Due to the intervention of the regulating bodies, there has been a very positive growth in the field of organic cotton sari manufacturing in Dindigul. Premier weavers from the region have said “Two years ago we had only six looms to supply us with organic cotton saris, but in the past two years, the number of looms has risen to 200” Organizations like the co optex have sold over 17,000 organic cotton saris sourced from various apex societies. These saris were priced affordably when compared to those sold by private agencies, hence they were sold off very quickly.
Expos like Hand-Tex, National Handloom Expo create a platform for sellers and buyers to come together and allow the weavers to present the wide range of traditional fabrics, designs, and themes that they have. The average monthly earning of the weavers has increased from Rs.6,500 to Rs.11,500 as the output has gone up to 10-12 saris per month. Under the present Government schemes, banks are also readily extending loans at a subsidized rate. Family pensions are being covered and study material and scholarships for school and college students are also assured. If this upswing prevails, it offers a great hope for future generations to continue with the traditional profession.