Handicrafts and Handlooms – a black & white picture

The Orissa Gramin Mela, being held at Nungambakkam in Chennai is becoming a site for revisiting a rich Indian tradition – its Handicrafts and handlooms.

Organized by the Orissa Arts and Crafts, the exhibition is an excerpt  from the cultural history of regions like Orissa, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka etc. It also gives out a picture of where our handloom and handicrafts industry stands today.

The industry which suffered a setback during the British era was revamped by the combined efforts of the various governments, co-operative societies, NGOs etc. Today it has become the second largest generator of non – farm rural employment placing almost 4.4 million people in the sector.

 “Things have improved remarkably. There is good demand for Handicraft products even from outside the country.” said Poornachandra Sahu, a member of a 19 year old co-operative society of Orissa, which consists of 19 craftsmen who make palm leaf paintings and Bell metal works.

Gopal at the Orissa handlooms stall was also happy about the improvement the industry has made with the help of co-operative societies. All the weavers in the village are now part of the Naya Patna society which extensively promotes the works through such exhibitions.

Manikandan from Madurai was all praise about the weaver’s society formed in 1951. “The plights of the weavers were pathetic once.  After the formation of the society, things improved. Now we are a team receiving good profits. People come to our villages in search of Madurai cotton sarees. ”

The societies became instrumental in providing the sector with improved technology and infrastructure. ” The number of ‘tharis (looms)’ increased from 60 to 160 with the birth of the society,” he added.

 Moreover it brought together the scattered human resource under common roofs, thereby increasing their productivity. 


The Women empowerment aspect

According to the handlooms and handicrafts cell of the Planning Commission of India, women contribute a major portion of the pre and post- loom labour and constitute 50% of the artisans. What the workers said was more or less conforming. 

“It enables the rural women to earn an income even by remaining inside their homes,” said Sahu. While in Salman’s looms women constituted around 50 among the 150 workers, Mohan from Jaipur and Manikandan said most of the workers from their respective regions were women.



Though the general trend seems positive, certain apprehensions are also rising.

Salman differed from the others saying that the industry is in a crisis. “Competition compels us to reduce the rates of the products. People are looking for variety these days, not for quality. Moreover profit is seasonal too”

Mohan also had a similar opinion. “Only our efforts increase, not the price of the products. When everybody has the same product, the demand for it gradually decreases. Then we have to decrease the price. The scope for innovating designs is limited because this whole industry is about tradition,” he said.

The lack of proper awareness of government welfare schemes and the leaking of benefits by middle men are also of serious concern. Also there is less awareness about the courses in this field like the PG Diploma offered by Madras Crafts Foundation in association with Dakshinchitra.


The Younger Generations

While some workers worry if the younger generations would continue the tradition, some do not want their children to pursue it.

 “This job was passed on to me as a tradition. So I will educate my son and will allow him to choose his career. If he puts this kind of effort in some other field, he would reach heights,” said Sahu.

But Manikandan is apprehensive about the youngsters. “They show no interest in all these. But persuading them is pointless. This is a divine art where you have to put together your body and mind,” his words reflect the anxiety of a man who has carried down a rich tradition inherited through generations.


Glimpses of the Orissa Gramin Mela