Monday, 24 February 2014

SUALKUCHI - "The Manchester of the East"!

What an apt moniker for this sleepy and charming town! Situated at a distance of 35 km from Guwahati on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, this town exudes a warmth like no other. 

In my last post, I had talked about the indigenous varieties of silk that is endemic to Assam, and today, I would like to take you on a journey to the nerve centre of where it all takes place!

The birth of this internationally acclaimed 'weaving village' can be historically traced to the 11th century when, Dharma Pal of the Pala dynasty, sponsored the craft of weaving and brought in 26 weaving families from Tantikuchi to Sualkuchi. These families were encouraged to give wing to their imagination and transfer their artistic talents to the looms and finally to the fabric! The fledgling industry was further boosted during the early part of the 20th century, when eminent Gandhians across the country, in answer to Gandhijis' swadeshi slogan of "back to the villages", supported the industry with financial aid. This acted as a big support for the production of Eri silk or the 'poor' man's silk, which was a favourite with the Gandhians due to its low cost. But the road to development and success was not an easy one for these weaving families, especially during the Indian independence struggle. But amidst many a strife and turmoil during the pre and post years of Indian independence struggle, the handful of skilled weavers of Sualkuchi, held on fast to their inherent artistic talents, to emerge victorious and stand tall, at the end of it all.

Today, Sualkuchi has about 17000 silk looms that are working tirelessly to give birth to a maze of intricate patterns woven on Muga and Pat silk. Accounting for more than 25000 direct and indirect employment under this industry. And as you casually walk down the streets of this town, you can hear the unmistakable click-clacking of the looms coming from the karkhanas ( workshops) attached to every house. Walk into any karkhana, and you will be welcomed in the traditional warm Assamese way and given a guided tour of what is going on! There is no interruption here, in fact, the owners are honoured to have guests witness their  art of silk weaving. Besides being privy to the manufacture of the world famous Muga and Pat Mekhela Chadar (traditional Assamese attire for women), you can also see the creation of silk sarees and skirts as well as kurtas and shirts for men, which have been done keeping in tune with the changing demands of the markets.

But all is not rosy for Sualkuchi and her 'silk weavers'. Unscrupulous businessmen and spurious brands, claiming to be the real 'Assam' silk, have in recent times, flooded the markets in the towns and cities with their cheap imitation products. This has caused a lot of problems for the genuine weavers and their authentic products. 

So how can you avoid being duped? Simple. Take a ride down to Sualkuchi, leisurely stroll along the streets, visit the many shops, and take what attracts you! Genuineness is guaranteed. You get what you pay for!

Till next time!

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