Throwing light on a dying art

You can create a real Banarasi saree only on a handloom, says Satyaprakash Upadhyay whose documentary ‘Bunkar: The Last of the Varanasi Weavers’ highlights the issues that the age old art is facing today


If one thinks about some of the most rich and must-have sarees in India, the Banarasi saree is right up there with the Kanjivaram saree. Indeed, people from all over the world visit Varanasi to buy these. Yet, the Varanasi weavers, who are behind the creation of these wonderful works of art are on the decline.

In fact according to filmmaker Satyaprakash Upadhyay, while these used to number almost 20 lakh in earlier times, today these have come down to around 50,000. Thus with an aim of making this disturbing fact known to more people, Sapana Sharma, first approached Upadhyay to create an awareness video about the weavers in Banaras. However as they began to research more on this issue and started interacting with the weavers, they realised that a short video was not going to be enough as they needed to present a detailed look into it so people could understand the beauty of the art of handloom and the struggle that they are going through. And thus the idea of the documentary ‘Bunkar: The Last of the Varanasi Weavers’ was born, which has been directed by Upadhyay and produced by Sharma.

The documentary first highlights the history of weaving with an animation video. It then examines the present situation where weavers talk about the current times, why they are not getting their dues and why the new generation is not learning this craft.

One of the biggest problems why these weavers are not getting the respect they deserve is that people today are not aware of the difference between handloom and powerloom sarees, believes Upadhyay. “You can create a real Banarasi saree only on a handloom. The powerloom can only copy it. So people should specify to the shopkeeper that they want a handloom Banarasi saree. In most cases the shopkeepers won’t lie,” says Upadhyay. If the shopkeeper does lie however, there are ways to make out the difference between the two, which the film has demonstrated. “Handloom weave is very intricate. The powerloom on the other hand has limitations and the work has a very plastic finish. The handloom fabric is also softer,” he explains. One can also look for the GI tag in the handloom sarees which has been specified by the government.

People also need to be aware of the time and effort that goes into creating each fabric, says Upadhyay. “Just like when a mother prepares food for her family, she subconsciously adds her love in it, similarly these weavers put their heart and soul into their craft,” he says. Indeed while a powerloom saree takes just a day, the making of a handloom saree takes 3 to 6 months.

It is thus important to learn the technicalities that go into creating this work of art, he believes. “A revivalist who works closely with weavers mentions in the film that earlier kings used to employ the services of handloom weavers and specifically ask them to weave handloom attire. Observing the designs on these attires, the common man would then copy these with embroidery,” explains Upadhyay. Now however, the focus among the current generation is more on the designs of the fabric. “If the fabric does not have a good design they think it isn’t good enough and believe that embroidery has more work on it. They have no idea that they cannot compare the two. While in embroidery, the work is done afterwards on the fabric, a weaver both weaves and designs simultaneously. Thus in terms of art, weave is more tedious,” says Upadhyay, who hopes that his documentary will help create an impact and help change the situation. “Through this documentary we bring facts of real people with real struggles. As a filmmaker and as a human being I believe is my responsibility to do my bit for a cause and I am happy to do this in this small way.”

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