Varanasi Weavers

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“God Almighty is also a weaver…he weaves unique designs for everyone!” said Kabir, a 15th century saint poet and weaver from Varanasi, India.

The looms in Varanasi, however, are falling silent, rapidly. There are plenty of reasons, all of them valid and challenging. However, when the human spirit starts sinking then the focus of all effort has to point not merely to providing alternative sources of livelihood or financial subsidies.

Varanasi weavers take pride in weaving sarees, spun from special silk yarn, with specialized designs, motifs and scenes from the rich culture of India. The saree is the attire of the woman of India, since ancient times. Modern tastes, changed work culture, environmental degradation damaging silkworm farms, very high costs of production per piece niched the banarasi saree into an elite possession while viciously spiralling it out into the periphery of the ordinary Indian woman’s wardrobe. It is now only worn on special occasions and only the economically well off can afford it. Mushrooming of cheaper imitations of the same saree has only added to the woes of the weaving community.

The project began with creating a “corporate gift” for Best Seller Company, based in Denmark, with branches in 40 countries, and one of the largest family-owned cloth companies in North Europe. The immediate need of the weavers: to make a living was met; 13000 banarasi silk scarves were made as New Year gifts in 2006!

Upasana’s efforts moved with instilling a sense of self-respect among the weaving communities of Varanasi. Of reiterating, in principle and spirit, that each human being has the right to “be”, exist; and exist with dignity. How and when do we see the Divine’s design and feel the joy of being woven?

This project matured into a fully fledged process for Social Development of the weaving community in Varanasi in 2007. Work has been multi-lateral, with each step very basic but laying a strong foundation; there is neither time nor room for reversals.

Immersed in self-reflection and dignity the weavers now say: “We need to adapt to a new way of thinking. The world is changing fast, and we need to keep up with the demands of modern life”. The weavers are pensive but have started to smile!

The Varanasi Weaver’s project has been a point from which lines for Social Development have emanated in uncountable if not infinite directions. The plan of action at the micro level has grown links nationally and globally with the media airing and appreciating Upasana’s efforts.

From an offspring of Upasana, Varanasi Weavers has now grown into an independent, self-sustaining yet fast-evolving movement, sharing the same principles and aspirations that are the breath and soul of Upasana: As the Divine weaves His Designs let us feel the delight of being woven!

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