Silk Route of Bengaluru starts from the famous Silk Board Junction. Yes, the same silk board junction where people spend hours waiting to cross the junction. It has become so famous for traffic jams that people often forget that it is the Central Silk Board campus here that lends the place its name. I have spent ample time at this junction when I lived in Bengaluru, without looking at the campus. Well, there is a time for everything. This time I spent five days in Bengaluru with Silk Mark Organization of India at Central Silk Board Campus and crisscrossing the city to discover the Silk Route of Bengaluru and maybe India.
Silk Route of Bengaluru
This city that we now best know for the Information Technology industry and start-ups, and for gardens for ages can well be the Silk City of India. Bengaluru-Mysuru corridor is indeed dotted with the key players of the value chain of the silk industry. Right from silkworms that are carefully nurtured at the granary at the Central Silk Board campus in the city to the high-end luxurious silk heritage store in South Bengaluru. There is something for anyone from a silk lover or anyone interested silk business. Come with me to discover this hidden tapestry of the city of Bengaluru.
Central Silk Board at Bengaluru
Central Silk Board is the apex government body that works with a vision to make India a leader in the world silk market. It is not without a reason that it is headquartered in Bengaluru. Karnataka is the largest producer of silk in India. Moreover, the major silk clusters are huddled between Bengaluru and Mysuru, though we associate the latter more with silk due to the popularity of Mysuru silk.
Central Silk Board has many subdivisions that are focused on research and development. They help the silk farmers, reelers, and weavers in improving their productivity and production on one hand and develop new Silk products like Denim Silk or Silk Socks. National Silkworm Seed Organization maintains and supplies seed farms to farmers. It took me more than two hours to just walk through the whole process of producing and preserving seeds that ensure the consistent quality of silk produced.
At their campus, I learned about technologies that can infuse aroma in the silk fabric or the one that can prevent oil or water from getting into the fabric. There are new weaves being experimented like Denim silk or Void silk. Imagine Tussar silk shoes or a family portrait woven in Zari on a rich silk fabric or a light shawl woven from soft spun Eri silk – all these are showcased at their product development facility. I admired the fabric woven from the stalk of Tussar cocoon called Peduncle. In dark brownish color, this fabric has its own sheen. New ranges are being explored for furnishing and baby products.
Did you know International Sericulture Commission, an inter-governmental organization working on developing sericulture and silk in the world is also headquartered in Bengaluru? In a way, this means India is leading the world on Silk.
Silk Mark Organization of India of course works on ensuring the authenticity of silk that we buy. They are constantly working on technology to ensure that we get the purest silk for the money we spend. We will talk another day about what all does a Silk Mark ensure for us consumers.
Read More – Different Types of Silks in India
Ramanagara Cocoon Market
Do you remember the rugged rocks of the film Sholay where Gabbar Singh lived? Well, it is the same village that is home to Asia’s largest cocoon market. Ramanagara is rightly known as the silk city of India. Located just about 50 km from Bengaluru on way to Mysuru, this is now a district in Karnataka.
Silk farmers from around the state and some even from neighboring states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra come here to sell their cocoons. Anywhere between 40,000 – 50,000 kgs of cocoons are auctioned every day at this Karnataka Government market. In the morning the iron trays laid out in the large halls in the market are filled with cocoons – white ones being Bivoltine and pale-yellow ones being the Multivoltine. Both of these are the varieties of Mulberry Silk that have the biggest share among all varieties of silk. Each tray has a slip mentioning the Lot No and other details of the seller. Buyers are Reelers – who convert these cocoons into silk threads
Live E-Auction of Cocoons
At least three rounds of auctions take place every day. Now, what I found fascinating is the use of technology for e-auctions. Every buyer has an e-auction App on his mobile phone or tablet. He goes around holding the cocoons in his hands, judging the quality based on his experience, and bids for the Lot Nos that interest him. Going rates of the Lots are also displayed live on the large screens installed everywhere in the market. On the buyer’s app, he can see if his bid is highest or someone has beaten him. One auction lasts for 30-60 mins, and at the end of it, cocoons are weighed and shipped. Payments are settled online and the market is ready for the next round of auctions.
I observed an amusing ritual here. Farmers leave some cocoons in their favorite trays or in a sack tied to their legs. Some do it as they find those trays lucky for them fetching them good rates, while others treat it as a ritual of not leaving the tray empty. Traditions do have a way to reach every aspect of our lives.
Outside the cocoon market in Ramanagara, one finds shops selling everything that a silkworm farmer and reeler needs, completing the eco-system for silk professionals.
Reeling in Ramanagara
In the lanes of the town of Ramanagara, you can hear the noise of automatic reeling machines. The cocoons are boiled to release them of binding gum. Then put on to machines to pull out one long unbroken filament from it. The filament then goes through various hot and cold treatments till it is wound together in a standard-sized yarn. This yarn after bleaching and dyeing by dyers in various colors goes to the weavers for weaving.
The silkworm that emerges after reeling is used to extract oil and the remains are fed to cattle or fish as it is rich in protein.
Everywhere I visited I was told – Silk is a zero-waste industry, nothing gets wasted here. But that is a story for another day.
Gotigere/Yelahanka – Silk Weaving Clusters at Bengaluru
Years ago, I had by chance bumped into the Silk weavers at Yelahanka. The post has remained popular since then. I thought of that silk weaving cluster as a one-off then. Talk about ignorance. On this trip, I realized that Bengaluru city has many small weaving clusters within its folds. Many of them have now been moved to a place called Gotigere, close to Bannerghatta National Park.
At Gotigere, you start hearing the rhythmic sound of looms as soon as you step in. Power looms have a constant sound, while handlooms have their own slow-paced music. Now, I have seen both power looms and handlooms at many places like Kanchipuram, Varanasi, Pochampally, Patan, and Bishnupur. It was only at Gotigere that I learned the difference between a manual and an electronic Jacquard.
Trivia – Jamshetji Tata set up the Tata Silk Farm in Bangalore way back in 1896.
Jacquard is the pattern that is woven into the fabric, like our beautiful borders and Pallas on Saris. Traditionally, the pattern was manually punched into cardboard punch cards. A little automation lets the design be made on a computer that is automatically punched on narrow cardboard stripes. These cards can be used any number of times, till the design remains in demand.
Electronic Jacquard takes automation to another level. There is no need for punch cards. Just feed the design in the Jacquard machine and it takes care of the design. It works well for designs that are exclusive or not repeated very often. It costs a bit more than manual Jacquard. But I am sure as the volumes pick up, the costs will come down.
A lot of silk weaving has moved to power looms. But you can still find the handloom weavers sitting with their legs in a pit. Looking at Warp spread out in front of them, waiting for Weft to come and complete it, you realize it is a microcosm of our lives. In life too, the single thread is us, and people and events come in our life as warps, completing us and making us look beautiful. The weaver is the divine force that we call by different names. No wonder then poets like Kabir used the imagery of weaving to convey life lessons.
Gotigere has its own ecosystem that receives raw silk yarn. Converts it into the beautiful Saris and fabrics that would reach the retail store for us to buy and enjoy. For this, they use myriad yarns, colors, techniques, tools, technologies, and lots of labor skilfully woven into each weave.
Vimor Museum of Living Textiles
Our ancient textile heritage needs to be showcased in terms of museums and experience centers. I have only seen Calico Museum at Ahmedabad and Anandgram Textile Museum in Delhi that showcase our textile in a perfect setting. So, I was very happy to discover Vimor Museums of Living Textiles right in the heart of Bengaluru.
Smt Pavithra Muddaya has been running this along with her mother Chimi Nanjappa on the first floor of her lovely brick red home. She fondly showcases various weaves and patterns from around the country, including the ones she has fused, created, or revived.
Do visit this lovely little museum next time you are in Bengaluru.
New Age Sericulture Entrepreneurs
You cannot be in Bengaluru and stay away from cutting-edge technology. There are young startups like Reshamandi, who are developing end-to-end technology platforms for the silk industry. These platforms not only give a seamless experience for silk entrepreneurs by providing them efficient logistics but also provide data insights to improve productivity.
These are still early-stage Agritech start-ups, a space many of us have our eyes on. Mark my words, they are the 21st CE weft for the silk industry of India.
Jayanagar Silk Street
I drove around the city, looking at the traditional shops in the commercial district of Bengaluru, big silk emporiums, and fancy multi-story stores like Angadi Heritage. Latter has a museum-like showcase with antique artifacts surrounded by giant chandeliers welcoming you. I realized that even consumers have moved from buying silk traditionally to making it an experience buying.
The Jayanagar 5th Block with all the big names in silk definitely looks like the Silk Street of Bengaluru, where the Silk route of Bengaluru finally reaches its destination. This is where the whole value chain culminates when you and I buy a silk Sari or Dupatta or Kurta. It meets its purpose when we celebrate our festivals and life events by wearing silk.
This post has been written in collaboration with the Silk Mark Organization of India.