Hordes of visitors thronged the garish stalls with all kinds of colours done up in artificial dyes. However, few notice the natural dye palette that adorns a modest corner of Lavanya, a garment exhibition held at Hotel Sayaji.
`Roliana’ is an organisation unique to India since it owns the Geographical Indication (GI) of `Banarasi Saris’. The intricate details on the saris and shawls prove that all the garments are made using handloom silk and natural dyes.
The owner, Vikas Mehra, is the adviser to the Ministry of Textile but he is saddened by the lackadaisical support offered by the Central Government. “Though Varanasi is the prime ministerial constituency and Banarasi silk products are a part of the Indian heritage, the assistance from the government remains insufficient,” he says.
The Banarasi silk handloom industry is also a source of livelihood for hundreds of local artisans. They spend excruciatingly long hours in the weaving and embroidery of the garments. Their working conditions are unsafe and pitiable as they face innumerable power cuts throughout the day.
“There are only a few of us left now. The rest are getting their children trained so that they are well-versed with power loom technology which is more economic,” says Sheikh Javed, one of the local artisans of Roliana. “Now that the Uttar Pradesh elections are approaching, we’re expecting momentary relief from political parties. We’ll make a living out of that.”
Mehra is positive about the new development in the ministry and hopes that the new Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani will usher in sunny days. “We have a huge market in Europe, particularly Austria. The irony is that the Indian elite spend thousands of rupees on Western brands while they pay no heed to our indigenous products.”
Vikas claims that his wife Roli was the pioneer of bridal couture in India. “Banarasi saris are considered auspicious for weddings. But now people don’t realize that the saris they are buying are not even authentic silk! They are not aware of the differences between an authentic and a fake. Roliana organises various shows to educate the masses about the same,” adds Mehra.
In spite of the lack of patronage from the Union Government, Roliana does get a helping hand from some quarters of the political and fashion circles. “Jaya Bachchan is a frequent visitor and she facilitated the organisation of a fashion show for Parliamentarians. Dimple Yadav, a Member of Parliament from UP, also provides regular inputs.”
Roliana supplies their products to top designers Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Abu Jani who in turn, sell them to the who’s who of the country. However, the credit due to hundreds of artisans gets dumped into the Ganges like the waste of those artificial dyes.
“We’re losing our artisans. They no longer wish to stand for hours and indulge in the taxing process that the traditional industry demands. We often have to get artisans from Nepal now,” says Mehra. “I hope this dying art meets a much-needed revival under the new leadership. After all rebirth is another aspect that Varanasi is well known for.”