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Spinning gold with muga kimonos

india Updated: Mar 26, 2008 00:45 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Residents of Sualkuchi, some 35 km from here, have always had a yen for spinning the golden yarn. There’s now a Japanese twist in the silken tale.

Often referred to as Manchester of the East, Sualkuchi is one of India’s biggest silk production and weaving centers. Over 3,000 weavers in and around this silk cluster village have for ages been churning out dress material in exotic silks muga, eri and paat.

Muga, the distinctive ‘golden thread’ specific to Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley, had last year been granted the protection of geographical indication after other Indian products such as Madhubani paintings and Kancheepuram silk. Muga had prior to that struck gold in Japan, catching the fancy of Japanese women.

Ever since, the likes of Rekharani Kalita and Swarna Das have been churning out yards of the golden silk to be turned into kimonos in Japan. And in two years, the demand for muga pieces woven specifically to a size of 14 inches x 21 metres has gone northwards. In the 2006-07 fiscal, the made-for-kimonos muga material netted Rs 45 lakh for the government-run Artfed, which depends on rural weavers for supply.

“Muga silk spun specifically for kimonos contributed to our total earning of Rs 12 crore in the last fiscal,” says Artfed managing director NN Rana Patgiri. “Japan also bought muga for quilts, bed linen, duvets, sofa covers and shower curtains as did the US, UK, Brazil, South Africa and some east European countries.”

The growing demand for Assam’s unique golden silk abroad has made the authorities strike a deal with the Japan Trade Organization. The plan entails training Sualkuchi weavers how to make the perfect kimono. “We are looking at value-addition rather than relying only on exporting the cloth,” adds Patgiri.

Plans are also afoot to make each village product specific, so that weavers can deliver customized silk apparel or other products as sought by overseas clients. No wonder, weaving unit owners like Arun Choudhury have begun picking up Japanese words. Like ‘uerukamu’ to welcome anticipated Japanese clients and, yes, sayonara.