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Arni – Historical Handloom Silk

Arni is located in the district of Thiruvannamalai in the state of Tamilnadu. Arni is one of the most important Silk centers of Tamil Nadu.  The town is situated at a distance of 132 kms to the West of Chennai.  Arni the city of silk fabrics is accessible from Vellore also. The main occupation of the people of Arni is in the field of Agriculture, Weaving, Growing Honey-bees and Poultry Farms. Arni is popular for its silk-weaving community. The town is also well known for its Paddy and Rice Business. A bulk of India's silk apparels are produced by the people of Arni. The total population in Arni is around 50,000 and around 35,000 are in the profession of weaving. The main castes in this profession are Mudaliar, Zoroastrians, Gounder, and Chettiar. The average educational level is upto 10th.

In olden days
Arni was called Aranyam means forest. The word Aranyam is now called as Arni. The word Aar means Athi tree (Ficus glomerata) which has various applications in Ayurveda medicine. Previously this region was surrounded by full of Athi trees. Also in the north of Arni, there is a river by name Kamandala Naga River. These trees and river look like an ornament hence the name Arni. Arni was ruled by Cholas after they defeated Pallavas. Some of the important Chola kings who ruled Arni are First Kulothunga Cholan, Vikrama Cholan, Second Kulothunga Cholan, etc. During the rule of Vijayanagara Kingdom at Arni, Dasara function was celebrated grandly.

Poosi Malai Kuppam is 12Kms away from Arni. Thirumalai Saheb built a sophisticated bungalow for his lovable Anglo-Indian lady there. Nestled among the hills between Arni and Vellore is a village called Padaiveedu. Padaiveedu is one of the most important
'Sakthi Sthalas' (place of power) in Thondainadu (a part of Tamil Nadu).  Goddess Renugambal is self-manifested in this place, indicating "Sakthi is everything in this world" and offering her blessings along with Brahma, Vishnu and Lord Siva.  In this place a number of sages performed penance and attained salvation. The existence of Banalingam and Nanakarshna Chakra consecrated by Adi Sankaracharya is the specialty of this place. This is the place where Saint Jamathagni did penance and attained Mukthi (salvation).  As blessed by Lord Siva, Mother Renugambal kept her Sirasu (head) for performing puja by devotees and to offer them her blessings. She took her body to Swargaloga (Heaven) along with Saint Jamathagni. This beautiful pastoral village was once the capital of Sambuvarayar Dynasty. 

During Nawab's period there was a struggle between Britishers, Frankie’s and Nawab Hyder Ali. Finally Britishers won the struggle and they captured Arni. There is also a Palace near by town, which is now used by the Agriculture Department. The freedom movement in Arni was started by A.M Parasurama Naicker, M.V. Subramanian Sasthriar, Y.N. Govindaraju Chettiar, etc. In1922,
Mahatma Gandhi came to Arni twice to attend a meeting for Harijan's development. The above mentioned people welcomed Gandhiji and also they took part in "Simon Commission" movement.

Encircled by mountains and hills, this place consists of 17 villages. Though the town is not well known outside of Tamilnadu, a bulk of India's silk apparel is produced by the people of this town. Weaving is done by ladies and gents.  Arni is well known for its traditional Arni Handlooms silk fabrics. Arni handlooms are well known for the durability of the colours used in the yarn. The mixture of colour gives the durability. Usually Arni handlooms are made in silk.

The count used in weaving gives the softness and hardness of the fabric.  The count in a handloom fabric means the number of threads woven length wise and breadth wise known as warp and wept respectively in a square inch. The count in the saree is 2400 which gives strength to the fabric and durability. That means that there will be 2400 threads in warp and wept.

The weavers are in this profession by tradition. New generation is not interested in continuing this profession. Weaver gets around `4000/- for weaving one pavvu. The rate differs when designs gets complicated. The first flag hoisted in the Red Fort on independence of India is a silk flag weaved in Arni.


Dyeing
: -
First the yarn is washed and then dipped in the required colour which is in a boiler and the worker goes on turning the yarn so that the colour is evenly mixed in the yarn. The most important aspect in this process is the mixing of colours which will give unique and durable colour to the fabric. Then it is again washed and dried. These yarns are then starched. Starching of the yarn is where the colour in the yarn will get more permanent nature and gives the yarn a polished look. The starched yarn is brought from the merchants by master weavers and is distributed to weavers. (Master weavers are also weavers, but they will be having a group of weavers under them). Then it is turned in a charka. The turning in charka is where the yarn will become thread, which is used for wept.

The loading of yarn in warp is the next process. Then yarn is loaded into the looms. The length of yarn which is loaded as warp is known as Pavvu. A weaver can make four sarees from one pavvu. It will take a week to weave one pavvu of four sarees. The weavers get a remuneration of around `4000/- for one pavvu.

Weaving: - The looms used in Arni are mostly Frame looms. Frame looms are looms which are fixed in a frame and looms peddle will be at the floor level and the weaver will sit on stool and use his hands and legs to weave.

To create designs in the sarees, first the design is been made in a computer and then that design is punched into thick cards and then this card is loaded into the Jacard in the loom, so that according to the designs and the holes in the card, the needles will pull and put the threads which will create designs in the saree while weaving. Jacard is a box like structure at the top of the loom which contains needles which will read the punch card of designs.

The weavers are into this profession traditionally. None of the weavers are trained but they have acquired this unique skill hereditarily from their ancestors. The art of weaving is passed on by way of vision and practice. There are no theoretical explanations or training for weaving. But unfortunately due to the low wages the traditional weavers are opting out of this industry. New generation is not interested in this profession due to the low wages prevailing in the industry.

The handlooms in Arni are famous for the softness and durability. The handloom fabrics are soft and comfortable to wear and is suitable for all climates. Mainly Arni looms manufacture silk sarees, but now as per demand dress materials are also weaved.

The specialty of Arni sarees are a saree is made with two different bodies on each side and two different pallus which can be used as two different sarees. Like that sarees are designed so shrewdly that in one side of the body half will be in one colour and the other half with another colour and at the two ends different pallus and in the other side the entire body will be of one colour with one pallu. This saree can be used as three sarees. Another complicated design is that in one side of the saree there will two different colour in half portion each and at the two end two pallus, like that in the other side also two different colour in each half and two different pallus, so that this saree can be used as four different sarees. Arni is also known for its special designs in the pallus.

The weavers demand that only if a rehabilitation package similar to the package which was offered by the government to the farmers, who have lost crops, is provided, and then only handloom industry can survive. The weavers state that only if government also takes the responsibility to support the handloom industry, then only the industry will last or else the end of handloom industry is not far from near. The high cost of handloom fabrics is also limiting the marketability.  Even though the Government of Tamilnadu is doing its best for the marketing the handlooms made by the weavers of Tamilnadu through
Co-optex, the weavers feel that it is not sufficient for the survival of handloom sector.