Kabiraj is one of the last four Bomkai weavers in Odisha. In the front room of his small brick-and-mortar home in the center of Bomkai village in Berhampur district, the source of this rare and original weave, sits the pit loom on which his textiles are woven. Tall and well built, Kabiraj is a weaver of the Patra Tanti caste from the Vaishnav community, crafting Bomkai designs perfected over generations. Worked on an extremely primitive pit loom with no extra attachments, weaving a Bomkai sari is like doing hand embroidery on a loom, forming a delicate and elaborate tapestry.
It takes Kabiraj 7-10 days to complete a regular Bomkai sari and up to a month for an intricate silk one. In the last five years, the price of cotton yarn and silk yarn has tripled while his earnings have not grown at the same rate. A highly skilled worker whose weaves are works of art, he doesn't earn anywhere near commensurate pay. He makes about four cotton saris a month and earns around Rs 8,000 for them - enough to provide his family with three meals a day, but not enough to send his two children to a good school.
In his village, Kabiraj has become a rarity. Most handloom weavers have migrated to Surat or Tamil Nadu in search of work. To most people with a hazy idea of handlooms it would seem like a romantic lie to hear that Kabiraj likes and chooses to work in handlooms. A particular set of circumstances allows Kabiraj to continue - and it isn't quite what you think.
There is a common myth among government policymakers on the handloom industry - including officials in the Directorate ...
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