Varanasi III

Varanasi III



Sarees seem to be a major industry here. I never saw so many shops. Some of them advertise their factories as well.

In the middle of all my temple-hopping tour, we stopped and met an elderly small man who guided me through a warren of narrow pathways, dense with saree design shops and weaving factories. One hears the hum and click of the looms behind shrouded windows and wooden doors. It’s a constant presence except on Sundays.



I looked into a small design shop, no bigger than a walk-in closet. On the floor was a worker kneeling over a board used as a backstop for the hole punching process. Holes are punched through thin slats each about 4″ by 15″.

The holes in the slats are code for a specific pattern. Each pattern can involve punching holes in 200-300 slats. The entire set of slats for a particular pattern are attached to the looms, which then weave according to their sequential instructions.

DSC07702It seems both an effective and complex technology that I don’t understand, but is also a primitive and very traditional technology proven for generations.

Anyone familiar with the first generation computers knows that data was first coded onto punch cards, which were then fed into the computer as instructions for operations. Here in the back-alleys of Varanasi, the punch card method is still in full bloom producing sarees.


The weaving operation was magnificent, loud machines packed into close quarters and monitored in the heat by workers wearing only the barest of clothing.





I was also led to a small hand-weaving shop. An everyday sari might cost only 500 rupees, but the complexity, fabrics, the addition of gold threads and the time to produce them can raise the cost of a single sari to 50,000 rupees.


Then, as the coup de gras, I was led to a shop selling fabrics of all kinds, brocades, pashminas in addition to pillow covers and upholsteries. I experienced the smoothest sales pitch ever. I had no intention of buying anything…..that is, until I saw what they had to offer.

small tapestries- not much bigger than a placemat



Brocades–these are about 24″ x 96″

These shops have specialties, pillow coverings, upholstery accessories, brocades, pashmina and sarees. They are sold all over India and in a few foreign countries. In Delhi, if you ask where the sarees come from , they will tell you Banares. A company in Seattle buys sarees (a uniform six meters each) strickly to make dresses.


Wrathful utility deity?

Oh, incidentally, in my limited time here, it’s rare to see Indians smoking cigarettes. I haven’t even noticed places that sell cigarettes. But then I noticed tuck-tuk drivers tearing open small packets and dumping the contents into their mouths. And naturally, they discard the packet without a thought. Then I noticed every single tiny vendor, every hole-in-the-wall shop selling various brands of these packets.


They are some kind of snuff. A tobacco product. A stimulant. The package has a nasty looking cancer warning on it, which of course has no effect whatsoever.

Tuk-tuk drivers, and I presume many others as well, are consuming enormous quantities of this stuff. It’s a mere 2 rupees each. And everywhere the drivers congregate, around busy commercial areas, open markets, large intersections, railway stations, these packets make up a huge percentage of the already enormous amount of litter. In some areas that’s all I see on the ground.

This, everywhere:


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