Varanasi, or Banaras, is one of India’s most renowned holy and ancient places, and is also one of the highest weavers’ concentrations of the country. Macaulay, already stated the richness and commercial importance of the local craftsmanship by affirming that “from the looms of Banaras went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles”.



The Varanasi cluster comprises around 100’000 weavers according to governmental data, of which only 40 percent are active (according to other sources, they are between 125’000 and 250’000 in the city and its surroundings, the total population of the Varanasi district was of 3.15 millions in 2001, and the city counted 1.4 million inhabitants). The weavers’ remuneration encountered a slump of 30 to 40 percent this last decade, corollary to the decrease in demand for hand woven fabrics; in other words, if a weaver was earning 100 rupees ten years ago, he is today getting 60 rupees, the equivalent of 1.5 USD, excluding inflation. 70 percent of the weavers are urban and located in specific areas. 90 percent of the urban weavers are Muslims, compared to 30 percent in the villages, where the 70 other percent are essentially low caste Hindus. 95 percent of the Varanasi weavers are job workers.


Zari and silk are the main yarns used in Varanasi. The most common Zari used is a polyester yarn with a golden, silver or cupper finish, originating from Gujarat; the other Zaris are either a polyester yarn finished with real gold, silver or cupper, or precious metal threads. The silk is Indian or Chinese, the former suits best for heavy fabrics, the latter for light ones, such as organza. Sarees remain the core production of the cluster, representing more than 90 percent of its output. Buddhist brocades are another traditional product of Varanasi, aimed at satisfying the demand of nearby Nepal and Tibet, and of the worldwide Buddhist community. The Dalai Lama regularly visits Varanasi to acquire the ceremonial brocades necessary to the fulfillment of his religious duties.


More about the Varanasi beneficiaries of JULAHA’s action