Red, budget-day saree worn by Nirmala Sitharaman sets cash register ringing in distant Dharwad

This group of kasuti embroidery artisans from Artikrafts of Dharwad has been busy since FM Nirmala Sitharaman presented the budget.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Feb 08, 2023 | 9:30 AM Updated Feb 12, 2023 | 3:36 PM

Sitharaman wore an Ilkal silk saree with Kasuti embroidery motifs/designs done by Artikrafts at the Union budget presentation this year.

Ever since the budget was presented in Parliament on 1 February, some 200–250 women artisans at Arati Hiremath’s small factory in Dharwad have been super busy. Thanks to the saree that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman wore while presenting the Union budget, demand for the red Ilkal silk saree with Kasuti embroidery designs has shot up almost threefold.

Ilkal, a small town some 150 km northeast of Hubballi in Karnataka’s Dharwad region, lends its name to these sarees. Kasuti is a traditional Karnataka folk embroidery craft with a geographical indication (GI) tag and is unique to Dharwad.

The firm behind the saree, Artikrafts — which employs women and farmers from the villages around Dharwad — is now busy creating more Ilkal sarees with Kasuti embroidery to meet customer demand.

PM Modi wore a shawl with Karnataka’s Kasuti embroidery

Speaking to South First, a visibly happy Arati Hiremath also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for wearing a shalya (shawl) with Kasuti embroidery.

The shawl was made by her company on an order by the Karnataka government and was presented to Modi on 12 January when he was in Hubbali to inaugurate the 26th edition of the National Youth Festival.

After this came the order for the saree with Kasuti embroidery motifs for Nirmala Sitharaman.

“I am extremely grateful to Nirmala Sitharaman madam for wearing the special saree made by us. My phone has not stopped buzzing… We have been getting hundreds of orders from various states seeking the same saree,” said an ecstatic Arati.

Reviving Kasuti embroidery designs

Ilkal silk saree with Kasuti embroidery motifs/designs

Kasuti embroidered sarees have gained popularity after Sithraman wore one during the Union budget presentation this year. (Supplied)

Arati is a BCom graduate from Bengaluru who is married into a family in Dharwad. It is here that she began her entrepreneurial journey.

First, she started an NGO with a few others where they decided to revive the languishing craft of Kasuti embroidery of Karnataka. She trained more than 800 artisans under the NGO.

However, now she has her own company — Artikrafts — under which she has about 250 women working for her. Aged between 30-50 years, about 80-90 artisans work under her directly on a regular basis.

The rest are part-timers — mostly farmers. They often do not work during certain seasons. “So for some of them, it is a part-time job. They get paid a fair price. These women are from villages around Hubballi, Dharwad cities,” she said.

Demand for Ilkal silk saree rises

The saree worn by Sitharaman was a red one woven in Ilkal handloom silk, weighing about 800 g. The Ilkal sik saree had a chikki paras border, which has the same embroidery on both sides.

“We received an order for two sarees. On the day of the budget, I received a call from one of the weavers who asked me to switch on the TV. My joy knew no bounds when I saw Nirmala ma’am wearing my work. I felt super proud, not just of myself, but my artisans, my state, and my artwork too,” said Arati.

Shawl with Kasuti embroidery motifs for PM Narendra Modi. (Supplied)

Shawl embroidered for PM Narendra Modi. (Supplied)

It’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride for the weavers and the artisans since then. There has been a flash of orders and everyone wants to wear the exact same red Ilkal silk saree that Sitharaman wore.

“They want the same colour, same weight, same work on the saree. The first two days we sold out all the sarees that we had in the unit and orders are still pouring in. There are hundreds of calls for orders. We don’t have those sarees any more,” she said.

From a 25-year-old bride-to-be to a 75-year-old who has fallen in love with the work and the saree — everyone wants to make it part of their unique saree collection, everyone wants this red Ilkal saree with Kasuti embroidery .

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Need for uniqueness

While inquiries pour in, interestingly, Arati has refused to take any more orders for the red and black Kasuti embroidered saree.

She explained, “We want to make every saree unique. The minister’s saree has to be unique. So, even if I get orders for the same saree, I am not taking it up. Even if we take it, I am doing different designs with the same colour combinations.”

Arati has given special instructions to her weavers and her Kasuti artisans make a different design if it’s the same coloured saree, and keep the design if the colour of the saree is different.

Ilkal gets its due

The Ilkal saree is a very special product but has not received the attention it deserved, noted Arati. She said that the Ilkal silk saree weave is on par with the much-revered Kanjeevaram.

In Karnataka, there are amazing weavers who weave Ilkal and Molakalmuru sarees. However, they have failed to get the same recognition Kanjeevaram has received, she explained.

“Nirmala Sitharaman’s silk saree has gained great popularity and has given Ilkal that push now. The state government is also planning to make Ilkal — a tourist destination — showcase the weaving style and help the weavers there,” she added.

Ilkal sarees come in powerloom, handloom, viscose rayon and so on. What Sitharaman was wearing was made of silk. Traditionally, Kasuti embroidery is done on Ilkal sarees.

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Kasuti embroidery work and its speciality

Arati gives the credit to all her artisans and their efforts to bring out the beautiful piece that the finance minister was wearing. She said that Kasuti embroidery has its own history and is a skilled art.

The art is said to have originated during the reign of the Chalukya dynasty and it was done only by women in Karnataka.

“There are various kinds of Kasuti embroidery motifs, mostly inspired by what the villagers see around them,” she explained.

women working with Arati on the Ilkal sarees with Kasuti embroidery motifs at her unit

Women artisans from Artikrafts working with Arati on the sarees at her unit. (Supplied)

It is a skilled art and is not very easy to master. Arati explained that it has four types of stitches. Traditionally, these stitches are done using light-coloured cotton threads on handwoven textiles with deep colours.

“Kasuti has four types of stitches. The gavanti stitch or double stitch is the one where both sides are the same and is the most popular. Then, there is muragi or the zig-zag stitch, the negi which looks like a weave, horizontal lines stitch, and menthi or the cross stitch,” she added.

In the earlier days, a bride in the area had to compulsory possess a black and red bordered silk saree — known as the chandrakali saree — with Kasuti work on it.

Stories told on fabric

Earlier, it was quite difficult to make these embroidery stitches, but now there are easier ways to make these.

“We are stencilling the patterns on the saree. Once that is done, it is embroidered, but the concept is the same,” she added.

Kasuti embroidery motifs

Motifs of houses, trees, rangoli embroidered on a saree (Supplied)

Traditionally, the Kasuti embroidery motifs are of village scenes. “We have ‘theru’ the temple chariot, ‘jaatre’ village fair, elephants, peacocks, temple gopurams (entrance of the temple), basinga — a thread of sorts worn by the bride and groom during marriage — Hanuman figures, lamps, lotuses, parrots, adiki kamala (beetle nut lotus) and much more,” said Arati.

The cost of these beautifully-embroidered sarees depends on the weave —and on the material: Silk, cotton, or pure silk. Cotton sarees range between ₹4,000 and ₹9,000, depending on the design. Running borders cost more. Silk sarees range between ₹15,000 and ₹40,000, said Arati.

“We also take orders where people can send us the saree and we do the embroidery. We also have our own collections,” Arati said.

If you are looking to place an order with Artikrafts, then Instagram and Facebook are where you go. Facebook page: Kasuti Pride of Karnataka – Arati Hiremath and Instagram page: artikrafts_kasuti.