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Geographical Indication – A Study of Kanchipuram Silk

1. Introduction:

In India, the Geographical indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 was enforced on September 2003 and section 2(e) defines GI .A geographical indication [GI] is a sign used on goods primarily which are natural, agricultural or manufactured product (industrial goods and handicrafts) which are originated in a specific area and possess a reputation which gives impression of that place of origin. Generally, a geographical indication involves the name of the place of origin of those goods as there is a link between the product and the place of belonging. GI laws protect the product from being copied in any way elsewhere and is used as a certification of its quality. Though registration under the act is not mandatory, it provides relief from infringement to registered users. Under the Act read with the Geographical Indication Rules, 2002, an application for the registration of a GI can be made. The remedies against infringement for GI’s are the same as those of trademark infringements. According to Government data, as of 2018, 326 products including Alphonso Mango, Kolhapuri Chappal, and Darjeeling tea have been registered as GI’s in India.[1] The duration of GI is for a period of 10 years, after which it can be renewed further for 10 years. The GI tag is distinguished from various other forms of Intellectual Property Rights such as trademarks.  A GI is used in the recognition of goods having special features or characteristics, the source of origin being a defined geographical territory whereas a trade mark distinguishes good or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises and is used in the course of trade. [2]Also, unlike in patents and trademarks, a GI provides exclusivity to the community rather than an individual in a definite geographical region.

Any registered association of persons, producers, organization or authority established under the law can apply for the registration of a GI where the applicant has to represent the interest of the producers with a written application in the prescribed form which should be addressed to the Registrar of GI[3]. However, certain products like agriculture, natural, handicrafts etc. has been conferred which shows special characteristics and uniqueness of historical origins from the land where they emerged. Like, the Kanchipuram Silk Saree which originated in a town called Kanchipuramalso known as the “Temple City” 70 kms away from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. This town has evidenced from the Chola dynasty to Mughals and the British but during the reign of Krishnadevaraya from the Vijayanagara dynasty two weaving communities from Andhra Pradesh came to Kanchipuram, the Devangas and the Saligars. This migrated community gave the recognition and high status to Kanchipuram silk by using their weaving skills and adding motifs which were inspired from the rich architecture of temples because the city is full of temples showing the heritage of the famous Dravidian empire[4]. The major part of the weaving generally took place outside the villages of Kanchipuram and this saree weaving is a household pre-occupation which involves more than 5000 families. 

2. Weaving Process and uniqueness of a Kanchipuram Saree :

To answer the question as to why a GI tag is required for the Kanchipuram Silk, the weaving process and uniqueness of the Kanchipuram saree is to be looked into. The thread which is used for weaving a Kanchipuram saree is mulberry silk thread which comes from South India. The weavers use three shuttles while weaving and a warped frame is used to weave the silk. The specialty of Kanchipuram silk saree is that it is in 1.2 inches of warp frame and the warp has about 60 holes with 240 threads and about 250 to 3000 threads are in the wept pushing it sturdy which basically gives strength to the saree. The border of the silk saree is the focus and the important part which is often in contrasting colours which has to be woven separate from the saree[5]. Contrast Kanchipuram silk sarees are made by Kanjivaram silks and after the completion of the process of weaving the contrasting borders are interlocked with the sarees. The heart of a saree has to be Pallu and it needs to stand out, which is woven separately and then later interlocked with the silk saree. There is distinctive zig-zag line where the Pallu meets the silk saree. It has found that more skilled the artisan or the weaver is the beautifully interlocked or camouflaged the Pallu or the border of the saree comes out and the interlocked part is inseparable and this interlocking is known as ‘pitni’. When the border of the saree is required on both the sides then it takes three shuttles for each saree. The silver or the gold zari to create these borders and pallus especially come from Gujarat where at the initial stage the silk threats first dipped in rice water and then left to dry out in the sun. This process helps to increase the thickness and the stiffness of the threads so that they do not easily break in the process of weaving. The silk thread is interlocked with a thin silver wire and woven through after which the procedure gets completed by weaving the golden thread.

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The zaris mainly constitute 57 percent silver and 0.6 percent of gold and it takes about 10 days to 15 days to weave a single kanchipuram silk saree but the duration and the threads differs depending on the designs and intricacies which the silk saree demand. Many a times it takes nearly 170 people to weave just one saree. The genuine or the original Kanchipuram silk sarees are priced high as it involves lot of labor and intricate work and the materials used for making the saree is majorly zari and gold thread.

There are 114 designs and motifs of the saree which are inspired by the images and sculptors of the South Indian temples in these times and has brought the name to the city “City of silk”,  are mostly traditional temple borders, checks, stripes and florals or buttas giving rise to motifs of birds, animals and even leaves. Kanchipuram sarees owing to its origin place often contain the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, designs from the Mahabharata and Ramayana woven into the saree. To imprint these motifs onto the sarees the weavers draw the designs or motifs of two or five inches long on a black or white sheet and then transfer to it to graph paper by hand or computerized scanning then the graph paper designs are transferred to on punch cards. These punch cards have holes according to the graphs and these holes helps in the consolidated process of hand looming to create the designs. The use of computers in creating designs in on rise.

However, it is said that the Kanchipuram cotton sarees were the essence and the silk is just the replacement of them and the whole East Coast was famous for its cotton trade and weaving. Each saree had contained different and unique pattern, design, texture. But with the time these cotton sarees have also faded away due to the lack of buyers because people tend to fall for silk which is processed in and result of power-loom. If the cotton looms have to be restored the job of the weaving will have to be made more lucrative, nowadays very few people wants to engage in this labor intensive business. 

3. Acquisition of GI tag for Kanchipuram Silk:

Considering the uniqueness of the Kanchipuram silk to its geographical location of Kanchipuram, P Sanjay Gandhi, an Advocate in the Madras High Court put his five-year-long effort to acquire the Geographical Indication tag with the help of Textile Ministry. He started his work with the famous Kanchipuram silk and in 2005, twenty-one cooperative societies and ten individuals were granted their GI tags. For a GI to be obtained, the authenticated records from government organisations proving its uniqueness and manuscripts proving its historical origin need to be submitted. The ‘authorized user’ tag is only for individuals whereas the ‘registered proprietor’ is given for societies[6].  According to the GI act, the authorized makers only could claim their product to be Kanchipuram Silk, however, there is no bar on the other people to get registered but they must stick with certain basic characteristics of weaving, production process and territorial rights. GI tag also safeguards the registered work in foreign countries under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, to which India is a recognized signatory. 

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 The Kanchipuram Silk was thus accorded the GI tag under the class 24 & 25 in the category of ‘Handicraft’ Goods, a decision delightfully welcomed by the industry.

4. Challenges faced by the industry :

In the current scenario, the demand for the sarees exceeds the supply which has engendered the production of ‘duplicate sarees’. These are lookalikes of the original and possess all attributes as fixed by the GI, sold at a relatively lower price. The difference being that the techniques and raw materials used are not the same and the quality of three features (i.e.) the silk, korvai and zari are compromised. “There are 200 Kanchipuram ‘silk’ saree manufacturers in town who make 20,000 sarees a year but of those, only 200 can be classified as genuine Kanchipuram silk sarees, says an official, on condition of anonymity”.[7] Duplicate Kanchipuram sarees are identified as “simple weaves” or “china raham” and are bought for “gifting” purposes in Kanchipuramat lower prices than those of the mahuratham or “wedding” saree.[8]Due to the changing tastes of people preferring light weight sarees, cotton is blended in the body of the saree. Artificial zari is used instead of pure zari. This reduces the gold and silver content in zari which in turn reduces the cost , affects the reputation of the sarees and thus impacts the sales in the negative manner.

It is also important to note that the weavers earn a fixed income irrespective of the design and material of the saree whereas the retail stores reap the benefits by selling them at a significantly higher cost. A tamil movie named Kanchivaram released in 2008 depicted such struggles of the silk weavers where they are not lucky enough to afford a piece of the same cloth that they weave. E.Muthukumar , general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weaving Workers Federation had stated that the weavers do not enjoy a fair share of profits even though the Kanchi silk trade is flourishing as the wages of the weavers have not been increased.[9] Additionally, there is a problem of poor quality zari from other states such as Surat with 80% less silver content being infiltrated into the markets.

Post the implementation of GST, a 5% GST meant that the sellers had to increase the price of their sarees by 25% to attract profits, due to which business was affected[10]. It is also to be noted, that the younger generations look for greener pastures in other fields as the income for weavers can be relatively low. Thus we see that the challenges faced by the industry are ample.

5. The Government of Tamil Nadu’s Initiative:

As this sector which can be prone to exploitation and duplication, and which provides livelihood for thousands of families, it is essential that they receive the support of the Government. The Tamil Nadu Government and Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council [TIFAC] have mutually set up a testing unit in Kanchipuram for testing the gold and silver content in zari. This facility can be used by paying a nominal fee by both individuals and co-operatives. In order to prevent the crisis of fake silk sarees, government shops are available from which the silk yarns can be purchased through a centralised committee ensuring its quality. A campaign to eradicate child labour in the industry by having committees formed to inspect the saree producing units has also been undertaken by the government. [11]Piling up of stocks and declining capital is another problem being faced by co-operative societies due to which they provide discount on their prices. The government offers rebate on these prices.[12] Thus, the government has taken steps to ensure that the sector is not alone in finding solutions to the problems arisen from advancement of modern technology.

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6. Conclusion:

As discussed, the Kanchipuram silk industry is vast with the sarees being exported to different countries like Sri Lanka, USA since 1960 . It is also estimated that approximately 6000 looms are present in the city with the turnover exceeding Rs.200 crores. The GI tag establishes the condition of the product to its standards vouching for its authenticity, certifies its origin , and also helps in original silk saris being sold in the global market. In the current scenario, with the exploitation being on the rise, the GI’s are a boon to the craftsmen who put in their efforts in ensuring the quality of the products and it is important to thus distinguish the original from the imitation . The authentic silk sarees have the silk mark organisation symbol and the pre-defined standards are that the zari should contain 57%silver and 0.6% gold in it with the sarees being produced in the Kanchipuram region. [13] Even though some supportive steps have been taken by the government, more initiatives such as better marketing of the product and raising consumer awareness are required to preserve the ancient ‘Kanchi’ silk as fondly called by the locals.


[1]‘GI Tag: 326 Products Including Kancheepuram Silk Saree, Alphonso Mango, KolhapuriChappal Registered So Far’ (The Financial Express, 2020) <https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/gi-tag-326-products-including-kancheepuram-silk-saree-alphonso-mango-kolhapuri-chappal-registered-so-far/1358244/&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[2](Ipindia.nic.in, 2020) <http://www.ipindia.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOJournal/1_2682_1/Journal_114.pdf&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[3]Geographical Indications Registry, http://www.ipin ‘Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) | Geographical Indications | Intellectual Property India’ (Ipindia.nic.in, 2020) <http://ipindia.nic.in/faq-gi.htm&gt; accessed 15 May 2020dia.nic.in/faq-gi.htm

[4]Vazquez J, ‘Origin And Making Of Kanchipuram Silk Sarees – Bel-India’ (Bel-India, 2020) <https://bel-india.com/origin-and-making-of-kanchipuram-silk-sarees/&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[5]‘HISTORY OF KANCHEEPURAM SILK SAREES-INDIANMIRROR’ (Indianmirror.com, 2020) <https://www.indianmirror.com/culture/indian-specialties/kancheepuramsaree.html&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[6]Shekar A, ‘From Kancheepuram Silk To Thanjavur Doll, This Lawyer Has Got 18 GI Tags For TN’ (The News Minute, 2020) <https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kancheepuram-silk-thanjavur-doll-lawyer-has-got-18-gi-tags-tn-100479&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[7]SivaramakrishnanV ,’The Kanchipuram Silk Story’. (Business Outlook India,2010)http://business.outlookindia.com/ article.aspx?269809

[8]Kawlra A, ‘Duplicating The Local : GI And The Politics Of ‘Place’ In Kanchipuram’ (125.22.40.134, 2014) <http://125.22.40.134:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/888/1/29_Aarti_Kawlra.pdf&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[9]‘Kancheepuram Silk Weavers’ Woes Will Echo In Poll Choices’ (Deccan Chronicle, 2020) <https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/150316/kancheepuram-silk-weavers-woes-will-echo-in-poll-choices.html&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[10]Muthukumar R, ‘The Weavers Of Kanchipuram’ (Nsoj.in, 2020) <https://www.nsoj.in/stories/the-weavers-of-kanchipuram&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[11]Kaur M, ‘An Overview Of Kanjeevaram Silk Sarees Of Tamil Nadu’ (2020) <http://14.139.155.167/test5/index.php/kjas/article/viewFile/8344/8595&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[12]‘HISTORY OF KANCHEEPURAM SILK SAREES-INDIANMIRROR’ (Indianmirror.com, 2020) <https://www.indianmirror.com/culture/indian-specialties/kancheepuramsaree.html&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

[13](Etraderevolution.com, 2020) <https://www.etraderevolution.com/kanchipuram-silk-fabric-sari&gt; accessed 15 May 2020

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Author

Aanchal Agarwal
Student - Jindal Global Law School