Worm to weave – an ahimsa tradition that women weavers are leading in Meghalaya

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In Meghalaya's Ri Bhoi district there is a quiet revolution of sorts happening. A silent revolution that has been going on for the last many years thanks to the women here. It's a tradition that over the years was dying a slow death but due to the efforts of the state government and some NGOs, eri weaving is slowly but surely finding its feet back. Leading that change are the women weavers of this district.

Eri or Ryndia is also known as ‘ahimsa' silk. It's a non-violent process of extracting the worm from the cocoon without killing it and therefore the tag ‘ahimsa'. The eri process is also an organic one, in that, only natural dyes are used.

There is a wonderful story that is intrinsically woven in every warp and weft of an eri product. The story of eri weaving is perhaps as old as the land with which it is so deeply tied. It is a family tradition that is handed down from mother to daughter over generations, an intrinsic part of the culture and heritage of this particular district. Young girls are taught not just how to weave eri silk but also the entire process from getting the leaves for the worms to feed on, acquiring the natural dyes from the forests, extracting the larvae from the cocoon and the dyeing process.

However, for these traditional women entrepreneurs it doesn't end with weaving. They also have to sell and market their products. The traditional handloom industry by its very nature makes it impossible for mass production and that makes it difficult for the weavers to earn a decent living. There is no organised market as well for these products. However, the state government and NGOs are doing their bit to encourage the perpetuation of this tradition and to improve the lot of these women weavers. Besides, designers like Daniel Syiem are also trying to make Ryndia mainstream by taking it outside Meghalaya.