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The CHANDERI textile that has stolen millions of hearts around the world, originated in a small town at the very heart of the country. The town of Chanderi in Ashok Nagar District of Madhya Pradesh is known for its historical importance as well as the world-famous hand weaved Chanderi sarees. While ancient texts speak of Madhya Pradesh as a famous centre for weaving between the 7th century and the 2nd century BC, it rose to prominence in the 11th century, when it became one of the most important trade routes in India because of its proximity to the arterial routes to the ancient ports of Gujarat, Malwa, Mewar, Central India and Deccan regions.

Town of Chanderi

Chanderi is also famous for its brocades and muslins, especially for its hand-woven Chanderi sarees. Here, master weavers use silk and cotton to create dazzling weaves, distinguished by beautiful borders. Usually, in subtle hues, the Chanderi sarees have sophistication hard to match. In the silk Zari sarees, influences of the Varanasi style are visible. They generally have a rich gold border and two gold bands on the pallav. The more exclusive ones have gold checks with lotus roundels all over which are known as butis

The price range for the Chanderi textile is around 1500 rupees(INR) for simple textile and Rs 5000 is the starting range for an original Chanderi silk sari. The price is evidently quite reasonable remarking the intricate work done on a handloom. However, the market for the particular handloom wasn’t in good conditions and the trade is in turmoil. Weavers are left to negotiate with the Seths(appointed local boss) for some form of payment. They are the hardest hit as the retail demand has plummeted. Most of the weavers work for traders or master weavers (usually, veteran weavers who are also traders).

The workers face many problems due to various reasons:

  • Middle man (Seths etc.)
  • The resources and the raw material is scarce, most of the expensive material is brought from Karnataka for good quality, which increases the labour charge.
  • No aided facility and manufacturing help, the handloom workers constantly deal in small spaces, long hours of working and low electricity flow.
  • The constant threat from power loom and fast fashion industries. Since the colonial periods many handicrafts and handlooms are perishing because of cheap prices and huge markets.
  • Low payment, handloom workers work on order basis and it take them a long time to make a particular product, which slows their earning rate , which is further slowed by the middleman and delivery charges which makes the round off of 83-150/- Rs per day.

These reasons often lead the Chanderi handloom weavers to turn alternative jobs of agriculture and bidi making, however, 60% of the working population in Chanderi is into handlooms and handicrafts.


Chanderi town and its handloom were famous and known all over India, but the handlooms industry wasn’t in good condition, in 2009, Chanderiyaan, a project run by the NGO Digital Empowerment Formation (DEF) with support from the government in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh, the ministry is aiming to link weavers to e-commerce.

Chanderiyaan seeks to preserve the craft, educate the weavers and their children to enter the marketplace by making them understand tailoring, use of computers in design and digitisation of the archives of the traditional designs. A handloom park that will house about 240 weavers from the area from different clusters will be functional in a couple of months. This was the initiative of Jyotiraditya Scindia who saw looms taking up a whole room in the small tenements the weavers lived in. As part of the project, weavers have to put in about Rs 50,000 each and get a 30-year lease. It helps them earn better wages: Rs 300-500 per day instead of the Rs 80 they were earning till 2009.

Their condition was terrible, as informed by Muzaffar Ansari, who comes from a weaver family, used to weave as part of the family vocation but now works as a guide. 

  • Access to the market in India and all around the world, and direct contact skipping the multiple stages and involvement of middle man.
  • Wi-Fi was introduced in the city in 2010.
  • Websites were created for e-commerce.
  • Knowledge about the trends and demands in market and manufacture what sells.

Chanderi handlooms have sent saris and other products to Canada, France, Italy and Germany. About 2,000 girls were given tailoring lessons. Computer training was given along with other initiatives to enable the weavers to set up their own business.

Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) in collaboration with Media Labs Asia has conceptualized the Chanderi Weavers ICT Resource Centre (CWICTRC) in order to provide technical education to the textile weavers of Chanderi. It endeavours to provide alternative options of livelihood through ICT based empowerment. This initiative, collectively called ‘Chanderiyaan’ aims at fostering community based development and empowerment through the Chanderi Integrated ICT for Development Program.

The Chanderi Integrated ICT for Development Program (CIIDP) endeavours to enable multi-pronged integrated digital development of Chanderi by creating a digital ecosystem of the town. The program is all embracing, incorporating Social entrepreneurship, Healthcare, Education and Tourism and integrating it with the socio-economic and historical fabric of Chanderi.

1.  Chanderi Weavers Information Resource Centre

The Chanderi Weavers Information Resource Centre (CWIRC) has been operational for about 8 years and has been serving the entire 40,000 population of Chanderi including 13 schools and more than 50 Panchayats. CWIRC was selected for conducting the Training of Trainers (ToT) and also for the deployment of the Wireless Mesh Network.

2.   Digital Designing and Archiving (pictures of prints of chanderi prints on sheets)

With more than 3500 weaver families in Chanderi district, we have been able to archive more than 5000 traditional designs, passed from over five generations into our Digital Archive Bank. We hold design competitions inside the district. The winners of which are handpicked and trained on advanced design software like JacqDraw. The outstanding performers of these training workshops are employed as designers who thereby amplify the efficacy of this cycle and further enhance job-creating opportunities.

3.  Capacity Building and Skilling 

Apart from digital literacy and information, Chanderiyaan also acts as an agent to build capacities of communities in the region. A number of workshops are organized at the centre revolving around issues like menstrual health, skill development, environmental consciousness in collaboration with other organizations and government bodies.

4.  Entrepreneurship Development

Believing in this philosophy of giving back to the community, Chanderiyaan has always been dedicated not only towards benefiting the population of Chanderi through its organizational initiatives, but also towards encouraging the people for entrepreneurship and empowering them for true utilization of their skills for the betterment of society.

5.  Wireless for Community

At Chanderi, DEF decided to make CWIRC centre as the base, covering 20-30 kilometers of the region with a purpose of establishing one relay station and five point-to-point nodes. Through this setup, DEF covered 30 schools of the region and more than 50 Panchayats to provide the connectivity.

6.  Hand loom Tourism

Chanderi is a place highly renowned for its rich heritage, cultural diversity and profound tourist attractions. With the current historical information of over 13 Centuries, the first historical aspect of Chanderi can be traced back to the 8th Century AD, when the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty established its sovereignty over Bodhi Chanderi, making it a sizeable township complete with all the regalia befitting a town.

Media Lab Asia: It has supported the Chanderiyaan project in Chanderi cluster, Madhya Pradesh, by providing technological, financial and project aid.

Ministry of Communications and Information Technology: The ministry provided financial support to the Chanderiyaan project in Chanderi.

Under Chanderiyaan , softwares and system have been introduced in the weaver community which support them to cater to not only normal market but also to the high profile designers, soft wares from wonder weaves have impacted the production majorly.

The design empowerment is largely happening through the innovative software being used, created by Wonder Weaves Systems. The design support from Wonders Weaver Systems have come through the Dobby Master software, which is an extremely sophisticated design tool which not only caters to the qualified designer but also to the novice who may not have much weaving knowledge. The Jacquard Master used is probably one of the most detailed software for jacquard weaving; it is assisting in delivering designs like Terry / Plie and other complex Furnishing fabric. The JacDraw is providing with several tools for Editing or retouching images. The impact of the technology & software support from Wonder Weaves Systems has been manifold in Chanderi:

  1. With the use of these software Chanderi’s product demand has increased almost double than the previous two years.(2012)
  2. Weavers getting almost double income.
  3. At present 95% of Chanderi’s design is being designed with the help of these software.
  4. With the use of these software weavers are saving around 7-8 days lien time in a month.
  5. Another impact is the increase in the number of looms due to product and market demand for more supply based on new design patterns.

Digital Empowerment Foundation ( is satisfactory of the fact that the software support from Wonder Weaves Systems have helped in achieving key objectives of the project ‘Chanderi Weavers ICT Resource Centre’, a project of Ministry of Information & Communication Technology, Govt. of India and implemented by Digital Empowerment Foundation and Media Lab Asia. Currently the second phase of the project is in run. We hope that the technology and support services of Wonder Weaves Systems will continue to provide such qualitative services to communities as and when required.

Due to the efforts of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a not-for-profit, the marginalized weave has got a major kick and is now up and running.  Its Chanderiyaan project in Madhya Pradesh, run for the benefit of more than 3,500 families of Chanderi weavers, saw the launch of, an e-commerce website in 2011. Through this, weavers can bypass middlemen and sell their products directly online.

Since 2009, weavers have:

  • Tied up with delivery services all over the world to ensure that their products can be accessed anywhere.
  • Within India, buyers will have the option of paying cash on delivery.

Originally the Chanderi weave used silk on silk thread, but silk on cotton is more affordable and better suited to modern times. The Zari used is usually gold thread sourced from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

The Chanderiyaan project is an example of how digital intervention can change the lives of communities dependent on arts, crafts and handloom for a livelihood. These communities face challenges such as outdated designs, debt or middlemen taking a larger share of the profit.

This initiative, funded by the Union ministry of communications and information technology till 2011 and now on its

  • a self-sustaining entity,
  • imparted basic English-language classes,
  • taught a few weaver-designers computers skills for design purposes,
  • made the area Wi-Fi enabled and
  • Introduced the community to social networking media.

However the industry has been affected by the current situation of covid-19 pandemic and the workers and weavers are able to procure raw materials and resources and  they can avail to the market needs through online portals however the smaller communities like for example in pran Madhya Pradesh are hit badly.

 Further Digital Empowerment Foundation in partnership with the government and private organisations has initiated several projects that primarily involve inclusive and decentralized use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and other digital tools in critical aspects of cluster development, especially improving and scaling up weaving skills, designs, marketing and entrepreneurship, along with creating sustainable livelihood options for youth in the clusters.

The development focus of the model allows the integration of both the social and economic capital needs of targeted artisan communities in an effort to lead them towards inclusive growth. Projects under DigiKargha work with support from Media Lab Asia for Chanderiyaan, Ericsson for Baank-e-Loom, Mphasis for Musiri, Nokia for KanchiLoom, UNDP for Warli, and Microsoft for DigiKala, Kaulava and Pochampally.

References -Digital Empowerment Foundation
Building No. 44, 2nd & 3rd Floor,
Kalu Sarai, Near IIT Flyover,
Vijay Mandal Enclave,
New Delhi, Delhi 110016

About the Author

Harshit Prajapati (@hahahahahaharshit@prajarty), Bachelor of Design, National Institute of Fashion Technology

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