As Covid Deaths Rise, Weavers of Gaya Work Overtime to Meet Demand for Cremation Cloth

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Weaving of Pitambari in Gaya’s Patwa Toli

Demand for Pitambari, the yellow cloth that is used to cover dead bodies for cremation, sees big jump

Sami Ahmad | Clarion India

GAYA – While the second wave of Covid-19 has forced shutdown of offices and factories, there is one industry which is seeing boom in its busines. The Patwa Toli in the Manpur area of Bihar’s Gaya district, which is famous for producing Pitambari, is bustling with business. Weavers here are overburdened with workload.

Pitambari is yellow cloth that is used to cover dead bodies for cremation according to Hindu tradition.

Gaya’s Vishu Path cremation ground is considered one of the holiests in eastern India. It is witnessing huge surge in cremations after the outbreak of the second wave of Covid-19 last month. People associated with cremation works here say that as against daily 10 cremations until the outbreak, now 40 to 50 bodies are being brought everyday.

Once called ‘Manchester of Bihar’ Patwa Toli is also famous for producing IITians. But that is another story. This small village has been producing around 15,000 Pitambari a month in normal days. But during the last one month or so, the demand of Pitambari has increased manifold.

Now this place is producing the same number of Pitambari everyday what it used to produce in the entire month.

Around 25,000 people are engaged in weaving here. Besides Pitambari, they also produce towels, lungis, bedsheets, bedcovers, etc. Thanks to the increased demand for Pitambari and a new product face masks, they continue to be busy as demand for other products has gone down.

Pitambaris are an integral part of Hindu funerals. It is customery for people attending a funeral to offer Pitambari to a dead body. It is made of polyester, cotton and mixed yarn with print of Hindu religious text. In West Bengal, it is also called Ramnama. The language of religious texts is changed to Bangla or Odiya according to the state.

Patwa Toli is well-connected when it comes to transport. Rail and road links help the village in supplying its products throughout Bihar and beyond including Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam and the rest of the northeast India. Apart from Manpur railway station, Gaya railway junction is within a few kilometers.

Parasnath Patwa is in the business of manufacturing and supplying Pitambaris for more than 15 years. Talking to Clarion India, he said currently the number of people attending funerals have been restricted due to the lockdown but the demand for Pitambaris are going up. During normal days one funeral meant sale of up to 100 Pitambaris. “Now hardly 20, or maximum 30 people come in each funeral procession. Since the number of funerals have increased the demand for Pitambaris is also up.”

Parasnath supplies Pitambari in three categories. Polyester ones are sold at Rs. 20 to Rs. 90. The mixed yarn Pitambaris are sold at Rs. 90 to Rs. 110 and for pure cotton ones the rate starts from Rs. 200.
Patwa Toli has around 900 manufacturing units of handlooms and powerlooms. Only around a dozen used to produce Pitambaris on handlooms. But as the demand has gone up power looms are being used to manufacture it.
Apart from Pitambaris, Covid-19-linked tragedy has also open a new avenue for Patwa Toli. Manufacturers here have started producing face masks. According to an estimate, each manufacturing unit is selling 10,000 to 20,000 pieces a day. Even the local Khadi Bhandar is giving big orders for face masks.

Dwarika Patwa used to manufacture Pitambaris on five handlooms. In view of growing demand, he has dedicated 15 units for this purpose. But, according to him, the yarn, the basic raw material to produce Pitambari, has also become costlier by Rs.15-20 per kg.
Patwa Toli has around 3,000 households. Out of these around 200 households are Muslims.

Engineer Shakeel Akhtar, a businessman whose family-owned Salim & Company was wholesale supplier of yarn to weavers till late 1980s, said that there used to be more than 10,000 Muslim weavers in and around Gaya district. But a good number of them have migrated to Bihvandi in Maharashtra and other places. One of the main reasons for their migration was corruption in cooperative societies meant to help the weaving community. Those who remained in Gaya, chose salaried jobs over weaving as it became less lucrative. Thanks to changes in reservation policy at the state level, many of them got government jobs.

Mustaquim Akhtar Rangrez is president of All India Rangrez Jagaran Manch. He says that rangrez community was an integral part of Patwa Toli handloom industry. But the loom owners started exploiting the weavers forcing them to migrate from here.

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