Karnataka · Travel

Mysuru off the beaten track- Part I: Of Silk and Sandal

One of the most visited cities of South India, Mysore in Karnataka is synonomous with royalty, heritage and of course its world famous Dasara. Recently renamed Mysuru, the city’s glittering palace is literally the soul of the place and the epitome of splendor and all grandeur.  Also known as the cultural capital of the state, the city’s ten day long festivities during the festival of Dasara attracts visitors from all over the world.  The entire city is decked up with all heritage buildings and prominent landmarks lit up.  Music and dance performances, a torch light parade and a majestic procession which marks the grand finale are just some of the highlights of the celebration.

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Apart from the palace and Dasara, the city has lots to offer for the discerning tourist.  Whether it is museums, lakes, heritage buildings or factories, there is a lot you can see and do.  Here are some ‘not so touristy‘ places you can visit while in the cleanest city in India.

Silk Worm Seed Production Centre:

While not frequented by tourists, this is a place whose board I spotted by chance while on the way to the Silk weaving factory. Set up under the aegis of the Central Silk board of India, the centre is responsible for the production of high quality silkworm eggs that are supplied to the farmers. Karnataka is the country’s top producer of silk and hence the demand for disease resistant silk worm eggs is high.

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The staff were friendly inside and they did a great job in explaining the life cycle of the silk worm.  The tour was both informative and educative and it was not surprising to note that the place is mostly frequented by students and researchers.

Government Silk Weaving factory:

Mysore lends its name to several specialties that are native to the city.  This includes the Mysore masala dosa, Mysore jasmine, Mysore pak (a sweet made of gram flour, ghee and sugar) and Mysore betel leaf.  But the most famous of them all is the renowned Mysore silk which is woven into the most elegant saris you can ever find.

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The sprawling complex located on Manandavadi Road in the city houses the main showroom at the entrance where one can buy the authentic Mysore silk saree.  However, the highlight is the factory behind that was set up over a century ago by the Mysore Maharajas with the objective of producing the world’s finest silk in the city.   Open to visitors to take a look, the factory is the centre of production for Mysore silk saris.   The saree is characterized by its fine texture and superior luster with the zari containing pure silver with gold polish.

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It is indeed a fascinating experience to view the entire process by which the thread is spun, woven into fabric, bleached, dyed and finally transformed into a sari.  Silk worm cocoons are carefully selected and boiled to obtain the raw material.  The threads obtained are initially dyed a light orange and green to distinguish the warp and weft yarns that are combined and woven into cloth.  The cloth is then dyed white over which the design is finalized. There are over 100 looms each of which produce unique border designs and are operated by individual workers.

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Once the design is ready, the fabric is bleached and dyed in the specific color.   They are finally steam rolled, ironed and cut to specific sizes.  A batch of 24 saris are produced of a single color at one time.  It was insightful to view meters and meters of silk being churned out by hundreds of employees who work day on day to produce these saris that are in much demand.

According to the workers, the factory churns out a whopping 300-320 saris a day but this still falls short in terms of meeting the demand from stores all over!

Government Sandal oil factory:

The Mysore Sandal soap and Mysore agarbattis (incense sticks) are some of the other products integral to the city of Mysuru.  The sandal oil factory was established way back in 1917 again by the Maharaja of Mysore.  It was set up with the objective of extracting sandalwood oil from sandalwood which was then used for making soaps, cosmetics, incense sticks and other products.

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Currently due to the acute shortage of sandalwood and latest Government regulations, production is stopped in the factory and there is only a limited production of incense cones.  However, one can visit the place for its sheer heritage appeal.  The pleasant fragrance of sandal is all pervading as one takes a tour of the well maintained factory.  The almost vintage looking doors and high ceilings supported by wooden shafts is reminiscent of the good old days and almost transports you back in time.

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The guide gave us an insight into the process of oil extraction and showed us around the machines that were used for manufacture.  Approaching its centenary year,  the factory is yet another symbol of the city’s rich traditional past and a reflection of yesteryear glory.

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All the three places are almost contiguous and lie at short distances from one another on Manandavadi Road in the city.  Photography is strictly prohibited inside the factories.

To know more about places to visit in Mysore,  read my posts here and here.

20 thoughts on “Mysuru off the beaten track- Part I: Of Silk and Sandal

  1. Hi Rashmi
    Mysore remains a second home for most Bangaloreans:)
    Nice article…and nothing beats the beauty and comfort of a Mysore silk saree:)

  2. Fabulous Story Rashmi..Wonderful work…I would appreciate someday if you manage to write an article on the Silk Weavers of Mysuru and Mandya..particularly covering the rural area…that would really spice up your blog…Anyway great going Rashmi..you are doing a fantastic work…Merry Christmas…Hope that the New Year would bring exciting ideas…Best Regards…Indranil Mutsuddi

    1. Thank you so much Indranil. You are really kind; in fact I was already thinking of that article. I will definitely incorporate that story.
      Wishing your family and you a fabulous 2017!!!

  3. Hi, Rashmi!
    I have been to Mysore quite a few times but have completely missed this sandal oil factory!
    Your trip seems to be an informative and entertaining one! Nice post.
    And, Happy New Year 🙂

    1. Yes worms are kind of creepy but silk looks great:) It is unfortunate that the worms need to be killed for silk. But there is “Ahimsa” (non-violence) silk these days, so I prefer that. You must plan a trip to India!

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