KATHMANDU: After dragons, exotic flora and images of the Buddha, Chinese weavers have turned to a new design for textile exports – Satya Sai Baba, one of India’s spiritual gurus.
China has entered the lucrative market of making memorabilia of the 78-year-old Baba, who has millions of followers all over the world, by churning out polyester silk with busts of the godman in orange, yellow and black.
Chinese silks and polyesters are exported to Kathmandu where they are in high demand for garments for tourists as well as the Tibetan diaspora living in the Himalayan kingdom.
Amidst bales of bright coloured cloth in traditional design, there is also the face of the Baba, smiling enigmatically against a white background.
“The Chinese have a quick eye for profit,” says Mahendra Shrestha, who has been selling strips containing four images of the Baba for Nepali Rs.100 per strip. “From the traditional designs, they are venturing into any new design they think will have a market.”
There are at least two Sai Baba centres in Kathmandu alone. However, there are none in mainland China, the nearest being in Hong Kong.
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The Baba, born Satyanarayana Raju, has a sprawling ashram at Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh(India).
The Baba is known by his trademark halo of shoulder-long frizzy hair, saffron robe and hand raised in the posture of conferring blessings.
Photographs, posters and calendars of the Baba are a familiar sight in India and even neighbouring Nepal where senior politicians, army chiefs and even members of the royal family are followers of the miracle man who materialises objects out of thin air and whose photographs are said to produce ‘vibhuti’ or sacred ash.
There have been cases of enterprising designers trying to cash in on the exotic and then running into trouble with devotees, like when they used images of Hindu gods on bikinis.
However, it is unlikely that the Chinese design on the Baba will create a similar uproar.
Mahendra Shrestha says: “The cloth with the Baba is thicker than that used to make dresses. It is intended to make wall hangings or, at the most, bags.”