Chettinadu splendour – Part 3

The third and last post in this thread is about their unique jewellery, the Kandangi selai and their amazing cuisine!

First about the yummy menu served on that day – Have you ever tasted Tomato Kuzhi paniyaram? Which just melts in your mouth? And the famous dessert “Kavuni Arisi” – a delicious dessert made out of the Vietnam/Burma Black sticky rice, sugar and coconut? And another lesser-known dessert which glides into your stomach – the “Aadi Kummayam” the soft fluffy sweet made out of Urad dal, rice and ghee which takes the main place in all important functions!

Variety is key in every Chettinad meal; originally the community were vegetarians but had to adapt to other cuisines as they ventured into new frontiers. Our talented Aachi who has invaluable knowledge on the regional fare (like sarees) has co-authored a book, along with her sister – called the “The Chettinad Cookbook”. She also points out the tremendous organizational capacity of the Aachis to oversee cooking on a large scale – for weddings, special occasions – They just take charge of everything, down to the smallest detail.

It was interesting to hear about the black fibre rice called “Kavuni Arisi” and its gastronomical connection to South East Asia. Earlier the chettiars used to bring small packs of this rice from Vietnam, and later they got the seeds here to sow and cultivate.

We had a look at their vintage Chettinad saris, and was in awe. The earthen hues of mustards, reds, oranges, chromes is a feast to the eyes. And we are still reeling from the effect of these amazing designs! A 100-year-old silk saree with a “Ganda Berunda” motif in pure zari nestled in a maroon which cannot be JUST described 🙂

Chettinadu Aachis wore only silks during the very early years – even daily at home; and of course they wore a diamond addigai, earrings, nose ring and also a “Kappu” in the top of their ears! Very fashionable even then!

And so we learnt that Kandangi Selai DOES not mean checks; this special drape had a “Pin Kosuvam” which was tucked at the back of the hip, and that’s the reason for long borders! When they made the legendary Chettinadu cotton sarees, they were made only in Coarse cotton (40/60 count) – And the reds, maroons, mustard and orange take a special colour ONLY if they are coarse.

We had a glimpse of the “Maman Pattu” – red silk with benarasi border – A towel kind of accessory which the uncles tie like belts over the dhoti, during weddings; And a unique thali which has 34 pieces of gold adornments called the “Kaluthooru” (meaning which stays in the neck) – I love their vocabulary in pure yesteryear Tamizh, where the central ritual of the wedding ceremony, the tying of Mangalsutra is is referred to as “Thirupootuthal”.

Maman pattu

The central piece of the thali is in the shape of a shrine topped by a Gopuram with Mahalakshmi (yes, that connection is because they were traders). They also have a “Vaira thali” in Vaira chain (Diamond thali in the diamond-studded chain)

The glitter of the metal attracted the men too – and of course, the Nagarathars were traders in precious stones ( An insight into their names Vairavan, Muthiah, Rathinam, Manickam..) – It was a common practice for the men to have their ears pierced, and all the Chettiars wear a single “Rudraksham” even today, she points out.

But the most impressive of the Chettiar’s jewellery is the traditionally handed over ornament called “ Gowri Sangam” – A huge gold pendant with a centrepiece of either Nataraja/ or Shiva & Shakti in an elaborate long Rudhraksha malai. We need not even speak about the uncut ruby Burmese kemp necklaces, earrings and bangles!

Chettinadu splendour, Part 2 – The Benares connection

Chettinadu splendour” – what started as just a textile activity session with Meyammai Aachi in 2016, triggered varied interests and been an eye-opener for me. This blog post captures the key points discussed in that session. I was in awe listening to the stories of the “Nattukottai Chettiar’s” or the “Nagarathars” as they are called in our Tamil heartland.

The milk for abishekam and other pooja articles at Kasi viswanath temple are taken at 10.40 am and 9.30 pm every day chanting “Sambo Shankara” and they have the first right of pooja for these timings

The success of the Nagarathars went far-flung, and later on, wherever the British established a presence, Chettiars became their traders too. Business roots were established in Srilanka, Malacca, Singapore, Penang, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

Meyammai Aachi mentioned that since the Chettiar clan used to travel as single men, they always carried the idol of “Dhanduyathapani” of Palani and his “Vel” as protection. They were Saivaites – Shiva was the main deity, but Lord Muruga was their favourite “Chetti Kadavul”. She recounted an incident when one of the Chettiars had to flee from Burma leaving everything during a bombing, he carried just the idol and spear back home!

Whenever they start a business account, the profits are set aside well in advance, as a percentage to the Kuladeivam, or supporting a temple, its choultry, for its festivals and rituals. It was just amazing to hear from her that this support of faith contributed to many pilgrim centres in India – the four top temples recalled were Kasi (Varanasi), Chidambaram, Kunnakudi and Pazhani. She mentioned that the Chettiars established the “Nattukottai Nagar Chatrams” close to the temples – to provide free shelter and food to one and all.

The “Kasi Nagara Chatram” was established in 1863 and intricately linked to the Poojas for Viswanathar at Kasi. From the 1820s they have been performing three poojas – 4 am, 11.30 am and 9 pm – and it’s inspiring to note that these Trikala poojas have been performed without a single break for the past 150 years (even when there was a curfew during the Quit India Movement in 1942, they got special permission) – The milk for abishekam and other pooja articles are taken at 10.40 am and 9.30 pm every day chanting “Sambo Shankara” and they have the first right of pooja for these timings (The other two poojas are owned by Nepal Maharaja and Kasi Maharaja).

g katyan misra on Twitter: "#Kavadi Attam in #Kerala? when i heard &  saw-seems to be similar to #KanwarYatra #Kanwar or #kawar yatra in our  place. i never seen at my place

They are closely associated with the Chidambaram temple too – Each family has a Dikshitar attached to them, and the camphor, vibuthi, Sambrani and oil to the temple come only from the Chettiar families, to date. Another temple closely associated is the Kundrakudi Shanmughanathar temple in the Sivaganga district. Even today, the participation is most from Chettiar communities for the famous Padayathra to Pazhani Murugan temple, carrying kavadis.
Meyammai also mentioned their association with Thiruvannamalai temples and the antique jewellery donated to this famous temple. And another amazing story about the Kanchi Maha Periyaval transforming the atheist “Kaviarasu” Kannadasan – the greatest Tamil poet, writer, and film lyrist of our times.

Sando Chinnapa Devar and Kannadasan were badly injured in a car accident while travelling for a film shooting; Kannadasan was lying unconscious in hospital, and when Devar went to meet the Periyava, he enquired about Kannadasan and gave him the holy ash to smear on his forehead! Devar was so surprised and told the Maha Periyava that Kannadasan was a staunch atheist, and I believe he mentioned the dark atheistic clouds will give way, and told him Kannadasan’s great grandfather did thirupani for the Varadarajar temple, his grandfather for Ekambareshwara temple and his father for Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple. When Kannadasan heard this later, he was so moved and went and prayed to him – and went on to pen his legendary book “Arthamulla Indu Madham”..

To finish the spiritual stories, she had also spoken about the two famous Chettiar saints – Pattinathar and Karaikal Ammaiyar.

Pattinathar was a wealthy Chetty merchant at Kaviri Poom Pattinam, and had the knack of ascertaining the value of gemstones; his father sends him with a ship to make a fortune. But the boy, who is said to be an amsam of Lord Shiva did not have any inclination to wealth – and when he comes back after the voyage – he hands over a “varatti” (Cow dung cake) and a box – The father in fury sends him out of the house! When he opens the box he finds a palm-leaf manuscript and a needle without an eyelet. On the script were the words “ Not even an eyeless needle will accompany you in the final journey of life”.. “Kadatra oosiyum varadhukan kadai vazhikye”

Karaikal Ammaiyar, fondly called “Ammai” by the Lord himself, is one of the 3 women nayanmars of Shiva. She willfully prayed to Shiva to take away her beautiful physical form into a demonical one. And walks on her holy HEAD to Thiruvalangadu, which is one of the five cosmic dance halls, the Rathna Sabhai of Lord Shiva (About 60 kms from Chennai)

So coming back to the rest of the story, we also heard about the Chettiars and Aachis as born bankers 🙂 – how when a male child is born, a certain sum is set aside to accumulate interest and funds for his education, the knack of number crunching by the Kanakupillays of Chettairs..

And the Aachis used to wear only silks and their special “Kasi Pattu” would be brought by the Mootaikarans from Varanasi. The women wouldn’t step out to buy, the sarees were chosen their chettiars only! The Benaras influence borders, motifs can be seen in their vintage specials silks, woven for them exclusively by their weavers..

In the 1930s the success of Burma Chettiars came to a shuddering halt with the Great Depression, and the harrowing Japanese invasion in 1942 – many of them died on the long march out of Rangoon to Assam and fled without nothing in their hands, and how they resurrected themselves back home…

Chettinadu splendour – Part 1

Chettinadu splendour” – what started as just a textile activity session with Meyammai Aachi in 2016, triggered varied interests and been an eye-opener for me.

This blog post captures the key points discussed in that session. I was in awe listening to the stories of the “Nattukottai Chettiar’s” or the “Nagarathars” as they are called in our Tamil heartland.

What Marwari businessmen are to the north and Parsis to the west, the Nagarathars are to the south! A conservative community of traders and financiers with traditions centuries old, their risk-taking aptitude, knowledge of numbers and integrity made them leading personalities in the global business world.

Chettinadu is the cluster of these 75 villages and towns – And their forefathers established 9 temples, and each Chettiar is a born member of these nine temple clans, and so every chettiar is automatically related:) – The nine temples of the Nagarathar are Ilayathangudi, Mathur, Vairavanpatti, Iranyanur, Pillayarpatti, Nemam, Ilupakudi, Soorakudi and Velangudi.

Meyammai Aachi speaks with such clarity and pride; the initial connection between us is more on spirituality, temples, sarees and jewellery, in that order! And it’s a joy to listen to her stories.

Legend is that the Chettiar clan originally migrated from Kancheepuram to the famous Chola port city in the South – “Kaviri Poom Pattinam” or “Poompuhar”. This famous city was the capital of the most famous early Chola king – Karikal Cholan; who built the Grand Anicut for the river Kaveri. He is the legendary king in all our “Sangam” literature – From Pattinapalai to Purananutrupadai;

One of the 5 great epics of Tamil literature, Silapathigaram starts off describing this city, its two distinct districts called “Pattinapakkam” and “Maruvurpakkam” – Kaveri after sacrificing its natural resources to the South of India, joins the sea in Kaviri Poom Pattinam. The literature describes thousands of warships stalled at this port, how its affluent traders called Chettiars manned the Chola fleets which sailed across kingdoms in the east.

The great ruler Rajendra Chola I, who was referred to as “Kadram Kondan” the ruler who conquered Kedah (west coast of Malaya) known as Kadaram in Tamil – And the latter of the five epics “Manimegalai” describes how Kaviri Poompattinam had submerged in the sea due to Tsunami!

The Nagarathars were traders of salt, rice initially – and crossed overseas to establish local finance trading and lending, and specialized in gem trading. We get to know that they traded pearls from the Gulf of Mannar, diamonds from Golconda and Corals. They were the financial experts to the Chola Monarchs; they were the ones who had the honour of crowing the Chola Kings. Later on, their services were required by Pandya Kings too, and so they migrated to Pandiya Nadu in the 13th Century.

Chettinadu is the cluster of these 75 villages and towns – And their forefathers established 9 temples, and each Chettiar is a born member of this nine temple clans, and so every Chettiar is automatically related:) – The nine temples of the Nagarathar are Ilayathangudi, Mathur, Vairavanpatti, Iranyanur, Pillayarpatti, Nemam, Ilupakudi, Soorakudi and Velangudi.

Their financial acumen made them Zamindars and Paalayakarars, and British expansionism led them into Ceylon in 1796 and Burma in 1824. Calcutta was the base for anyone landing from Burma, so you can still find Nagarathar Choultries there.

The men travelled overseas, like bachelors, leaving their families behind – No wonder the Aachis were the strong women who single-handedly brought up their children, had the same financial acumen as their men, and made the Chettiars build rich mansions back in Chettinadu! And when Meyammai Aachi described the reason behind these family traditions – of how the homes were embellished and enriched with Italian marbles, Burma teak, Czech Crystals, and in these homes were stored the gold and diamonds, Burma rubies, which was unstintingly given to each girl child as much as for adornment as for her family security!

The clan members or “Pangalis” are close-knit and the wedding will happen only if the uncles are there; the Nagarathar’s unity was their greatest strength, which established the huge joint family get-togethers – and that became the basis for the reputation of their hospitality, connoisseurs of exceptional cuisine. And finally contribute back to religious activities, education and a lot more!

In Chennai still, you can see a street named “Coral Merchant street’ locally known as “Pavazhakara Street”, which is one of the oldest and historical in Geroge town and the Nagarathar Choulatries are still there). The Nagarathars gave the country Indian Overseas Bank, Indian Bank, Bank of Madura, as also United India Insurance.

Chettinadu is MORE than just tasty cuisines, and bright coloured sarees.. So more in my next post..

Gandhi at Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple

Gandhiji loved Tamilnadu, and particularly Madurai. He visited Madurai six times – in 1919, 1921, 1927, 1934 and 1946, and once enroute Travancore (1921)

Feb 3, 1946 –  He visits Madurai after 9 years, just for a day. The main purpose was to have a darshan of Meenakshi Amman.

1939 – The Temple entry movement especially at Madurai, was one of the greatest reforms, where all the people could enter for worship. Gandhiji did not make a visit then, but comes later in 1946.

At Samayanallur station, just before Madurai, huge crowds flock to see Gandhi, due to the pre-Independence wave and also due to the fact that Gandhi visits them after a long time. He is requested to get off at Samayanallur and driven in a car to Madurai. Even before that, people stop the special train near Gandhigram and he addresses them.

Gandhi reaches the Pandaya Thidal grounds around 8 pm, amidst uncontrollable crowd of five lakhs people, shouting and yelling that they can’t see him. Gandhiji gets irritated and asks them to be quiet. They don’t listen, and so halfway he stops his speech, asks them to switch off the light on the stage at around 8.45 pm, closes his ears and lies down as a mark of Satyagraha!

Seeing this, people also resort to counter – Satyagraha asking him to speak and also want to see him at close quarters. This goes on for one and a half hours, and finally he continues his speech. He mentions about this incident later in his Harijan magazine, and apologizes that he was tough with people of Madurai and that he should have been more patient.

The next day morning he has a darshan of Madurai Meenakshi. He also instructs the archaka to do the archanai slowly and not rush through, (typical of Gandhi.)

In the visitors book he writes down that it was one of his best days!

Mobbed by the crowds again, he is afraid to step out. So they take him by car in all the four mada veedhis.

Reference book: Gandhi at Madurai

Sacred Textiles – The Flag changing ritual @ Puri Jagannath temple

FLAG changing at Shree Jagannath Temple of PURI, India in 4k ultra ...

Across different religions, cloth plays a significant role in the worship, adoration, procession of Gods. The Dwaja rohana is an auspicious ritual in temples.

At Puri Jagannath temple, the flag changing ceremony is done daily. Called a s the Chunara Seva, the “Chuna Garuda Sevaks” climb up a height of 215 feet on the Garba Mandira, and hoist the flag of Jagannatha which is called as the Patita – Pavana – Bana.

The ensign or the flag of Jagannatha is the crowning glory on the Nila Chakra ( the blue wheel), both of them revered as iconic symbols of Jagannatha and symbolises protection to all.

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The Nila chakra is the discus atop the Shikara of the temple

Formed out of two concentric rings, and joined by eight spokes, the diameter of the outer ring is 12 feet. The Nila-chakra is made of Ashta-datu, an alloy of eight metals.

Carved on the outer ring are the figures of eight Nava-kunjaras, which is a unique motif in Orissa ikats. The figures of all the eight Naba-kunjaras face towards the flag staff.

Showing media for hashtag #pattachitramural , showing images ...

For people who cant enter the temple, they can look towards the Nila-Chakra and offer a Dipa or prasada, this is considered to be equivalent to Maha-prasada called as Chakra-boga or Chakra-Mukhana.

Patita-Pabhana Bana

PatitaPaban Flag online > Lord jagannath Mahaprabhu –

A triangular flag made of cloth, in red, yellow or white with a patchwork of crescent moon and sun is fixed to the Nila-chakra by a 21 feet bamboo staff. This flag is an offering by individual devotees to the Lord in fulfillment of their wishes.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Watch this video to know about the Seva:

The Tirukural sari

All the 1330 couplets with Tiruvalluvar’s image on the mundhanai.

Tiruvalluvar’s Thirukural sari has a mass appeal in our state. The visual repertoire is from distinct Tamil cultural emblems. The ethical treatise is attributed to the weaver-saint Valluvar, who is hailed as Deiva-Pulavar (divine poet) here. The missionary scholars established Thirukural as a universal code of ethics for the common pursuit of humans. During the anti-Hindi agitation in 1930s, Tiruvalluvar and Thirukural were proclaimed as apogee of Tamil culture.

The Valluvarkottam was built in 1976 in the heart of Chennai, with a beautiful stone ratham. In the year 2000, the 133 feet high stone sculpture of the saint came up in the southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari. The text finds a place of pride in the website of Tamilnadu Govt.

The Thirukural sari was woven by the Sirumugai weavers society, under the aegis of Cooptex in 2008. It was woven in 4 months by the hand loom weavers to showcase to then DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. In June 2010, the World Tamil conference was held in my hometown  Coimbatore. This theme sari was a highlight when the DMK got the status of a classical language for Tamil. Of course, the highlight is the mastery of weavers and imagine weaving all the 1330 couplets without a mistake!

All the 1330 verses are woven in this saree, as golden motifs, throughout the length of the sari, 6.26 metres long, and 1200 gm of jarigai.

Chikankari, the Awadhi fashion

The origins of this needlework remain shrouded in the mists of time. The fine Moghul miniature paintings depict the Emperors in flowy white muslin garments with fine “white” embroidery.

Iklas khan and Sultan Muhamad Adil Shah of Bijapur

Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay opines that chikan could be dated to the time of King Harsha (590-647 CE), who is said to have “ a great fondness for white embroidered muslin garments”, but no colour, no ornamentation, nothing spectacular to embellish it”.  Megasthanes, way back in the 3rd century B.C, has mentioned the usage of “flowered muslin” by the Indians in the court of Chandragupta Maurya.

This ancient form of white floral embroidery with intricate needlework and the raw thread which delighted kings and commoners vanished in between. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, it was revived in the Moghul courts. The court servants embroidered elaborate designs to the nawab’s topi or cap.

The dopalri (two-panel) skull cap is worn across the lucknowi society, by both Muslims and Hindus.

One of the histories attributes the invention of chikan to empress Nur Jahan, consort of Jahangir, who had a Persian lineage. Her interest in the craft was a trendsetter for the Mughal courts.

The majority of written accounts trace the art of chikan embroidery to Bengal and how the artisans migrated later to the cities of Lucknow and Awadh,  to take advantage of the courtly patronage of Nawabs. 

The chikankari embroidery embellished both men and women’s garments. The embroidery was done on men’s angarkhas and chogas (tunics), achkans and kurtas, topis, cummerbands and for women, in their lehengas and odhnis. The pure white on white embroidery translated a simple white ensemble into an exotic fashion statement. During the Colonial era, the application of Chikanwork embroidery increased manifold and embellished the items exported to Britain  – from the muslin dresses, collars, table covers, runners, mats, napkins and tea covers!

Pradhan Rai Pannalal Mehta(1843–1919) served four Maharanas, as Prime Minister of Mewar state in former state of Rajputana. His portrait by Raja Ravi Varma, he wears a Chikankari embroidered angarka worn over a light vest called nima, made with a patterned muslin.

The vintage patterns of chikan embroidery showcase what artistry was possible through nimble fingers, and took influence from the Persian and Moghul architecture. The jaalis of Tajmahal and the walls of the famous Imambara mosque in Lucknow have inspired the motifs in Chikankari embroidery.

The needlework of Chikan has about 32 different stitches which are used separately or in a combination.  The basic six stitches which make it unique are the tepchi (back running stitch), Bakhiya (double backstitch), hool (eyelet), Zanzeera (chain stitch), rahket (stem stitch) and Banarasi. The chikankari stitches fall mainly into two main categories – One, having a flat surface using a single thread, and the other making an embossed effect using as many as 12 threads.

In a Tepchi stitch technique, the embroidery resembles a woven effect on the fabric. Small knots which create pearl-like effects are called Phanda.

Pic : Paisley, the most popular motif in Chikankari embroidery. Garment made in 1800’s from V&A Museum collection

Gandhiji's gift for Princess Elizabeth's wedding!

On the 10th July 1947, the Buckingham palace announced the betrothal of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. 1947 was the worst of all years of post-war austerity. A group of labor MPs questioned the whip of extravagance of royal celebrations. Atlee writes to the palace inquiring about the unpatriotic origins of the “Lyons silk” that had been used for the bride’s wedding dress so that he could reassure his critics in Parliament.

“The wedding dress contains silk from chinese silk worms, but woven in Scotland and Kent. The Wedding train contains silk produced by Kentish silk worms and woven in London. The going away dress contains 4-5 yards of Lyons silk which was part of the stock of the dressmaker Norman Hartnell (He clarifies that while some of the silk worms were chinese, they were “nationalist” silkworms, not communist )

20th November 1947 was the day of the ceremony. Few months later, the Board of Trade asked if the royal wedding dress might go on a tour to advertise British materials and workmanship – the much debated dress was now considered a national triumph! It was on a display at St James Palace alongwith all the wedding presents, but the Queen felt otherwise. She did not wish to part with her wedding dress.

Gandhiji presented this handwoven knitted shawl..
With this accompanying note..

Thillayadi Valliammai

Amongst a lot of injustice against South African Indians, one was the judgement of Justice Searle in 1913 to nullify all the marriages if not celebrated according to Christian rites and registered by the Registrar of marriages. And at one stroke, Indian Hindus, Muslims and Zoroastrians were affected; the wives were degraded to the rank of concubines, and their progeny were deprived of their right to inherit the parent’s property.

This insult to womanhood made the Indian women folks in South Africa to join the struggle. Many of them were Tamils, (Tamil labourers from Madras Presidency worked in coal mines in Natal and Transvasal). The women’s bravery were beyond words – one of them was pregnant, some of them had young babies in their arms. Even Kasturba joins the struggle and lands up in jail. In the Maritzburg jail, they were harassed and the food was of the worst quality, and had a laborious hard task of laundry.

During this time, a tamil “coolie” as he calls himself, by the name of Balasundaram meets Gandhi in his office, asking help to file a law suit. His upper body is full of flogging wounds, and his towel tied at his hips. Gandhi asks him why he doesn’t put the towel over his shoulder, he replies that “the shoulders wont be there the next day” – Gandhi files a case for him against the Government, and Balasundaram gets a judgement in his favour in that case.The first time ever, the laborers get one in their favour, by the way!

Soon Gandhi, Balasundaram and a young girl of 16 years, named Valliammai were jailed in relation to the disobedience movement against this law, in 1914.

She was a tall girl, but the three month jail term makes her so ill. They decided to release them on health grounds, but her health was so bad that she had be wrapped in a bed sheet and had to be carried by Gandhiji and Balasundram back to the Tolstoy farm.

She was on her deathbed, But the clarity and bravery simply inspired the Mahatma. She said if she had another chance she would offer her life again for Satyagraha movement. In his writings he says:

“Valliamma you do not repent of your having gone to jail?” I asked.
“Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,” said Valliamma.
“But what if it results in your death?” I pursued.
“I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?” was the reply.

On her deathbed, she asks Balasundaram to narrate a song. He does that, and hearing that she passes away.

Gandhiji is saddened and later write, “The loss of Valliammai would perhaps affect me more than that of my elder brother (Lakshmidass).” Gandhiji promised her that he will learn tamil, and asks Balasundaram to transliterate the song in English.
And made it the last song as a part of his daily prayers.

Do you know which song is this? A Thevaram song of Thirugnana Sambandar (8.051) called the “Achho pathigam”

முத்திநெறி அறியாத மூர்க்கரொடு முயல்வேனைப்
பத்திநெறி அறிவித்துப் பழவினைகள் பாறும்வண்ணம்
சித்தமலம் அறுவித்துச் சிவமாக்கி எனைஆண்ட
அத்தனெனக் கருளியவா றார்பெறுவார் அச்சோவே

Btw, The Cooptex building at Egmore, Madras is named after her – Thillayadi Valliammai building!

Mata ni Pachedi

Block-printed and painted using mineral colours on cloth. The painting is divided into 11 horizontal rows, featuring linear parades of priests wielding knives, sacrificial goats, devotees rich and poor, horse-drawn carriages, musicians, birds and animals regal and ritual. Seated on a goat in her temple, in the centre of the fifth row, is Meladi Mata. Below her is Jogani Mata on a tree. c.1940. Artist unknown. 73 x 105 inches (185 x 266 cm). Mineral and vegetable colours. Private collection.
Source :

In order to become truly one nation and one people we need to understand the rich strands of our culture. The arts of India are among the greatest aesthetic achievement, and Gujarat had a very rich textile tradition.

In this blog, we focus on the kalamkari work of Gujarat, the form of a backdrop to the mother goddess, the literal meaning of Mata ni pachedi and the canopy of mother goddess, called as Mata no Chandarvo

The temple cloths are made as votive offerings during the time of Navarathra, the nine-nights festival celebrated after the rains. The vaghari community, who were denied access in to temples due to their caste, made these backdrop or canopy for mobile temples. Exactly like Thangkas, the buddhist scrolls.

The Vaghari community have the surname of chitaras (painters). Mata ni Pachedi usually depicts mother goddesses as mataji, mostly with the use of black, maroon colors. The Bua, or the the priests of the goddess, praises her with songs and also have a round earthen pot with barley shoots. This pot is immersed on the ninth day, after taking it in a procession. Peasants, tribes offer these cloth to her when their wishes are fulfilled.

Visat mata on her Vahana, Source : Sahapedia

This multi-colour temple cloth of recent times is in the kalamkari style ( and I can see the similarity of thanjavur kalamkari and thombais here), surrounded by block printed floral motifs. The center figure is the avenging goddess riding on a buffalo, and from her crown springs sprouting corn. She is depicted as having multiple hands and weapons – sword, spear, dagger, trident, arrows etc.,
In her form as Bahuchara, she is four armed – sword, spear, bell and cup of blood

Tara books has made a beautiful handmade cover and textile book on this art. They got the blocks done specially for this, and the book has a special cloth cover too. A group of tailors in Chennai created the panels of the book using cotton cloth, and the main cloth panel in this books was done by Mr. Dakshinamurthy, who works with Kalakshetra now. This book was also displayed in a special vitrine at the V&A Museum in London, as part of the India Festival,

Technique used

  1. Natural materials used for drawing and dyeing, for example black kasim made out of rusted iron fermented with jaggery
  2. Very fine outlines and filling of colors done with kalam (brush)
  3. Rock dust, red earth, lime, turmeric are used as a base for the colours
  4. Predominantly wooden blocks are made as outline in the cloth, and the colours are filled in for black and red (Iron and alum are used for black and red)

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