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.

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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 – Justkalinga.com

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.

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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 : https://www.sunitanair.in/Sanjay-Chitara-s-Mata-Paintings

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.,

https://tarabooks.com/shop/cloth-of-the-mother-goddess/
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)

Kalakshetra’s natural dyed Kalamkari sarees

Chemical dyes might come in zillion sophisticated formulations. But you can’t match the depth and uniqueness of colours derived from nature.

Mrs. Rukmini Devi Arundale started the Natural dyeing unit of Kalakshetra in 1970, and the person she chose to head it was Mrs. Shakunthala Ramani. I had an opportunity to interview Late Mrs. Ramani two years back and she enthusiastically showed her books on Kolam, and spoke a lot about her hobby, batik painting.

The Kalamkari unit of Kalakshetra was established in April 1978 with the sponsorship of Crafts Council of India and a small grant of Rs.50000/- from the social welfare board, to provide employment to women.

Mrs. Shakunthala had trained Mr. Prabhakar, who heads the pen kalamkari unit currently. Mr. Dakshinamurthy who heads the block printing department is a store house of information on natural dyeing and printing.

Here’s a video of an interview with Mr. Dakshinamurthy, on what differentiates a Kalakshetra Kalamkari as against the rest!

Interview with Dakshinamurthy sir, why Kalakshetra’s kalamkari is unique..

I have summarised the key points here:

  • No figures of Gods and goddesses in sarees or dresses – only floral or other prints are used
  • Gods/Goddess, mythological stories only for panels
  • 100% natural dyes
  • The block printing follows the Machilipatnam style and the pen kalamkari follows the Sri kalahasti style
  • While the original machilipatnam style uses dark colors for background, Kalakshetra sticks MOSTLY to beige background
  • The key colors used are maroon and black on the foreground

Thanjavur Kalamkari

The art of kalamkari took a southern flavor when the artists of sikkilnaickenpet made the temple wall hangings, thombais (used in temple cars) and as “asmangiri” (canopy cloth) – the colour of jet black is a secret composition even today.

Spotted a panel at Thiruvavaduthurai temple, traditionally these mutts helped to preserve this fine art!

Depicted in the panel is the Pradosha Shivan mounted on his Rishaba! And don’t miss the flying angels, a Victorian touch too..

Calligraphy in sarees

“The word is sacred. Sacred is the word” – “Sada sowbhagvathi bhava”


Saw a fantastic bridal heirloom Paithani saree at the Prince of Wales museum with the above words woven in the pallu!

Pic : A paithani saree with woven words of ” Sada Sowbhagavathibhava” at Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai


The practice of calligraphy in weaving is not something new to us- be it in Benares where they use Urdu or Devanagari scripts in a motif or Kabir’s poem!

A calligraphic logo in a benares saree!
Screen printed calligraphic text of the famous song “harivarasanam” in a kerala kasavu saree!

Did you see the video of Sabyasachi making a beneares lehenga for Deepika’s wedding which made news – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=len1aAhGhYg , the above words were woven in her lehenga!

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