Direct printing of botanical elements has become one of the most popular artworks in the world among textile artists. The basic process uses leaves to imprint on cloth using three components – Pressure, moisture and heat.
Eco-printing is a technique where plants, leaves and flowers leave their shapes, colour, and marks on fabric. The plant material is arranged and bundled inside of the cloth, then steamed or boiled to release the dye found naturally inside the plant, creating a contact print in the shape of the leaf or flower used. These contact prints are referred to as “eco-prints.”
Each creation via an eco-print is unique and one-of-a-kind. The colour palette of each and every season changes, and so if you like a particular palette, that color combination might be available again in the next season only!
Tiruppudaimarudur, in Ambasamudram Taluk of Tirunelveli has a temple for Shiva, worshipped as Narambunathar. The original structure goes back to 8-9th Cent. AD of early Pandyas, later expanded by Imperial Cholas and later Pandyas. The nearby town of Cheran Mahadevi, appears to have been the second capital of the Travancore (Venad) kings during the period of Chera Udaya Marthanda Varma. Tiruppadimarudur was an important military outpost and a lot of sculptures, prakara mandapas were done by them.
The huge five-tier raja gopuram, called Chitra gopura houses the finest of mural paintings and exquisite wood carvings assignable to Vijayanagar (14th-16th Century AD) and Nayak (16th – 17th Century AD) works. The paintings illustrate scenes from Sthala Purana, Tiruppudaimarudur Purana, Thiruvilayadal Puranam, Periya Puranam, Valli Thirumanam, Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Besides the puranic themes, one gets to see the socio-economical events of Vijayanagar period, as seen at Hampi.
The paintings are identified as Fresco-secco, and have Tamil labels in Tamil script of the 16th-18th Centuries explaining the paintings.
Have a look at panel 13 in tier 2 of the Rajagopuram, where the Vijayanagara king is presenting gits to the Pandya dignitaries, and the return of the Pandya King Srivallabha back to Madurai.
Achyuta Deva Raya is seen seated on a highly decorated throne in the right corner with his right hand holding a silk garment which he is portrayed in the pose of giving to the person standing before him. The hands of the reciever are extended as Adana hasta (palm extended).
Four persons of high status are portrayed in front of him. The first is in supplication while the next two have an upadesa mudra as if giving advice and the last one keeps his hand on the mouth in absolute obedience. Look at the pattern of dhothies, and a garment tied like a belt on the dhoti. The fine upper garment is stitched like a short angarkha top which is inserted in the dhoti.
Nuniz states that King Achyuta Deva Raya used to present costly silk shawls to honour the soldiers who fought in wars.
Tamil literature is a wonderful source to understand the various words used to denote cloth. From the Sangam age to the 12th Century, it is a treasure house of information.
Sanga thamizh mentions Aadai, udai, thazhai, thugil, kalingam, aruvai, udukai, kachu, eerani, porvai, kazhagam, kacham, madi, seerai, padam, poongarai neelam. The Neethi-nool kalam mentions even more types like – Aratham (red colour cloth) kodi, koorai, pudavai, masani, pattam etc.,
Koorai is a word that denotes the type of cloth, probably from the term Koorai – paduthuthal (கூறை படுத்ததல்). The bride during her mangalya dharanam wore an auspicious drape called Koorai-pudavai (கூறைபுடவை)
Koorainadu got its name because they made this type of cloth. This small town near Mayavaram got a mention in the Raja Raja 1 inscriptions, for its famous cotton done for the entire Chola kingdom ( Ref. Mudhalam Rajaraja cholan, Thirunavukkuarasu). Now the town name is corrupted to Koranad, thanks to the British.
The Thanjavur Gazateer records the weaving of pure silk at Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, especially by the Pattunulkarans, or the Saurashtra weavers. “The Tanjore patterns were enriched with gilt lace imported from France, had figures of animals and flowers in the body of the cloth, and borders are formed with separate shuttles. Kumbakonam made pure silk cloth for women called Pitambaram, this pattern is said to have been imported from Benares! The body of the cloth is generally red, sometimes divided by lace into squares and diamonds, with both ends varied with lines and figures of different colours” ( this is contradictory because the Indian reference to Pitambaram was always a yellow cloth, worn as a dhoti by Mahavishnu!)
The Gazetteer also mentions that Kumbakonam made good silk tartans embroidered with lace flowers used by Mohammadans for trousers, which was exported to Penang and other places. “The dyes used for the pure silk were imported mineral pigments. They are more bright than the country dyes, though less lasting, and the women, who buy a silk cloth more for the show than for solid use, like their brightness and do not mind their fugitiveness” (Enjoy the dig at us)
“The majority of the cloths woven in Tanjore districts have a cotton foundation with a larger or smaller mixture of silk. Of this kind, are the famous cloths of Koranadu (Near Mayavaram) and Ayyampettai which made “kuttuni” with a silk warp and cotton woof. The silk is made to show on the top side and cotton on the other“
“The famous Koranadu cloths are chiefly of the plain striped patterns with lace threads mixed in the warp or the woof. The greater part of the cloth consists of silk. Country dyes are used, and the predominant colour is orange (a local natural dye called kapili). The weavers also made good tartan for the bodices”
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”.
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” – 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 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).
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” – 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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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