Monday, May 30, 2011

My Chettinad Sarees

I discovered the beauty of Chettinad sarees quite late in life! Being in the north, one sees only a subset of the southern textiles and these sarees had eluded me until a couple of years ago, when I bought one at an exhibition in Bangalore. They come from the neighbouring state, Tamil Nadu, from the region around Karaikudi. Used mostly by the Chettiars, a traditional banking and business community.

Perhaps these sarees were never popular outside this region because they are quite different from many other sarees - they are thicker, heavier and are woven in deep or earthy colours containing stripes and checks for visual contrast. They are certainly very different from the pastely affairs of Delhi social mornings or the off white, tissue-thin, crackling Bengal cottons, the richly woven Benarasis or the elegant southern Kanchivarams. The Chettinad sarees breathe and exude an energy of their own. Originally their width was less than that of the usual saree so that the anklets that the women wore were visible!

The first Chettinad saree I bought didn't convey all this to me because it was modified, probably for broader appeal. Most people turned away at the price (many people here prefer to buy light silks rather than fine cottons for the same price) but I was instantly mesmerised by the subtly woven blue-green saree with a creamy beige border and pallu (end) of woven animals. It looked like a tranquil and happy sea filled with all kinds of creatures. I was delighted to buy it and wear it.


A few weeks ago, at a relative's housewarming ceremony, I was given my second Chettinad saree - and a what a wonder it was! Relatively simple in style, but a lovely colour. It was a beautiful weave of red and yellow strands that created a distinctive orangey-yellow - the kind of shade that only natural colours can impart. It had a little red and green stripey border. I was happy that I already had a suitable green blouse to wear it with (matching blouses is a fairly time consuming exercise)...


But I was unprepared for the feelings it evoked when I actually draped it around me. The warm earthiness felt so alive and so powerful, I felt I was radiating a wonderful mix of the earth, the setting sun, strewn marigolds, the power and beauty of celebration and strength and compassion. It had a vibrance of its own especially outdoors, in the sunlight. As I sat amongst many other women in the open temple courtyard (I was attending another puja for the same relatives), most people wearing silk as is traditional, I could feel my cotton saree breathing and living a life of its own. Perhaps it was my excessively active imagination! But it was then that I realized the strength of a thick, earthy, well woven cotton saree and how strongly the material and the colours could affect one.

18 comments:

illusions said...

I came across your blog by chance, loved the post on Chettinad Saris...I simply adore them, huge fan of Indian traditional cotton saris.

unnatisilks said...

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maha lakshmi said...

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maha lakshmi said...

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maha lakshmi said...

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