The textiles of South India are among the richest in the country. The dry hot climate of Tamil Nadu has been the home of luminous silks and brightly hued cottons famous all over the world. Tamil Nadu is one of major sari-weaving regions of India, besides producing considerable quantities of rural, peasant and urban saris in silk, cotton, rayon and polyester it is also home to some unique sari traditions.
The handloom cooperatives, such as Tamil Nadu Co-op Tex, is India’s oldest handloom weaver’s cooperative established in 1935, selling saris throughout India creating whatever the market demands. As a result, traditional designs from different south based centers have become incorporated into the repertoire of other areas, which makes tracking down the origins of some textiles quite difficult, but many sari designs typical of particular areas are still distinguishable.
Though Tamil Nadu is famous for silk saris and Kanchipuram has practically become synonymous with silk weaving, it is also famous for some exquisite cotton saris. The earliest records speak of the fine muslin and silks from Tamil Nadu. It is also said that Greek traders used to came to Uraiyur, an important centre in Tamil Nadu for cotton trade, to buy fine cotton and silks particularly, hand painted and printed.The cotton saris of Tamil Nadu follow the pattern of woven silk very closely. The coloured muslins of Tamil Nadu are finely woven with focal points on intricate weaving, rich colours and good technical quality. Cotton weaving is widespread in various places of Tamil Nadu like Kanchipuram, Salem, Pudukottai, Madurai, Shankaramkovil, Uraiyur, Karur, and Coimbatore. The heavy cotton dungari from Kanchipuram was the earliest known fabrics of cotton; Coimbatore saris are famous for their decorative floral borders. Uraiyur in Thiruchirapalli district and Salem are noted for their fine count cotton saris wheras the cottons of Madurai particularly the white vestis either plain or with a zari or colored borders are favoured for their sturdy weave and fine quality.
Kodali Karuppur Sari
The Kodali Karuppur or Karuppur sari, which evolved under the patronage of the Maratha rulers, has a unique place among textiles. The Kodali Karuppur sari was a favourite of the Maratha rulers of Tanjore and therefore flourished in the State during their period. The Karuppur textiles were worn mostly by the Tanjore nobility who also gifted them away as khillat, dresses of honour. Kodali Karuppur sari, a combination of wax resist hand painting, block printing and intricate weaving, was used for royal weddings and these saris were exclusively made for the Maratha queens of Tanjore until the end of the nineteenth century. In several Maratha states, such as Baroda, Kolhapur and Satara, the Karuppur sari was considered an essential element of a bride’s trousseau, as was the Karuppur turban for the groom. It has been suggested that these cloths may have served some ritual function in the temples of Tanjore.During the 19th century, Karuppur traditional saris were produced at Kodali Karuppur village, about 30 km from Kumbakonam of Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu. The uniqueness of the Karuppur saris was that they were done on brocaded fabrics with the print and brocade butas/motifs matching perfectly to create a tinseled- pattern effect. Therefore, rareness of the Karuppur sari is in its extraordinary combination of jamdani brocading, dyeing and painting.
The Kodali Karuppur sari was originally produced with fine cotton, zari, artistic weaving, breathtaking designs and a colourful combination of traditional motifs in the border and pallu. The traditional dyes used in the sari were vegetable dyes and the most popular colours were rich reds, black, yellow and the native indigo.The most common construction of a sari consists of borders on each side and a broad pallu. The design vocabulary of the Karuppur textiles appears to have been a limited one. Most areas of the pallu were patterned with a stock range of small geometric and linear motifs which largely include patterns of stars, lines, wide borders, and a delicate tree of life pattern whereas there were roundels, design of loose flowers and vines all over the body of the sari. Other popular designs were veldhaari/horizontal wavy lines, uthiri poo/loose flowers, vaazhaipoo /banana flower and thaazhambu/screw pine flower. The gold woven pattern is the core of the sari and is enclosed by intricate all-over patterns in maroon and black worked in the kalamkari technique.
Process of production
The first stage of the patterning process in the Karuppur textiles consists of weaving fine cotton muslin in which discontinuous supplementary zari patterns are woven in the jamdani style.In the pallu, those areas that are to be painted/printed have a cotton weft, whereas, the rest of the ground is woven with the zari weft. They were, in fact, the background to a pattern that was to be resisted and dye-painted after weaving was complete. The zari shines through the colours that are painted or block-printed, creating an effect that is rich and delicate.After weaving the muslins were resist- painted by hand and dyed in various natural colours, giving a rich but somber variety of red tones to the fabric. The motifs used in the sari have an uncoloured outline, which reflects the base fabric colour. In contrast, the remaining area is filled in with two or three colours like red, black, yellow, or blue. The un-coloured motif outline is obtained by resisting with a wax line (traditionally, using a wax batik pen). In present-day painting, the form of the design is shown in a dark line and rest of the areas is filled with colour. The coloured areas are created by painting or printing with blocks. This process also coloured the core yarn of the zari, softening its luster and merging the brocaded areas with those that directly received the dye.The whole process creates a very interesting surface in which, one surface was dye -painted and other appear to be have been printed with the aid of blocks. In all cases, however, the production requires a pre -determined layout and understanding of the design and, thus, a very close collaboration between the weaver and the dye -painter or printer.It takes roughly two persons 20 days to weave a sari. It is priced between Rs.4, 000 and Rs.40, 000 each and the weavers earns around Rs.1, 500 to Rs.3, 000 for a sari.
Many traditions have continued unchanged over the centuries and the quality of the cotton has ensured that several examples remain similar to the creations of the past. Several historic samples are still being preserved at the palace in Tanjore and at the College of Arts and Crafts in Chennai.
The tradition of Kodali Karuppur sari went out of fashion, due to reasons such as the availability of cheaper saris that used chemical dyes, laborious procedure and change in weaving technique. However, it is also true that many traditions have lost and it has been impossible to produce these meticulously painted and woven saris, in spite of the tremendous effort made in the last few years. This technique became extinct during the beginning of the century and the first effort to revive the Kodali Karuppur sari was made in 1981 by the Weaver’s Service Centre in Chennai and they have decided that this craft needs a craft revival program.
The Commissioner of Handlooms and Textiles have also decided to revive the century-old royal Kodali Karuppur woven and printed saris which has fanned the hopes of 400 weavers in the State. This will not only providing employment opportunity to weavers in the Kodali Karuppur Weavers Co-operative Society but also help them in making their mark in this world. In time, with more design intervention and market related products, Kodali Karuppur saris will truly come into its own.
Motifs used in Kodali Karuppur Saris
Block used for printing Kodali Karuppur saris