The kodali karrupur sari derives its name from the village of Kodali Karrupur, on the northern bank of the Kollidam river, in Tiruchy district of Tamil Nadu. Till the beginning of the twentieth century, Kodali Karrupur was famous for its karpur saris (as well as dhotis and furnishings); however, by the early years of the twentieth century, lack of patronage and competition with less expensive mill-made saris reduced the craft to virtual extinction.
Maratha rulers who ruled Thanjavur after the Naikas were entranced by the kodali karrupur, and used it as a wedding sari. Under their patronage it was woven in the royal palace at Thanjavur.
The karrupur sari is a ‘fine cotton muslin in which discontinuous supplementary zari patterns were woven in the jamdani technique. The muslin was were then resist painted by hand and dyed in various natural colours, giving a variety of rich but sombre red tones to the fabric’.
The uniqueness of the karrupur sari lies in its combination of hand-painting (using vegetable colours), block-printing (using vegetable colours), and brocade weaving, three distinct and different techniques. The motif has 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 uncoloured motif outline is obtained by resisting with a wax line (traditionally, using a wax batik pen). The painting/printing is done is a style distinct from the one common today. ‘In present-day painting, the form of the design is shown in a dark line and the areas are filled with colour’; ‘in the karrupur sari, the form of the design line is left with the white background of the fabric and the areas are filled [in] with colour’. The coloured areas are created by painting or printing with blocks – the cloth is not dyed.
The weaving of the fabric is combined with zari in the jamdani technique – motifs like the star in the border and tilakam in the body of the sari are woven with the zari weft. In the pallu, those areas that are to be painted/printed have a cotton weft; the rest of the ground is woven with the zari weft. The zari shines through the colours that are painted or block-printed, creating an effect that is particular to the kodali karrupur sari.
Perhaps the first effort to revive the karpur sari was made in 1981 by the Weavers’ Service Centre in Madras. (A karpur sari was exhibited in the Vishwakarma Exhibition in London; a specimen of the sari is available in the Museum of the Government College of Arts & Crafts, Chennai).