Temples, Threads and Traditions – The Myriad Hues of Kanchipuram
Bursting and bubbling with a spectrum of shades, the soul of our country is a vibrant display of our cultures, landscapes, emotions and beliefs. Be it art and architecture, religions and festivals, music and dance, food and festivities, colours are deeply rooted in every aspect of our life with defining moods and meanings. Extending to weaves and fabric as well, each shade is symbolic and guides our choice in choosing the right one for every occasion.
This holds true for every distinct weaving style from across the country as the great Indian fabric is a culmination of the land, language, customs and celebrations of the people residing there. Which brings us to the Queen of Silks, Kanchipuram, and her vivid world of hues woven with indigenous flavours and imaginative fragrances. Characterised by its contrasting colour palette, weavers from Kanchipuram are known to blend and balance tones resulting in a mesmerising interplay of light and shadows. The rich colours feel like poetry on its pleats embedding the jewel-toned drapes with an aura of grandiose.
With an astonishing array of traditional and auspicious shades to its name, each Kanchipuram colour represents an aspect of culture, religion and everyday life. The pinnacle of its beauty though can be found in its names. If one is proficient in the Tamil dialect, it can be observed how these melodious name for these colours was selected such as to capture the essence of the region and the emotion associated with its memory.
Home to a riot of colours, through this blog, let’s explore the many hues of this timeless weave from South India’s majestic temple town.
Glory of the Greens
- Kili Pachai – A vivid parrot green hue that is associated with one of Kanchipuram’s main deity, Goddess Kamakshi, who is depicted with a parrot in her hand. It is said to symbolise our oneness with nature.
- Elakkai Pachai – A pastel pale green inspired by the royally sweet spice, cardamom, which brings back festive memories eating delicious delicacies infused with it.
- Alli Pachai – The delicate water lily pads found floating around the many temple tanks is a delightful blend of green and white. It is interesting to note how all ancient cultures associate this flower with spirituality.
- Manthulir – An apt reminiscence of Indian summers, this shade of green has a reddish tint to it and stems from the vibrant mango leaves or Mā Ilai. It’s known to be auspicious as well as highly medicinal.
Warm and Welcoming Yellows
- Pasum Manjal – The sunshine yellow hues of turmeric is a sacred shade that is an integral part of almost every traditional rituals and festivals. Additionally, it is a staple in South Indian kitchens and Ayurvedic treatments.
- Kunkungamapoo – The beautiful golden orange colour of saffron is a favourite amongst weavers and is associated with its delicate flavour and aroma.
- Elumiccai – Soothing and summery, this lemon yellow shade adds extra lustre to silk drape. According to age-old beliefs, this citrus fruit is said to ward of evil spirits.
- Sandhanam – The warm yellow and off-white palette of sandalwood has an air of reverence to it. Its scent and shade are closely tied with temple prayers and pujas.
- Mambazham – The connection between mangoes and Kanchipuram is undeniable. Be it in the form of the distinctive motif or this magical golden yellow colour. The Ekambareswarar Temple is home to an ancient mango tree under which Lord Shiva and Parvathi are said to have gotten married.
Radiant and Ravishing Reds
- Milagai Civappu – The bright and bedazzling red of chillies is a classic shade for the famous bridal sarees from Kanchipuram.
- Chembarathipoo – The stunning blend of red and orange of the hibiscus is widely grown in South Indian homes and is offered to the Gods during worship.
- Kempu – Translated to ruby in English, this blood-red tone evokes a feeling of grandeur and can be traced back to the vintage paintings and jewellery.
- Kumkumam – This vermillion red shade offers depth and dimension to the drape and is representative of the divine feminine energy.
- Arakku – Inspired by the sealing agent, lac, this scarlet red hue with a touch of maroon is a preferred colour by brides for their ‘muhurtham’.
Behold the Blissful Blues
- Mayil Kazhuthu – The flamboyant greenish-blue shade is inspired by the peacock’s neck and feathers. Like the mango, peacocks are intrinsic to Kanchipuram’s design language.
- Neelam – The precious jewel sapphire comes alive in a weave through its tranquil turquoise blue tone and reflects the region’s rich art and craft ecosystem.
- Ramar Blue – As an ode to the Golu dolls of Lord Ram, this light blue shade carries an abundance of prosperity and good vibes with it.
- MS Blue – A relatively new colour in Kanchipuram’s palette, this distinctive inky blue with streaks of black and green was crafted especially for renowned carnatic singer MS Subbulakshmi and garnered immense popularity.
Playful Pinks and Purples
- Pattu Roja – Weaves in the deep pink of fresh and fragrant roses perfectly complement the bridal rose garlands.
- Thamarai – Divine, sacred and serene, the lotus pink colour is an ancient symbol of purity that is connected with a multitude of Gods.
- Vadamalli – The blossoming amaranth flowers in its purple hues makes for a delightful saree shade and a favourite amongst many.
- Nagapazham – The crimson-purple colour of Jamun is revered for its lush features and the special place it holds in India’s history and mythology.
- December Poo – This native Indian flower that blooms only during the winter is filled with nostalgia. From gardens fences to street sides, its deep violet hues brighten the mood.
Black, White, Greys and Browns
- Mutthu – The elegant white colour of pearls adds an element of lustre to the weave. According to Vedic texts, pearls were born of the Earth’s waters and the heaven’s lightning powers.
- Kanmai Karruppu – The jet black shade of kohl that is used by women to highlight their eyes. It is a custom for certain weavers to apply a small dot of kohl to the corners of a new saree for good wishes.
- Elephant Grey – This lustrous tone pays tribute to the majestic giant which has a special place in our mythological scriptures and hearts.
- Eiyam – A metallic grey shade as seen in the vintage cooking utensil as well as vibuthi (sacred ash) that is used in religious ceremonies.
- Then – The lustrous and dark amber hue of honey.
- Kaapi Kottai – A staple in South India, the colour of freshly brewed filter coffee and the brown beans are an emotion in itself.
- Sengal – Brownish-red earthy tones inspired by semman or red earth.