Over centuries, the timeless Kanchipuram weave has become synonymous with certain patterns that constitute a myriad of motifs and weaving techniques. The school of design from this temple town in South India was born not just with the purpose of an aesthetic appeal but to represent the strong symbolic connotations that it carried in every stroke. Inspired by a treasure chest of religious, spiritual, mythological and social metaphors, these motifs are regarded widely either as a protective or auspicious charm for the wearer.
While discovering the intriguing intricacies of these majestic motifs in 'The Great Indian Fabric' series, one can see how these patterns appear in various points throughout history, from scriptures and paintings to architecture and even dance. These shapes and symbols share a host of cultural references and the symmetry of which perfectly fit into the art of weaving. The remarkable aspect of these motifs though is how the weavers of Kanchipuram, with great artistic intelligence, did not refrain the design to a single motif but rather orchestrated a symphony of many. The ability to be able to pair different motifs together in the body and border is just as beautiful as each motif individually.
In this week's blog, we will be learning more about one such motif that has become a mainstay in various religious and auspicious ceremonies across south India - the Mayilkann motif.
A Mythical Marvel
Mayilkann translates to ‘peacock’s eye’ and is one of the most ancient motifs in the design vocabulary of Kanchipuram. Bearing strong ties to religious and mythological scriptures, it is of no surprise that weaves from this temple town regard this motif very highly. An interesting tale surrounds the origin and significance of the Mayilkann motif. Legend has it that Lord Indra, leader of the Devas, was engaged in an intense battle with the Ravana. It was during this time that a peacock raised its rail and spread its feathers in full glory to protect Lord Indra and offer him momentary refuge. Immensely pleased and grateful, Lord Indra blessed the peacock with a thousand eyes.
When this epic narration was translated into a motif, it resulted in a diamond mesh-like pattern with a dot in the centre, signifying the peacock's eye. They are woven closely together across the body or border in zari and is a visual representation of the glittering eyes of our national bird. This intricate and exquisite motif is famously woven as the 'Mayilkann Veshti' for men along with a traditional Ganga Jamuna border in red and green. It is worn for all auspicious functions in South India, especially weddings, as it is believed to protect the wearer from the evil eye.
Similar to the Mayilkann, another motif called Kuyilkann is widely used in weaves of the South. Kuyilkann is inspired by the eyes of the cuckoo bird and its motif representation is lighter in intensity and size when compared to the Mayilkann motif. Another key differentiating factor between the two diamond-patterned motifs is that the Kuyilkann motif does not have a central dot in the design.
Carrying forth a timeless legacy
Motifs like these are a mirror to our past that give us a glimpse into our rich traditions and culture. Their appeal and significance have grown over the years and as custodians of this legacy, we must protect and promote them at all costs. At Sundari Silks, we take immense pride in bringing forth collections that are interwoven with motifs like the Mayilkann, which is a testimony to our country's distinct and diverse designs