The land of flourishing fabrics and weaves, Tamil Nadu is home to a multitude of traditional weaving hubs. One such region is Chettinad, known for its vibrant colours and cultures, majestic mansions and architectural feats and most importantly its handloom weaves. The 250-year old weave was made prominent by the wealthy Nagarathar community and has many intriguing fables woven into its folds. The gorgeous drapes of Chettinad, fondly called the Kandangi sarees are brought to life by a weaving community comprising a majority of artisans who have migrated from the Saurashtra region. With weaving hubs located in and around Karaikudi, there are over 200 weavers currently who keep the legacy of this timeless craft alive. As an appreciation for its quality and reputation, it was awarded a GI tag by the Government of India.
A distinguishing trait of handloom Chettinad weaves is the strikingly contrast colour combinations and big borders which cover almost 2/3 of the saree. Authentically the earthy colour palette was made of natural dyes that were easily available. The main colours of brick red, mustard and black were sourced from mancatti (Indian madder) and manjal (turmeric). Shades such as blue and green were not chosen as it would have required the use of indigo dyes, which was not grown in and around this region. The design language incorporates clean lines and symmetry inspired by the local architecture as well as intricate flora, fauna and mythological beings. From bold checks and stripes to vibrant flowers and vivid wildlife, each motif holds an enticing narrative.
The Kandangi sarees are traditionally woven in silk or cotton using frame looms and pit/fly shuttles. A special needle frame or pannai is designed by artisans in Nelakotta using handpicked and spliced bamboo sticks. Selecting bamboo with the right amount of tenderness is crucial to this process. These earthy-toned drapes are preferred not just by the locals but also by women throughout the state for their absorbant and durable nature which suits the humid climate of southern India. The silk variations were reserved for special occasions, weddings and ceremonies, whereas the cotton ones were picked for everyday wear. Back in the days, a zero-waste sustainable culture existed in this region wherein old sarees were used as daily wear, donated or repurposed into pouches, cradles and more.
Traditionally the Chettinad draping style was strikingly different and was woven to suit it. It was draped without a blouse and with pleats forming on the back. The height was comparatively lesser than the current day as it used to be worn above the ankle. Keeping all these factors in mind, the Chettinad sarees were rather thick and durable.
Rooted in tradition and culture, our handlooms represent the essence of our country's legacy in their threads. As torchbearers of this wisdom, each one of us plays a vital role in carrying forth the saga of our sarees. Explore our rich repertoire of Chettinad weaves that are crafted in a riot of colours and interwoven with a plethora of motifs.