The Great Indian Fabric - Unique motifs from the Chola Heartland

The Great Indian Fabric series is a journey of rediscovering not just an attire, but the very core of what we represent as a nation. From borders to patterns and colours to craftsmanship, the saree is a canvas for masterpieces steeped in the rich legacy of our traditions. The unstitched fabric is an Indian icon and holds within its folds the wisdom of our glorious past and the key to an abundance of possibilities.
 
This week we embark on the journey of re-discovering one such unique motif from the panels of the Kampaharesvara temple in Thirubhuvanam, a cluster close to the native place of Sundari Silks’ founders family. And in our upcoming blogs, we would be delving into the intricacies and specifics of the many majestic motifs in Kanchipuram's revered repertoire.
 
The last of the big four temples of the Cholas, the Kampaharesvara Temple stands tall with six-tala tiers in the Mukhya-Vimana. Built by Kulotunga III (1178-1215), who had a special title of Tribhuvana-Veera, this temple came into existence within twenty years of the completion of the Thanjavur big temple!
 
“The finer line of distinction between stone and bronze altogether disappears in the sculpture from Kampaharesvara temple at Tribhuvanam” says the historian M.A. Dhaky.

 

A traditional Pattu-pudavai or saree upholds special motifs as an epitome of holistic design. It’s true that motifs add drama and dimension to a saree and are a reflection of a region, its culture, heritage and history.
 
The unique contextual elements found in this temple's architecture is woven into the drape of a saree from Thirubhuvanam or Tirucherai!  

 

The architecture in this temple encompasses different types of Yaalis (mythical composite animals) comprising of elephant, lions and humans.
 
The auspicious Muhurta-pattu or< wedding silk design derives its inspiration from a treasure trove of religious and social metaphors. One of the main classifications is incorporating mythological and religious motifs in a stylized form.
 
Of all the representations from this temple, the image of the deity Sarabha, is significant, both iconographically and from the point of religious history.

 

 

Sarabha is represented as having three legs with the body and face of a lion, a tail and four human arms. This representation of the deity has been noticed both at the Tirubhuvanam and Darasuram temples.

The panels engraved in the base are the differentiating factor of the early Chola temples. Rows of miniature panels showcasing Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bharatanatyam Karanas form the upper base, while the last row is devoted entirely to animal fights, showcasing different forms of the mythological yaalis. The mighty military power of the Cholas and the rise of Saivism is symbolically depicted in this single temple.

 

There is a special kind of geometry practised in our temple sculptures, which is a blend of science and exquisite artistry. The weaving communities are instinctively attuned to absorb and create these eternal designs in the fabric they weave.

 

A unique motif woven in silk sarees is this merger of a bull and elephant face, called the Rishabha Kunjaram. (Thirubhuvanam Temple) 

The creative expressions of textile design are as old as the history of woven cloth. And the weavers have a strong conceptual understanding and deft ability to interconnect these motifs to the fabric.
 
Handloom traditions are representative of creative energy and mobilise the intrinsic strengths of unique saree traditions of a region. And our Chola heartland is a great example!

 

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