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The Magnificence of Madurai Sungudi

by Sundari Silks 04 Jun 2021
The Magnificence of Madurai Sungudi

The ringing of temple bells, the scent of jasmine, jigarthanda and the magnificent sungudi sarees is what makes Tamil Nadu’s Thoonganagaram a beautiful city. Every weave has a tale to tell, making each saree a masterpiece that brings the weaver sheer pleasure. The sungudi craft has an interesting journey from Central and Western India to the city of Madurai.

Around 500 years ago, Sourashtrian weavers migrated from Gujarat and settled in Madurai when the Nayak Dynasty was ruling. These weavers were highly skilled artisans. Their women specialised in tying, while the men expertise on dyeing. Once they settled in Madurai, they decided to bring their rich tie-dye heritage a new meaning by adding a local touch to their craft. The pattu-nool-karars incorporated the tie and dye craft in creating Madurai’s signature textile, the sungudi sarees.

Even today you can witness washed and bleached white fabrics fluttering on the banks of River Vaigai. A story goes by saying that the women of Madurai were the inspiration for Sungudi sarees. Elated by how the women in Madurai tied their hair into a bun, the weavers created round patterns on the fabric which resembled a bun. They took tiny pinches of the cloth and tied it with threads. After that, the fabric was immersed in containers of natural dyes. When the fabric was opened out, the tied-up areas kept their base colour, while the rest of the fabric took in the dye. The dotted pattern that resulted looked like stars scattered across the night sky. Hence a few believe that the sungudi designs were inspired by celestial constellations that led to the creation of those circular motifs. The classic elegance of the dotted designs and restrained beauty of surface ornamentation created by the sungudi craft is revealed as each knot is untied. It combines an ancient technique with contemporary designs and styles.

The pattu-nool-karar named this masterpiece of a weave as Sungudi, derived from the Sanskrit word sunnam meaning “round”. These sarees were worn by queens in the pre-colonial period and were honoured in the kingdoms of Tamil Nadu. Its ancient royal lineage has been translated into fashionable and elegant designs now that caresses the lively youth as well as the luxury glitterati and socialites in modern times.

The essence of a perfect sungudi saree is grace, beauty, and ease, which merges the art of elegance in itself. The sungudi sarees usually come in an array of vibrant and subtle colours like crimson, olive, yellow and blue. A traditional sungudi saree does not have the same colour throughout; the borders and end-pieces are usually a different colour than the main body of the saree. A zari pattern with complementary warp threads is often used in the borders. Modern sungudi sarees include a variety of patterns and motifs, such as flowers and peacocks, and thus bear little resemblance to the authentic sungudi sarees which have kolam and constellation patterns.

Every year, 8th February is celebrated as Sungudi Day to honour their unique heritage and magnificent work of craftsmanship. The art has been passed down over the generations. Madurai is not only known for sungudi, but also for weaving, and thus meets a large demand for sungudi sarees even today. Unravelling each sungudi textile thus provides a glimpse into Tamil culture. As a result, Sungudi craft is a legacy of ancient handcrafting skills, a cultural signifier, and a symbol of regional identity.

At Sundari Silks, we place a high value on India's traditional weaving techniques and crafts, and we do all we can to conserve and encourage them. Explore our handcrafted line of classic Sungudi Sarees, which come in a wide range of colours and patterns.
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