Chettinad Sarees

Cotton Chettinad Saree
Chettinad is an area in Tamil Nadu comprising about 70 villages which the Nattukottai Chettiars (also known as the Nagarathar community) call their home. They are a business community believed to have shifted to the Kaveripoompattinam port area (from Kanchipuram) during the reign of the Cholas (which belief is supported by the Tamil epic Silappathikaram), and tales of their maritime trade go as far back as the 8th century although it isn't at all clear whether the tales are true. What is well established is that by the 17th century, the Nattukottai Chettiars were trading in salt and, by the 18th century, many of them had immigrated to Burma and Ceylon where they acted as moneylenders.

It is with the Nagarathar community that Chettinad or Chettinadu sarees, also known as kandaangi, earlier often in silk, are associated. They are primarily woven in Karaikudi in cotton using pit looms. The colours tend to be bold and earthy with green, mustard, and red dominating although other colours like blue and black have also been added to the palette in recent times. The borders of these sarees tend to contrast from their main body, and to be wider than saree borders usually are; they may also include thin stripes and feature small designs along the warp.

The end-pieces of Chettinad sarees are simple and feature stripes along the weft. And although there are no designs along the weft in the body of these sarees, there are often stripes and checks. In addition to this, the structure of Chettinad sarees has changed over time: earlier sarees were not very broad (91 cm as opposed to the usual current width of 120 cm) and they were considerably more rough than newer sarees are (with thread counts of 40 in contrast to the current 60). Despite this change, Chettinad sarees tend to feel heavy and are generally easy to drape.

Telia Rumal Sarees

End-piece of a cotton Telia Rumal saree
The Telia Rumal is the precursor of Pochampally Ikat which is woven in what was earlier Andhra Pradesh (although, after the state was split, the main weaving centres have found themselves in the newly-created state of Telangana). Sized between 55 and 75 square cm, the Rumals or Chowkas featuring diamonds within squares were initially woven in 19th century Chirala (still in Andhra Pradesh) and used by fishermen and cowherds in their attire. By the 1930s, they were exported to the Middle East, Burma, and East Africa where they were used as headgear, and, soon after in the 1950s, their patterns were adopted in sarees at the suggestion of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay who was the chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board at the time.

A quarter of a century later, in the 1970s, a weaver named Gajam Govardhana from Puttapaka, Nalgonda, visited Chirala and learnt how to make the Telia Rumal. It was through him that the technique of weaving the Rumal spread in Nalgonda district which is now in Telangana.

The sarees made today tend to be woven in the 'traditional' colours of black, white, and red, in double ikat featuring distinctive geometric floral motifs enclosed in diamonds. Their borders tend to be stripes, often a single stripe, in a deep bright colour. Contemporary sarees also tend to experiment with colours and it is no longer startling to see Telia Rumal sarees in a wide variety of colours identifiable from a distance primarily by the designs.

Patola Sarees

Patan Patola Saree
at INA Metro Station, Delhi
Gujarat's Patola sarees are known to be coveted: they are Ikat sarees woven in silk. The effort required to weave one of these sarees is apparently so much that weaving them in cotton (which doesn't last as long as silk) simply doesn't make sense. There are currently two kinds of Patola sarees available: the Patan Patola which is an expensive double Ikat weave, and the Rajkot Patola which is a comparatively accessible single Ikat weave.

Patola sarees are reversible, and Patan Patola sarees are assumed to last for about three centuries. They are woven in the town of Patan which is believed to have been established around 745 AD by Vanraj Chavda. The sarees, however, began to be woven much later: it is said that Patola attire was originally woven in Jalna, Maharashtra, and imported from there. However, around 1175 AD, King Kumarpal from Gujarat (who wanted a new, unworn Patolu to wear each day for his daily worship) defeated the ruler of Jalna, and brought Salvi weavers from there to his own kingdom.

The silk used is generally eight ply silk, and both the weft and the warp of Patan Patola sarees are dyed before being woven. The sarees usually have a red background, and their designs are rarely of new vintage: Patan Patola sarees tend to feature traditional designs such as those of the nine gems (Navratan); of elephants, parrots and dancing angels (Narikunjar); of hunts with elephants and tigers fighting (Wagh Haathi); of treasure- and flower-filled baskets (Chabadi); of shimmering night skies (Taraliya); of peacocks and butterflies (Mor Patangyu Bhat); of flowers (Ful); and of stylised geometric patterns. These designs are repeated every six to eight inches, and starch along with (in humid conditions) a heater under the loom are used to keep the threads from becoming entangled during the weaving process which can take several months. Running along one side of Patan Patola sarees is a golden Zari Patto, and there are Pallavs distinguishable from a saree's field at both its ends. Consequently, a Patan Patola saree can be draped from any of its four corners.

In contrast to this, Rajkot Patola sarees are single Ikat sarees with the design dyed only along the weft. Their history is much shorter than that of Patan Patola sarees: it appears that Patola sarees began being woven in the Rajkot workshop of a weaver named Karamchand Godhamdas from the Kumbhar potter's caste in 1951 after he had worked in the Patan workshop of Laherchand Salvi. Rajkot Patola designs tend to feature not only designs seen in Patan Patola sarees but also more contemporary designs, and designs which mimic the Gharchola. They have a block-like appearance with edges that have 'bled', and are devoid of curves. There also Lagdi Patta along both borders of Rajkot Patola sarees, and, unlike Patan Patola sarees, they tend to be woven with blouse pieces attached to them.