My handcrafted Diwali!

I really wanted to post my Diwali pictures. True to what I believe in, I decided to have a completely handcrafted Diwali. I toiled over Kesar Phirni (thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor), poured them into terracotta bowls and decorated them. Then I baked some Mattris (yes, I didn’t fry them!) in different shapes. Dressed in a traditional ‘Kandhangi‘ handloom saree, I decorated the whole balcony with diyas (terracotta lamps with oil), lit up the Vilakku ( brass lamp) and was all set to take pictures for the blog. That was when the catastrophe struck! 😦 My camera refused to detect the memory card and I didn’t have a spare!

Since I won’t be able to give you a glimpse of my balcony (btw, my little lily pond is finally showing signs of revival), the least I can do is write about ‘Kandhangi’ sarees. I harbour a secret love for sarees. Though you may hardly ever find me in a saree, I am definitely a pro at wearing them and hope to have a collection someday.

Photo Courtesy: Girish

During the recent Karaikudi trip, my friend Roxana was very particular about visiting the saree looms. Widely worn in the hot climes of Chettinadu, these sarees are woven in bright colours. A typical sight in this region is of ‘aachis‘ (the Chettiar womenfolk) wearing a Kandhangi saree, complete with oodles of jewelery and well oiled hair adorned with jasmine flowers. Both of us went berserk, fought over the loot and went broke buying sarees for almost everyone we could think of. Most of the ‘gifts’ never reached their recipients and ended in our wardrobes! 🙂

Characterised by huge borders (sometimes two-thirds of the saree is covered with the border), these sarees are woven using high quality cotton from Tirupur. These sarees take about a week to be hand woven on the loom. Over time, the enterprising community anticipated the decline in demand for hand woven cotton sarees. They have slowly diversified into making silk blended cottons sarees and  stoles. Nowadays low quality yarn is also used to reduce the cost of raw material used.

This cotton yarn is used to make those simple, yet stunning sarees. The hot weather throughout the year call for the use of light fabric, one that breathes.

The looms were in an old house, whose courtyard and verandahs were used to showcase the products for sale. We sat down on the verandahs, enjoying the cool evening breeze and discussed the declining demand for such hand spun beauty. The lady of the house, dressed perfectly in true Chettinadu style was happy to share her knowledge and love for these sarees.

I came back with this and Roxana with lots more. The plan is to couple them with Ikat blouses and loads of bead jewellery 🙂

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FAQs on Athangudi tiles..

How to order Athangudi Tiles?

  1. There are various designs. You can choose a design and colour of your choice. Click here for a catalog of designs.
  2. You can also custom make designs. In this case, you need to pay the cost of the mould.
  3. Once the order is placed, the tiles are produced. The tiles cannot be stocked for a long time as the ends are porous and discolouration is bound to occur at the corners.
  4. Only about 75 sq ft can be produced each day.
  5. The tiles are about an inch in thickness. Three size options are available- 6 by 6 inches, 8 by 8 inches and 10 by 10 inches.

How are Athangudi tiles laid?

  1. The laying process is different from the regular tile laying process. Masons from Karaikudi should be employed as they understand the process better.
  2. For a minimum of 600 sq ft, the local masons are willing to travel anywhere in India for the laying process. Depending on the quantum of work, one or two helpers need to be provided for the masons. Please note that the mason speaks only Tamizh. A better idea would be to source low cost labour from Karaikudi itself.
  3. Rice husk is used for polishing, which is also sourced from Karaikudi.
  4. About 100 sq ft can be laid in a day.  Post laying, 2-3 days are required for polishing. The polished tile reflects light like a mirror.

How are Athangudi Tiles maintained?

  1. The tile responds well to use. The more you walk on it, the shinier it gets. Non usage may dull the tile. Hence, it is not advisable to use as wall tiles.
  2. Regular cleaning should do. You can even wash the floors. Once a week, mop the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil. It keeps the sheen intact.

What areas are best suited to Athangudi tiles?

  1. It is best suited to porches, verandahs and living rooms where traffic is quite high.
  2. Not advisable for kitchens and open to sunlight areas.
  3. For smaller size rooms, use smaller and less intricate designs. The more intricate ones look dramatic in larger areas.

Athangudi tiles, finally!

It’s been 2 years since I set my eyes on Athangudi tiles. I saw it on a blog that I frequent and it was love at first sight. I’ve spent all these months planning for a trip to Karaikudi. I travel quite a bit, but this trip wasn’t just coming through. When I finally managed to get here, the trip was just perfect. Two really close people, one a friend with whom I’ve spent the dreamy years of college giggling, shopping and forging a friendship for the rest of our lives. The other one is an interesting story, I’ve hardly met him thrice in the ten odd years that I’ve known him and we get along very well.

In the coming weeks, I will write about all the wonderful sights and people we met in this packed four day trip. For now, let me start with my first love.

Athangudi is a relatively new craft. The region is dominated by Chettiars, a community of rich traders. The Chettairs built fabulous mansions with wooden pillars, Belgian and Japanese tiles, Italian marbles and imported stained glass. But over time, they realized that repairs were expensive due to the non availability of spares. So the inherently enterprising community set up an industry that made replicas of the imported tiles. The sand from Athangudi suited this procedure the best and this village became the hub of tile production.

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) Made with white cement, sand and pigments, the tiles are entirely hand-made. Colors mixed with white cement are poured using a mould on a glass base. The glass helps in giving the tile a smooth, polished surface.

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) The design is packed with cement on top and left to dry in the sun.

It is later cured in water for a couple of days and again dried in the sun.

The laying process involves the use of sand, cement, lime and the top is polished with rice husk.

There are about 60 designs, will try to put it up on Flickr with product codes. Here are some of them.