Preserving the Kanchipuram magic
KANCHIPURAM SILK is known not just in this country, but abroad for its high quality and also the intricately woven zari work. The designs for pallavs, borders and buttas have often been adapted from temple sculptures, leather puppets and other traditional crafts. The artistes working at the Weavers' Service centres go on extensive tours in search of such designs. Many families preserve Kanchipuram saris as heirlooms. The Weavers' Service Centres collect some of them from various sources for rejuvenating the patterns, which were popular more than 50 years ago.
The Weavers' Service Centre at Kanchipuram is no exception. What better place to preserve them than in Kanchipuram? The museum inaugurated at this Centre recently has documented over 506 old samples in catalogues, besides displaying full-length sarees.
The rich zari work in the borders and pallavs, though somewhat worn out in some samples, are still breathtaking. Besides showing the old ones, the weavers have also recreated some of the designs such as the `muppagam' saris, in which the body width is divided into three equal parts, and the korvai saris. The Ekambaranathan sari and the Avudaiyar sari obtain their names from the designs taken from those temples. Some of the traditional designs also contain `meenakari' work in them. One particular sari has no les than 500 buttas in it! The designs which continue to be popular through decades include the rudraksham, the sovereign, hamsa, peacock, neli, thuthuripoo, pogudi, panneersombu, mayilkann and of course vaira oosi.
`Petny' is a method of weaving and cutting, unique to Kanchipuram, which forms the transition from the body to the pallav when they are of two different colours.
The rich glow of the colours like red, green, yellow and blue are still intact in the old saris, proving why Kanchi silk has such an exalted status. The display includes a Chettinadu cotton sari and a Benares silk sari. A couple of pieces show the designs used in Karuppur saris, now adopted on cotton shawls.
There are a couple of spinning wheels, one quite plain and another with a somewhat fancy design, both nearly a hundred years old. Also there is an antique Kanchipuram traditional pivot for suspended sley; a couple of pivots have intricate hollowed out carvings adapted from temple towers. Several old shuttles, called boat, are also on display.
Before the chemical dyes came into extensive use, natural colours were the norm.
The sources from which they were extracted, such as turmeric, `kurangu manjal' or anato, Chavalkodi, Rathnajothi, pomegranate seeds and leaves are displayed along with yarns dyed with these colours.
Great care has been taken to use traditional items in the museum such as the tables on which the textiles are displayed.
Even the pegs from which the saris are hung are taken from old vertical posts of balustrades, legs of cots, chairs, etc. ``Sari manufacturers should come forward to revive the designs displayed here. Over a thousand different pieces will then gain a new lease of life,'' says the Deputy Director of the Centre, Mr. Veera Santhanam.
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