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Updated: March 14, 2013 16:22 IST

Striking imagery

Pushpa Chari
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Sickinaickenpet Saris on display at Shilpi.
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Sickinaickenpet Saris on display at Shilpi.

The designs for the sickinaickenpet saris are based on the techniques of temple painting art.

The Sickinaickenpet sari is a name to conjure up today a ‘revived’ and rare dye painted sari adapted from ancient Tamil temple cloth and ‘royal raiment’ into a marvellous Mondrain like art wear. It carries within its folds not just the 13 flowers and roots but its history of a 1,000-year-old textile tradition going back to Chola times! And none tells the story better than R. Krishnamurthi, the paramparik dye painter in the Kodalikarpur painting tradition of the Coromandel coast, who belongs to the only family which paints Sicinaickenpet saris and temple cloth.

“My ancestors were bequeathed the village of Sickinaickenpet by a Chola king in appreciation of their decorative painting on cloth for temples and raths” says Krishnamurthi who continues to live in Sickinaickenpet and hand paints the spectacular sari which takes its name from the place. The family also continues the tradition of painting ‘thombais,’ wall hangings and rath cloths as it has done through centuries.

“From the Chola period we’ve been the only family which created dye painted cloths for the moolavars as well as for the sanctum and temple interiors. We also made drapery, turbans and dresses for the Chola kings, and later for the Maratha royalty and zamindars. An English collector in the Raj era took some of the wall cloths painted by my grandfather to London where it hangs in a museum today. However, the Sickinaickenpet sari, as we know it today, was evolved in the 1980s by Martand Singh and his team based on the essence and techniques of the temple painting art. The saris and dupattas painted under the revival scheme were taken to the Festival of India in France and were sold out on the first day itself.”

It was in 1983 that the four dye colours were isolated from the traditional ‘asmangiri’ temple cloth and a range of striking geometrical patterns were devised to show the smooth expanse of brushed-down colour and to achieve a spectacular look in the saris. Krishnamurthi’s father and uncle, all master craftsmen, painted a series of saris in maroon, black, yellow and white patterning for the ‘Pudupava Cotton Collection.’ Its striking imagery and colours took the design world by storm. The collection was recreated under Shilpi’s revival programme in the 1990s and comes again to Chennai now, painted by R. Krishnamurthi.

The immaculate design sense, sense of colour and composition begs the question: Is the artisan master of maths, proportions, nature and aesthetics? “It is our speciality and reality” says the artist who learnt his craft from his elders at the age of six.

The process

It all begins with preparing a design of the required size. A pure cotton cloth is selected and soaked in cow dung water for two days to remove impurities, after which it is dried. Yet another dip in cow dung water and the sari is soaked in ‘kaduka’ water for five-six days followed by the process which involves brushing the cloth with a tamarind stick. The cloth now absorbs the vegetable colours and is ready to be painted on. The dyes have already been prepared through an elaborate process. The colours are taken from tamarind seed, hibiscus, avaram poo, coconut water and sangam plant root. And finally the painted sari is dried on the banks of the River Cauvery.

Check out for these Sickinaickenpet Sari collections, which are specially exhibited at Shilpi, 29, C.P. Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet and 1, Geegee Minar, College Road, Nungambakkam, starting today along with traditional thombai and wall cloth. Also on view are the khan blouse pieces from the Maharasthra –Karnataka border.

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