The surface glaze appears exceptional for a tile made without machines or burning in the kilns. Such a specialty of the Chettinad region can be conferred with the GI tag
It is said that when we lose a part of our past, either we are totally ignorant about it, virtually letting it die, or we develop a strong longing for it, hoping to revive it. Athangudi tiles, fortunately, come under the second category. Though the small village of Athangudi was a centre of flourishing home industry once, the introduction of mass-produced tiles led to its decline in the recent past.
However, the time-tested qualities of Athangudi tiles continued and now they are again getting revived. One new area where they are gaining popularity is in restoration of heritage buildings and adaptive reuse of period-style architecture, for no other tile creates historic ambience like Athangudi tiles. During recent years there have been varied efforts to support these tiles, from individuals and NGOs alike, including many website links. The readers’ response and queries to the essay of last week also goes to prove it.
Athangudi produces only indoor floor tiles that can be laid in any room, except toilets. While they can be used in kitchens, better alternatives prevail. The surface glaze appears exceptional for a tile made without machines or burning in the kilns. They come in a variety of patterns, plain finish and newer customised designs introduced to meet modern demands. However, the decorative floral patterns get partly covered up by furniture, leaving only the parts of pattern visible. In such cases plain floor may be appropriate and economical too.
Boarder tiles are a common traditional feature which fit well in rectangular rooms bound by four walls, but if spaces flow into each other as it happens in modern open plan houses, locating the boarders becomes an issue and may have to be discarded with. Skirting tiles are rather thick; hence need to recess them partly into the wall, to reduce the tile projection.
Athangudi floor tiles are slow in production and application, rather a misfit in the fast lifestyle of today. Soon after production, they need extended water curing for over 20 days to gain the strength, so hurrying up with the suppliers may lead to compromises in quality. Being pre-finished on glass, no further polish, repair or alteration is possible at site; hence they need careful handling.
Athangudi tiles are such a specialty of the Chettinad region, they can as well be conferred with GI — the Geographical Indication for original place of production. While small quantities get produced elsewhere, the quality of glaze and type of sand have ensured the superiority of the original. Being hand made, production is a slow process, so at present only a very few building owners are able to get them. Interestingly, these tiles cannot be simply stored for long – the glazed surface does not perform as well as it would if under use. A market scenario where demand and supply meet each other is the ideal for Athangudi tiles.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)