After draping generations in timeless cream and gold, the kasavu has morphed into interesting variations, says SUDHA NAMBUDIRI
When Vasco Da Gama bartered gold for spices he would never have imagined that the yellow metal would set the trend for dress wear a few centuries later. For the amount of gold he and the other colonists dumped on the shores of Kerala, saw the then upper class weaving gold into the mundu and the neriyethu, thus giving birth to what we know today as kasavu.Identified with celebrations and festivity, Kasavu has now transcended borders along with the global Malayali.
The traditional vesthi mundu has given way to the set sari and the traditional pattu pavada has replaced the unbleached set pavada. Ever since the salwar kameez has become the favoured attire of the younger generation it has developed Onam colours: off-white and gold. Now the kasavu has become broader by the year with the introduction of the colour `kara' along with it. Interestingly it's not just the women's wear that's making waves. Men too can now buy set pieces, a combination of coloured shirt (branded) matching the double colour kasavu mundu.
However, is the golden kasavu making way for the silver kasavu? Says C. Rajan, Manager Kasavukada, "The younger generation is interested in this product. `Velli kasavu' has no gold coating and can be used in a set sari or a colour sari, it goes well with green, black, maroon etc. The best combination is black and velli kasavu in a set sari." The preferences of the buyers differ and hence it shows on the quality. Interestingly, the original gold kasavu gets wrinkled after wash, but can be ironed out whereas the artificial kasavu, which costs less, shines more as a new product. It loses its sheen over several washes. Says Vanaja, a workingwoman who buys clothes for every Onam, "Since my kids are growing I buy set pavada at a reasonable rate. But the set mundu or sari will be of good quality." However, if this is the scene in exclusive shops, most of those who plan to give gifts look at Hantex, which meets the tastes of a fairly large populace. There is almost a 20 per cent hike in the sales of the off-white Onam wear during these two months than the usual 5-10 per cent all through the year. Kasavu wear is being made in half-fine zari where copper is used in place of gold coating giving the zari a reddish tinge. This reduces the price of the cloth by almost one-fourth and is very popular among the middle class and normally made in wholesale outlets like Koothampally. Balaramapuram, the birthplace of the gold kasavu, continues to bring out special designs and patterns almost every week. Most motifs are related to nature with birds and flowers. Some of their recent designs include scenes from the epic Ramayana being woven on the border and the munthani (pallu). Since motifs are hand-woven, it takes about an hour to make nine motifs on a quarter metre cloth. The motifs are hand-woven with some having colour designs in between. If the motif is handmade then both its sides, in front and behind, will be similar. Of late several innovations have been made to the kasavu what with Westerners using it as draperies, tablecloths, lampshades, napkins, pillow covers and even wall hangings. "Foreigners come to our shop and pick up clothes at random, some dhotis, set-mundu, Kerala saris and salwar kameez material. They pack about two to three cartons and make them into curtains, wall hangings and use them as furnishings. Some even buy material to try out new designs in Western wear," says salesman Shankaran.And so the story of the kasavu goes on... . it continues to drape generations in cream and gold, not only dressing them up but even their homes too. Like all trends that make a comeback, stronger and better, the traditional kasavu too has become haute.