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A kandhangi for your wardrobe

Kandhangi sari PHOTO: Shobhana Sridhar   | Photo Credit: MAIL

Krishnaveni Venkatraman smiles as she remembers how it all began. She was in Class VI and was home during the holidays when she picked up the family tradition of handloom weaving. Her mother was in the kitchen, and Krishnaveni’s chitappa taught her the basics of working at the loom. He even threw a challenge — if she wove a lungi with seven rockets or colour changes, he would get her favourite ‘boori-chutney’.

She did well, and her uncle told her father to train her because she wove well. Krishnaveni never went back to school. Today, after overcoming many trials and tribulations, she owns Sri Mahalakshmi Handloom Weaving Centre in Kanadukathan, a village about 10 km from Karaikudi in Chettinad.

The weather is dry and hot, suited for weaving, but not exactly conducive for human labour. The heat is sweltering and weavers work in thatched sheds with a fan or two, with tinny film music playing on the radio.

Krishnaveni hires weavers on regular wages (not piece rate) because it’s the only way she can expect them to be at work when she needs them. She serves tea and snacks to them twice a day, lends a kind ear in times of trouble, and helps them with loans when they face financial difficulties.

All this is necessary, she says, to keep weavers in the trade. Nobody wants to be a weaver any more — young people would rather go to college and get into a ‘regular’ job.

Krishnaveni’s journey as a craftsperson is as colourful and complex as her weaves. Although entrepreneurial responsibilities have taken over most of her time, she is familiar with the entire dyeing and weaving process, right from the purchase of yarn, and she believes it’s the only way to run a business.

A stickler for quality, Krishnaveni’s pannai or needle frame is a fine rack made of hand-spliced bamboo, which she sources from an artisan in Nelakottai, about 30 km from Kanadukathan. This is another dying art, but there are a few practitioners in Madurai and Chinnalampatti too. The maker of the pannai selects locally grown bamboo of the right ‘padham’ or tenderness, cleans, washes, almost-dries and polishes it, and then cuts it painstakingly by hand.

Nowadays, pannais are also made using iron. They are much easier to make, but weaving on them does not lend an aesthetic finish, so Krishnaveni finds them unacceptable, although she keeps one or two for buyers who insist on modern ‘fancy’ finishes. “It is difficult to argue with, or educate the local market,” she rues.

Krishnaveni is also the sole practitioner of the rare and beautiful kandhangi weaving tradition of Chettinad. The kandhangi sari is native to Chettinad and is the original Chettinad cotton sari. It’s a beautiful creation that’s hand-woven, stacked and hand-folded in an irresistible range of vibrantly coloured checks and stripes. The palette for a kandhangi traditionally comprises 16 colours, with the distinctive patterns that define it open to interpretation but largely functioning within certain reference points.

Uniquely, the kandhangi doesn’t require starching or ironing because it employs a thicker two-ply yarn painstakingly warped with oil and congee. Women perpetually hassled for time and convenience will love its wash-and-wear comfort — the ‘fall’ of the sturdy sari is unruffled and elegant, and it wears superbly over many washes.

When they wear one and revel in the compliments, Krishnaveni smiles too — it is a validation of her conviction too.


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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 11:47:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-kandhangi-for-your-wardrobe/article14501026.ece

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