Homes and gardens

Keep calm and palm on

Baskets and bags made of bamboo, korai grass mats, palm leaf hats and handbags, and numerous other handicrafts hang outside a hole-in-the-wall shop near ther-mutti on East Masi Street. S Senthil Nathan sits amidst a pile of palm-leaf products, directing the two men in his shop to attend to customers. On a Wednesday morning, he’s doing brisk business as people peep in continuously to buy a panai olai petti or a korai paai. “Ever since the plastic ban came in, there’s renewed interest among people to buy products made of natural materials. It has given a boost in sales of palm-leaf products in particular. The kottans and pettis are back in use,” says Senthil Nathan, who runs the 100-year-old SVMS Servai mat shop. It was his grandfather who migrated to the temple town from Manamadurai and started selling palm-leaf handicrafts on the pavement near where the temple chariots were stationed. The shop has remained on the spot ever since, giving the locality an identity.

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 21/03/2019: For Metroplus: Trendy and colourful palm-leaf handicrafts being sold on East masi Street in Madurai. Photo: R. Ahsok / The Hindu

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 21/03/2019: For Metroplus: Trendy and colourful palm-leaf handicrafts being sold on East masi Street in Madurai. Photo: R. Ahsok / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

“Since Manamadurai was a dry region, it had a lot of palm trees and people in the Sivaganga and Ramnad districts were traditionally engaged in making palm leaf handicrafts. Since it was available in abundance, the leaves were used to make anything from baskets and containers to mats and toys. However, over years, the trees diminished and the cost of leaves went up; the number of people engaged in the craft subsequently came down,” says Senthil Nathan. “However, business is at a better phase since artisans have adapted themselves to changing trends by introducing fashionable products like hats for children, handbags for women and handfans. Colourful dyes and paints on the leaves make them appealing.”

Keep calm and palm on

“The GI tag recognition for the Chettinad kottan, a traditional basket woven with palm leaf strands has brought in positive response from markets in other States,” he adds. “Shops like us, apart from selling at the local market, also supply to places in north India. Our products come in from over 20 villages in and around Karaikudi, Ramanathapuram, interiors of Chettinad, Udankudi and Thoothukudi. Their finish differs according to the skills of the artisans. For instance, the kottans from Chettinad are better in quality as the strands are woven with a uniform tightness. They are traditionally used in weddings, temple festivals and ceremonies.”

Keep calm and palm on

Innovative designs include bags that can store up to four kilograms of items, kitchen essentials like spice boxes and anjarai petti that has five compartments to store the different dry spices. “There are women clusters in the villages that work on these products and resources persons help them come out with innovative designs,” says K Muthu, who owns a shop on East Masi Street. “Once, we visited a cluster in Nedumaran village near Thirupathur to source products, and found that they even do wine-bottle holders out of palm leaves, that were being exported by a company based in Tiruchi. Shop keepers like us commission products and designs from the women, depending on our requirement.”

Keep calm and palm on

Fast moving palm leaf products are brooms, winnows, boxes, pouches and bags apart from mats. “The palm tree is considered a symbol of wealth as ‘panai’ palm in Tamil is equated to ‘panam’ or money. In the olden days, the tree and items made from it were held in such high regard. With trendy designs and the positive response from public, we hope palm artisans and products will find a new lease of life,” says Muthu.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 3:07:47 PM |

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