Seven temples, five weaves and two dishes. That is what it took for Delta Delights, a programme organised by Co-optex (the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society) over the weekend, to take its audience through the rich textile history of the delta belts of Trichy, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.
For a holistic explanation of why the regions fostered weaving communities, and how it influenced other elements of their heritage, the event got historian Chithra Madhavan and chef and food historian Rakesh Raghunathan on board.
“There used to be 250 types of handloom saris in India. Today we are down to 23,” said TN Venkatesh, managing director of Co-optex. Venkatesh invited veteran weavers, experts in fashioning Koorainadu saris from Mayavaram, cotton saris from Gangaikondacholapuram and Jayamkondam, Darasuram saris, and Woraiyur saris from Tiruchirapalli, to showcase their work. The event at Residency Towers, hosted by arts consultant Shreya Nagarajan Singh, also put up these saris for sale at a 30% discount.
Unfurling a rich indigo sari made of pure Thirubuvanam silk and holding it up for people to see, Venkatesh remarked, “When the Maratha kings came to Thanjavur, they brought with them a community of weavers from Saurashtra. They would make dresses for the Serfoji Maharaja’s family. They eventually moved to Thirubuvanam. Even today, there are 4,000 weavers practising there.”
Another weaving style from Saurashtra was practised in Darasuram, the main difference lying in the zari work. SK Saravanan, who has been a part of the Darasuram weaving community for 22 years, displayed his work. His son upholds this legacy now.
Meanwhile, Chithra Madhavan took the audience through the chariot-temple architecture of Darasuram, with its (now-defunct) musical steps and dance sculptures. “Whenever we think of chariot temples, we associate it with Konark, but Darasuram is much older,” she reminded the audience.
Rakesh, on the other hand, enthralled them with the culinary influences in the region, specifically, Kumbakonam kadappa — a dish that evolved as a direct influence of the Thanjavur Marathas — and the bun halwa — a dish unique to the Saurashtra weaving community. The fragrant fumes from his cooking left the audience salivating and coughing at the same time.
Putting generous amounts of butter for the bun halwa , he explained the history behind the dish. “There is a 13th-Century manuscript in Turkey that makes a reference to ‘helva’. In Turkish, it means sweet. The Mughals brought it from Persia to India, where we began adding local produce like lauki (gourd) and gajar (carrots). The Arabs brought the Kozhikode style of halwa to Kerala,” he said.
The event discussed the influences of the Chola, the Vijayanagaram and the Maratha kingdom, on the weaving community, and their relevance today. Together, the experts explored the cyclical relationship between the temple ecosystem, royal patronage and the weavers’ livelihoods. And at this intersection of culture, politics and economics was the sari.