Madras Day 2020 | A tribute to professions that helped the city grow

Dressing up Madras: on textiles of yore, cloth trade and markets

There used to be a time when all unstitched running cloth was called pudavai (now denotes a saree). In the 1700s, there were varieties of cloth, including sakalath, malmal, gada and jarigai pudavai.

Anandarangam Pillai, who was a dubash with the French East India Company, kept detailed accounts of life in those days and mentions different pieces of cloth as pudavai.

Historian V. Sriram said that though in 1734, Governor Pitt founded a weavers’ settlement called Chinna tari pett and 230 families settled there by 1737, the East India Company was not interested in trading in cloth after the 1800s. “The industrial revolution came in the 1850-60s and they began sending mill cloth to India since it was cheaper. After 1860, mills like Binny and Mettur mills came up in India. Only the very rich and the poor, who got reject pieces, used handloom,” Mr. Sriram said.

In the early 1900s, cloth merchants set up business in town. M.V. Kanniah Chetty, Bhashyakarulu Chetty and Paramanandadas Chotadas were popular stores then. One could get Assam silks, velvettes, dhavanis, fancy lace borders and conjeevarams here.

Theagaraya Nagar, the go-to place for anything cloth and jewellery, was formed in 1923. Textile industrialist Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti, who has documented the growth of T. Nagar, said the city grew towards the south; the silk saree and cloth trade, too, moved from Devaraja Mudali Street and Mint Street.

“Chintadripet had shops such as Kandasamy Sha and Sankar Sha. Then, around 1910, shops including Venkatrama Chetti served customers in Triplicane. The market then moved to Mylapore, where shops such as Radha Silks came to be. In 1928, my grandfather set up his shop in T. Nagar. Pondy Bazaar did not exist at the time. He chose the place because it was close to a railway station,” he said.

“In those days, women in many households would wear silk even at home. In 1935, a saree was priced at ₹18 and families would pay instalments of ₹5 a month. We would go to the houses and collect the amount every month. People would keep the cash ready,” Mr. Kuppuswamy said. The city used to get its silks from Kancheepuram, Arani and Kumbakonam, and other sarees from Uraiyur in Tiruchi, Kodambakkam, Sungadi and Bumper varieties from Madurai and Chinnalampattu.

After Madras became Chennai, several new textile and clothing brands ventured into the market. Sunday shopping and Aadi sales too came into being. Ramesh Pothy, managing director of Pothys, said: “As the city grew and malls came up, people adapted to the Sunday shopping culture.” It was in the late 1990s that textile majors in Chennai embraced the concept of Aadi sales, which was later adapted by consumer durables and other retail firms as well. For a city whose residents used to hand sew their own shirts and blouses at home, the last 30 years have brought in a vast change in the way its people shop for clothes.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 5:22:16 AM |

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