Weaving ~ Chendamangalamadmin123
When you hear the name “Chendamangalam,” the colours of handloom weaving, customs, and culture reverberate in your head. The weaving of Chendamangalam is a well-known craft of Kerala. It is known for weaving the textiles on frame looms and this tradition hasn’t changed since the origin of this craft. It is due to the high degree of excellence in the dexterity of fabrics that Chendamanglam today is recognized not only at a national level but globally.
Chendamangalam cluster of handloom weaving is known for their benchmark quality. In the early days during the origin of Chendamangalam weaving, the weaving was mainly done for only the royal members of the Paliam family, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cochin. The women of this royal family used to show off their dignity and status through dressing by wearing Chendamangalam handloom products specially: Neriyathu, Kasavu Dhoti, Kasavu Sarees and other varieties. Men used to wear a plain white fine muslin cloth dhoti.
Today, Chendamangalam cluster still makes these traditional dhotis and sarees for men and women, for which the weaving of this town was earlier famous for. However, the designs have evolved and changed but the usage of these garments still remains the same.
For Men- The Chendamangalam Dhoti is still famous in this area. An unstitched garment of fine muslin cloth is woven by the Chendamangalam weavers. The dhoti of Chendamangalam is usually identified by its plain body and kasavu border. The main body of the dhoti is left unbleached and white. While, all the borders are either in plain gold or coloured zari in tones of purple, blue, green and black.
For Women- Chendamangalam saree and set mundu is famous. Set Mundu is considered as the traditional garment and as the oldest remnant of saree for women. The Set Mundu or called as ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ is a combination of Mundu for covering the lower part of the body while Neriyathu is to wrap around the upper portion of the body. It basically acts like a dupatta over the blouse. The set mundu consists of two pieces of cloth: the Dhoti or Mundu and Neriyathu or also called Kavani. This garment is either sold alone or as a part of a set, including both dhoti and Neriyathu.
The distinctness of Chendamangalam weaving lies in its quality. The weavers dedicate their mind and soul to the equipment and work in such a manner that there is harmony between his physical body and his mind. The Chendamangalam weaving is famous for their 2 main products: Set Mundu and Dhoti. Although it is considered as a myth, people of this town still believe that the cotton muslin dhotis woven by the Chendamangalam weavers are so fine that it could still pass through a ring. This is because, it is said that this cluster weaves in fine 100 and 120 count. Another significant aspect of this weaving is, at present all the handloom apparels manufacturers of the district of Ernakulam have moved to machines. However, Chendamanglam not only still follows the traditional hand-woven mechanism but also the weavers still make use of organic and natural dyes for colouring, so due to natural colours it looks and remains fresh even after multiple washes for years. This ensures the high-quality of Chendamangalam handloom weaving. The respect this town and their weavers receive still today is due to the above mentioned sincerity of following the past traditions. Today place is not only famous at national level, but it is well-recognized for its versatile hand-woven cotton textiles globally.
Myths & Legends:
There is an interesting legend about the origin of the caste of Devanga community. It goes that Lord Brahma, having created Manu, told him to weave clothes for devas and men. As per the instructions, Manu continued to weave for several years and reached heaven through his virtuous life. Now, there being no one left to weave for them, the Devas had to wear the garments made from leaves. Vexed at this situation, they prayed to Lord Brahma that he would rescue them from this difficult situation. Hence, Brahma took them to Lord Shiva, who at once created a lustrous spirit and called that spirit ‘Devalan’. Struck with the brilliancy by observing this, all fled in confusion. Shiva then told Goddess Parvati that this spirit i.e ‘Devalan’ is created to weave clothes and to cover the limbs and bodies of Devas and men, whose descendants are thus called ‘Devangas’. Devalan was then advised to obtain the thread from the lotus stalks springing from Vishnu’s navel. Following the advice he secured them after a severe penance. While coming back, he met a Rakshasa, ‘Vajradantan’ by name who was doing penance at a hermitage, disguised as a Sanyasi. Devalan paid him reverence after being duped by his appearance and made up his mind to spend the night in the hermitage. The Rishi and his disciples, however, took off their masks as the day drew to a close and revealed their true identities as Asuras. When Devalan asked Vishnu for help, he was given a chakra, which he used to try to drive out the growing number of Asuras. The Asuras were then exterminated after he called on Chaudanyaki or Chowdeshwari, who arrived riding a lion. Vajradantan (diamond-toothed), Pugainethran (smoke-eyed), Pugaimugan (smoke-faced), Chithrasnan (chief of troops), and Jeyadrathan were the great Asuras who perished (owner of a victory-securing car). The blood of these five Asuras were coloured respectively as: yellow, red, white, green, and black. Devalan dipped the threads in the blood to dye them various colours. On the basis of the following verse, which appears to have been written by a Devnga priest by the name of Sambalinga Murti, the Devangas claim to be the descendants of Devalan and claim to be Devanga Brhmans:
“Manu was born in the Brāhman caste.
He was surely a Brāhman in the womb.
There is no Sudraism in this caste.
Dēvanga had the form of Brāhma.”
The Baramahal Records provide the following information regarding the fabled origin of the Devangas. When Brahma, the creator, created the charam and acharam, or the animate and inanimate creation, the gods or Devatas, the evil demons or Rakshasas, and the human race, were without a covering for their bodies. This displeased the god Narada or reason, so he waited upon Paramshwara, the great Lord, at his palace on the Kailasa Parvata or mount of paradise, and Narada’s request was justified in Paramshwara’s eyes, therefore he decided to comply. While he was thinking, a male sprung into being from his body, whom he named Dēva Angam or the body of God, in allusion to the way of his birth. Deva Angam immediately questioned his creator as to why he had made him. The God said, “Go to the pala samudram, or sea of milk, where you will find Sri Maha Vishnu, the great god, and he will teach you what to do”.Deva Angam returned to Sri Maha Vishnu’s presence, said that Paramshwara had sent him, and pleaded for favor with Vishnu’s instructions. “Do you weave cloth to serve as a covering for the universe’s occupants?”, Vishnu retorted. The lotus flower fibers that had grown from his navel were subsequently given to him by Vishnu, who also showed him how to turn them into cloth. Lord Vishnu accepted a piece of cloth that Deva Angam had woven for him and instructed him to leave so that he might gather tree fibers and create clothing for the gods who reside in the Vishnu loka. Ten thousand weavers were created by Deva Angam, who used to go into the forest and gather tree fiber to weave into cloth for the Devatas, or gods, and the human race. Deva Angam was attacked by a race of Rakshasas or giants one day when he and his clan were gathering tree fiber in a forest in the Bhuloka or earthly realm. Enraged, he unbent his jata or long plaited hair, gave it a twist, and struck it once on the ground. A female goddess known as Shakti, who had eight hands and each held a warlike weapon, suddenly appeared from the soil, assaulted the Rakshasas, and vanquished them. As she saved his tribe from the Rakshasas, Deva Anga gave her the name Chudeshwari, or goddess of the hair, and made her his tutelary divinity.
Chowdeshwari, a manifestation of Kali or Durga, is the tribal goddess of the Devangas. She is worshiped every year at a festival in which the entire community participates, either at the temple or a residence decorated especially for the event. Weaving activities are suspended during the festival, and individuals who participate prominently in the ceremonies fast and abstain from polluting. Alagu Nilupadam is the name of the first day (erecting, or fixing of the sword). Unless the community is made up of vegetarian Devangas, the goddess is worshiped and a sheep or goat is sacrificed. At least one guy from each sept fasts, maintains his purity, and is equipped with a sword. The alagu men slash their chests with the swords as the pjari (priest) tries to balance a long sword on its point on the edge of a pot inside the temple or at the designated location. The failure to balance the sword is thought to be caused by pollution that was brought by someone and that the alagu men bathe in. Women are kept at a distance to prevent menstruation or other forms of contamination, and cow’s urine and turmeric water are sprinkled over those gathered. The following morning, known as jothi-rambam (jothi, light or splendor), since Chaudswari is said to have originated from jothi, a large pile of rice flour is prepared, and a wick is then placed inside a cavity that has been excavated, fed with gh (clarified butter), and lit. The pujari’s family must make this floor lamp, sometimes with assistance from the alagu lads. In order to make it, some rice is soaked in water and then placed over a plantain leaf. When it is the right consistency, it is then combined with jaggery (raw sugar), formed into a cone, and set on a silver or brass platter. The goddess is presented with jaggery water, cocoanuts, and other offerings on the third day, also known as pnaka pja or naivedyam. The rice mass is divided up and distributed to the pujari, setti, alagu men and boys as well as the community. Each group receives little amounts of the rice mass in a specific order that must be properly followed. For example, the order at Tindivanam is as follows:
Since the goddess arose from fire, fire-walking is not a part of the festival. The event varies from the above in some areas of the North Arcot district and lasts for more than ten days. The first day is dedicated to worshiping an adorned pot (kalasam) to which sheep and goats are sacrificed. The procession stops at a jammi (Prosopis spicigera) tree. The goddess and pot are honored every day from the second to the sixth day. On the seventh day, a man returns to the jammi tree and carries cooked rice on his back. This rice must only be placed in close proximity to the tree or at the temple. If the rice is not dropped while traveling there, it is understood that the festival may continue. The joti wouldn’t be lit on the ninth day if they were terrified. The rites of binding the corners, erecting the alagu, lighting the flour mass, and performing pot worship are all carried out on this busy day. Goats and sheep are killed early in the morning outside the village’s borders at the north, east, south, and west corners, and the blood is then sprinkled on all sides to ward off any outside ganams or saktis. As was already mentioned, the sword business is completed, and tests are used to see whether the joti can be lit. A lime fruit is put near the idol’s navel, and the idol is expected to spontaneously toss it down. With a knife, a bundle of betel leaves is divided along the middle; the sliced ends should come together. The joti is lit, sheep and goats are slain, and pongal (rice) is offered to the joti if the omens are good. Worship of the pot marks the end of the day. The rice mass is delivered on the final day. All Devnga visitors from other villages must be welcomed and treated with respect in accordance with the current local laws. The community does this by dividing their settlements into Sthalams, Pyakattulu, Galugrmatulu, Patlu, and Kurugrmlu, each of which has a specific hierarchy. They are essentially split into the Telugu and Canarese linguistic groups, with the former having a stronger adoption of Buddhist rituals than the latter, which is more traditional. In the Canarese sector, those who wear the sacred thread appear to outnumber those who do not. Sometimes a metal charm cylinder is added to the thread to keep off evil spirits. The following mentioned are the examples of exogamous septs of the Telgu section:
Bandla, rock or cart.
Chintakaya, tamarind fruit.
Chapparam, pandal or booth.
Doddi, cattle-pen, or courtyard.
Gattu, bank or mound.
Katta, a dam.
Pidakala, dried cow-dung cakes.
Pachi powaku, green tobacco.
Pammi, clay lamp.
Thalakōka, female cloth.
Santha, a fair.
Most Devngas wear the lingam and identify as Saivites. However, they do not use the water used to wash the Jangams’ feet to wash the stone lingam. They explain that they must touch all different types of individuals while at work, hence they are not particular about wearing the lingam on their bodies at all times. Some people claimed that merchants shouldn’t wear lingams when conducting business, especially if they are made of spatikam (quartz), as they must make false claims about the worth and caliber of their products, and ruin would result if these claims were made with the lingam on the person’s body. The rural residents of Ganjam retain a sizable herd of Brahmin bulls. When one of these creatures passes away, extremely ornate burial rites are performed, and the deceased animal is carried in procession by Devngas before being buried by them. Being Lingyats, the Devngas have a special reverence for Basavanna, the sacred bull, and thus view the burying of the Brahmani bull as a sacred and honorable deed. Other castes do not view it in this way, despite the fact that they frequently release sacred cows or calves. Devangas and Padma Sales never reside on the same street or use the same well for their water needs. This is most likely because there is no love lost between them despite belonging to the left and right hand camps, respectively. Similar to other left-handed castes, Devangas have their own dancing females they refer to as Jathi-biddalu (children of the castes), whose male progeny perform achchupani, or cloth printing, and occasionally beg for Devangas. As per the Madras Census Report, of 1901, it is reported that “In Madura and Tinnevelly, the Devngas, or Sedans, consider themselves a shade superior than the Brahmans, and never do namaskaram (obeisance or greeting) to them, or hire them as priests”. The following mythology is currently believed to be accurate in regards to the origin of the Singamvdu beggars of Devanga. One of the Asuras hid himself behind the lion’s ear when Chaudswari and Devalan were fighting the Asuras. The goddess was perched on the animal. He emerged after the fight had ended and begged for forgiveness. The goddess, seeing his need, gave him the name Singamvllu and asked Devalan to treat his descendants as servants and provide for them. These beggars receive payment from devangas in exchange for the right to lock the door and remove the food while castemen eat. The hand of the beggar functions as a spittoon in Devangas gatherings.
Book Castes and Tribes of Southern India says, A custom which is believed by many people is that, a person from Devanga community leaves his home once every twelve years and joins the Padma Sales. He begs them for money, claiming that because he is their caste’s son, he is entitled to their help. He enters the house and steals whatever he may be able to pick up if alms are not given. When all else fails, he has occasionally been known to grab a lit cigar from a Sl’s mouth and flee with it. Although the exact origin of this tradition is unknown, it has been theorized that the Devngas and Sales were formerly a single caste and that they split when they became Lingyats. Many Devanga people are small in size, have light skin, sharply defined features, light-brown eyes, and delicate tapering fingers. A toothpick, ear-scoop, and thorn tweezers were carried by those in the Bellary district of Hospet. These items were suspended as a chatelaine from the loin-string and used to remove the thorns of Acacia arabica from the foot. The wealthier had these items fashioned in silver, along with a silver saw for trimming cheroots and paring nails. The nymph Pampa, who lived in Hampi and wanted Parameswara to be her spouse, is associated with the name Pampanna, which some of them possessed. As a result, he adopted the name Pampapathi, in whose honor a tank is located in Anandi and a temple is located in Hampi.
Now focusing on how this handloom craft was introduced to this town, there are 2 interesting stories associated with it. One story goes that the weaving tradition in Chendamangalam, was started by the Devanga Chettiar community, who were settled at Chendamangalam town in the 16th century for Paliath Achan royal family, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cochin. The Chettiar community started weaving by first making fine muslin dhotis. The king was satisfied with the weaving work. Hence, soon after the handloom of Chendamangalam started to flourish into sarees and other fabrics under the nobles of Cochin.
While another story goes that, the origin of the weaving in this town can be traced back to the reign of King Jayanath who ruled over Chendamangalam which was then known as ‘Jayanath Mangalam’. King Jayanath was impressed by the finesse and grandeur of the northern counterpart of the country and longed for the same in his region. So, the community which was known for their unique skills in weaving: Devanga Chettiar community, were invited from the state of Karnataka. Soon after, when King Jayanth was satisfied with the community’s weaving skills, they settled in areas: Chendamangalam, Kuthampully and Chittoor districts.
In Kerala state, there are five main centers for weaving the traditional handlooms- Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam, Kuthampully, Kannur and Kasaragod. A beautiful village, Chendamangalam, is well-known for its weaving. This town, 30km from Ernakulam district is blessed with the artisans who are skilled at this age-old traditional craft of handlooms. As this town is considered as the place that produces some of the finest and best quality of handlooms in the state of Kerala, Chendamangalam town has been bestowed with the title, ‘The Handloom Village’.
The Chendamangalam region has a rich history of handloom production.The weavers of here: Devanga Chettiar community, were under official patronage of the feudal family of Paliam, who served as chief ministers for the Rajas of Cochin. The Devanga community is a caste of weavers, speaking Telugu or Canaree. They are found all over the Madras Presidency. This community was employed in weaving women’s pure cotton sarees, with a silk border. There are various terms denoted to the Devanga community like: ‘Jadaru’, meaning great men, ‘Dendra’, ‘Dera’, ‘Sedan’ and ‘Seniyan’. At Coimbatore, it is said that this community is called Settukkaran, meaning economic people.
The handloom of Chendamangalam was a symbol of pride for ‘Paliyath Achan Family’, the same family who represented the Prime Minister for years under the King of Kochi (from 1663-1809). In earlier days, in the Paliam Palace, cloth brought from Tamil Nadu was used. Meanwhile, a trader from Chaliyan lineage brought an extremely fine fabric considered of very high quality to the palace and he presented it to ‘Paliyath Achan’. Looking at the fine fabric, and being very satisfied with the quality he asked the trader from Chaliyan lineage to start producing the same fabric for the members of the Paliam family in Chendamangalam. However, in course of time, as the production increased, it became available to all the people of Chendamangalam. However, the weaving production soon started to waned by the early 20th century, as a result of diminishing patronage. In the period of 1954, due to development of Chendamangalam Handloom Co-operative Society and the Kerala Co-operative Society Act of 1969 the handloom witnessed the revival for this craft. Due to this, the industry progressed and it provided employment to thousands of workers in this town.
In 2010, the Government of Kerala applied for GI (Geographical Indication) Tag for Chendamangalam Sarees and Set Mundu, Dhotis. The Government of India officially recognized this craft as GI in 2011.
Earlier during the period of Paliam family, where Chendamangalam weaving started and was later introduced in the market, it was woven without motifs and only with a plain Zari border or coloured borders.
In course of time, simple designs started to be incorporated on the sarees like ‘Buttas and Butti’. Later, emphasis was made on creating intricate patterns and designs. The designs were mostly geometrical patterns, especially lines the best. At present, the motifs used on the sarees are mostly related to the architectural aspects of the Paliyam Palace’, which is an exotic Kerala style of Architecture. Stylized versions of old and new traditional motifs are also included currently. For weaving men garments, dhoti, narrow borders are often woven in the phuliyilakara pattern (tamarind leaf), running parallel to the broad kasavu border. Also, an extra-waft cross-border known as ‘chuttikara’ or ‘kattikara’, runs along its width and perpendicular to the kasavu border.
It is often said that Chendamangalam weaving is similar to what one finds in Balaramapuram. There is a distinct difference between these two types of weaving, the product of Chendamangalam like set mundu has coloured borders with a matching colour stripe and only small amounts of kasavu pattern is used for ornamentation of the fabric. However, in the case of Balaramapuram, the emphasis is given more on including the kasavu patterns on their products.
At present, the traditional set-mundu garment has evolved and women now prefer to wear a single-piece saree rather than the original two-piece garment. Also, the original garment had pure gold borders, whereas the newer versions of this garment includes red, green and orange colours along with gold, to make them look more attractive. The GI-tagged Chendamangalam sari is recognized by its puliyilakara border which is a thin black line that runs abreast with the sari’s selvedge. However, with its extra-weft chutkara and stripes and checks of different width, its look has now changed little since the time of the Paliam family.
Focusing on colours, earlier only natural dyes were used, mostly primary colours: blue, yellow and red on the saree borders and the main body of the saree. However, at present along with these natural dyes, synthetic dyes are also used mostly Vat dyes. This gives the garment different shades and tones.
Chendamangalam weaving originated when the erstwhile royalty of Paliyam from centuries ago brought down these weavers to create a fien handwoven textiles for them. However, in today’s context the Chendamangalam handloom cluster is organized into seven co-operative societies spread across the town. In 1969, the Chendamangalam handloom cluster was successfully organized by the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act. Before the introduction of this act, these weavers were suffering decline from lack of organization and market demand. Through the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act, it ensured the quality of textiles was preserved during the weaving process. Soon after, in 2010 an application was filed for the registration of ‘Chendamangalam Dhoties and Set Mundu’ under the Geographical Indication (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. It received the GI tag from the Government of India in 2011. This gave the entire handloom industry of Chendamangalam a boost.
However, the weaving cluster suffered a major setback in 2018 after the devastating floods in Kerala. The flood destroyed the weavers’ homes, their factory, knocking aside centuries old wooden looms, damaging fabric worth lakhs of rupees and in this entire process, bringing their livelihoods to a virtual halt. The weavers experienced a huge financial loss. However with the help of various NGOs and volunteers that came forward, helped the weaver community to reinstall the looms and also by helping them financially. The 2020 corona-virus induced lock-down again affected this cluster. Onam and Vishu festivals are the decisive festivals for this weaving community. It is said that 60% of the handloom stock is sold during Onam while remaining 40% during Vishu. The latter’s sales provide for buying the raw materials required for the upcoming Onam and salary for the weavers. But, due to the lockdown of 2020, not a single piece of festive wear was sold and these can’t be sold later owing to the crashing economy. Due to this, they are facing the challenge of procuring raw materials. However, during the lockdown in March 2021, NABARD and Kerala Bank had sponsored an exhibition, in three days 15 lakhs worth of Handloom stock was sold. In 2022 April 7th, the second edition of the same exhibition, Chela 2022 was conducted to sell the stock, again it was a resounding success. During this exhibition, the NABARD supported e-commerce platform (cooploom) for handloom cooperatives to sell their stocks directly to customers across India and internationally
It’s not like earlier times now, many weavers now are slowly moving out from this profession due to low wages paid. Also, another issue these weavers are facing is that, there are a lot of duplicate fabrics being sold in Chendamangalam name after importing it cheaply from the other countries. Hence, due to lesser number of customers the production of this craft has also declined