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7 unique historical aspects of a Sungudi saree - Seven Sarees

7 unique historical aspects of a Sungudi saree

Sungudi: A wardrobe must-have for beauties of yore


Let’s take a peek into the wardrobe of this beauty from the early 1900s; and she lives in the ancient city of Madurai. We see that, of the five or six sarees she could afford in a year, most were the much favoured Sungudi sarees.

Our elegant lady, let’s call her Sudha, knows the weaving community that creates these sarees well. There are over fifty units across the large city in this era, catering to the needs of women from all over, who long to wear the soft, colourful dotted Sungudi. Sungudi derives from the sanskrit, ‘Sunnam’, which is a circle and stands for the cosmic design made by the stars in the sky that inspired the dots of this ancient style. 

Sungudi saree weaving community 

Sudha chats with her friend Mala who weaves the lovely cotton fabric. It takes her over fifteen days to weave one saree of six yards. The community appreciates the tireless efforts of these weavers. After all, the kings of not just Madurai, but other southern kingdoms too, had invited these weavers from Saurashtra and requested them to settle in their lands as early as in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D.  The Sourashtra community brought with them their skills in weaving and dyeing and became an integral part of the city, making it famous for its Madurai Sungudi.

The process of creating a Sungudi saree 

Once Mala completes the weaving, her saree is sent to the dyeing unit. Sudha watches in fascination as a woman uses her fingernail to hold the dot that would remain and not be dyed. Earlier the woman had drawn a design, drawing dots in a pattern. 

Holding a tiny bit of fabric with her finger nail the woman ties a thread tightly around the bit. The prevents the tied part from absorbing the rich, natural dye. The dyeing process includes, soaking the clothe, boiling it in hot water, rinsing and drying  under the shade. Sometimes over 20,000 such knots are tied in a single saree. And then after the cloth is dried, the knots, all 20,000 of them are untied and that many dots appear across the brightly dyed saree. A lot of time and effort goes into the crafting of a single saree. 

The decline of the Sungudi saree industry 

Today, with the arrival of power looms and printing machines, cheap look alike products flood the market. As people prefer low cost and not so durable products, only five of  the fifty communities that thrived on the craft have survived. The weavers and dyers who create our sarees today are over seventy years old, as young people are not ready to live on what they make from weaving just a couple of sarees a month. The government has offered subsidies recognizing the quality of handloom and its unique hand made beauty. 

The importance of supporting traditional handloom sarees 

We too should be part of this experience and understand why we pay more for the lovely cotton that is hand woven and hand crafted, for it is a lot of time and effort which in today’s parlance is a lot of money. Let’s pay a little more for handloom sarees so that the traditional craft can be as glorious as it was in the past.

पिछला लेख Why do you look good in a saree

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