Recreating Coromandel fabric using block-printing technique

Once used by Tamil sailors to weave thicker and sturdier sails, locally procured cotton along coromandel coast is revived by Xavier Benedict, the founder of AARDE Foundation with the help of National Award-winning textile printer K. Dakshinamurthy, the fabrics were recently on display at Pulicat on August 27.

The fabrics on display are the manifestation of this historic cotton cultured along the Coromandel coast’s black soil. The name Coromandel is in fact derived from the Tamil words kari (black) and manal (sand).

Tamil sailors long harboured a secret about their sturdier sails which not even British, Dutch or Portuguese fleets could outperform, until Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered by bribing them one of them in desperation. They invaded us for cotton, and not for spices, spice was used in exchange for this cotton. The British had to stick close to the coast to make regular pitstops to change their sails.

Master textile designer Dakshinamurthy who now works as a master printer at the Kalakshetra Foundation has created 16 patterns on Coromandel cotton using block-printing technique. The designs are intricate and are close to what was in use in the 16th Century in Pulicat. They were used as handkerchiefs back then.

Dakshinamurthy researched on the pattern during his stint at the Weavers Service Centre at Rajaji Bhavan in the city and curated the designs that were traditionally printed on fabrics at Pulicat, Ponneri, and Walajabad. According to him, he tried to stick as close as possible to the original and used natural dyes. These include colours extracted from soapnut, manjistha root, and palash flowers.

This experiment is just the beginning. Founder Xavier hopes to make these fabrics commercially viable to be tailored into clothes such as Kurta and other garbs with prints once printed on a handkerchief hundreds of years ago in Pulicat.

Images by The Hindu

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