Rainbows in Kanchipuram
We were on a hunt. In a "city of a thousand temples", known as 'Kanchipuram', it might have been easier to discover the oldest temple dating back to AD600-700, but no, we were on a hunt for the nationally renowned Kanchipuram silks, worn by many a bride and seen at the finest functions in South India.
In particular, we wanted to find the looms and watch the lineage of family weavers in operation. It wasn't as easy as we had thought as we maneuvered through the hectic streets, full of license plates from Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They were here to buy the finished product, the Kanchipuram saree, loved for their bright colors, woven with 100% mulberry silk and donned intricate borders with typical images of South Indian life, parrots, mangoes, temples etc.
Through our bits of Tamenglish, (English mixed with Tamil), we were directed to a few back lanes, hardly wide enough to pass another sideways, where looms were in full operation in small, one tiny windowed, but cool rooms adjacent to the family sleeping quarters. The brightness of the colors jumped out like gems unearthed ready to catch the sunlight.
Sitting on the cement floor were busy family members anxious to show us their craft born from their fathers and fathers before them.... the stringing of the warp, or spinning the silk, or knotting of threads. I couldn't help thinking...Tedious! Intricate! Time consuming! Patience! Day in and day out! But, their sarees are sought after, and paid high prices for prestigious weddings and functions all over South India. I had to buy one.
The trip to Kanchipuram was not complete until we saw the finished products in the saree shops. We weren't quite prepared for the beauty that filled this shop! After removing our footwear, we entered a huge room filled with a buzzing cacophony of women's voices, some ordering the boys to bring more colors, or to show them other patterns, or to haggle over the buying price with their tag along spouses who were their to mange the purse strings. Pods of women sat in circles as saree upon seven yards of the finest silk were flung open like peacock tail feathers, filling the open centre to show case the colorful pallu, the most ornate part of the sari which is draped over the shoulder. Impressive yet, were the stacks of folded sarees carefully arranged on the 10 foot high shelving on the walls around the perimeter of the room.
I was inside a rainbow of luminous colours.
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