Southern Stories of Handicrafts – Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram

The glory of Pallavas….

Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram: Land of Temples and Sculptures

The shore temple cluster of Mahabalipuram is a world heritage site. The site is steeped in cultural history, is an architectural marvel and attracts regular tourists, historians and academicians from around the world. Built by the erstwhile Pallava dynasty these series of temples contain Vishnu in his famous “water – resting” position (Jalasayanam) and have associated temples dedicated to the 5 pandavas. A lot of this temple is submerged in the sea today. However whatever still exists was more than enough to blow away our minds. The brick by brick construction, the panel detailing and the artistry of sculpting work displayed in the main statues have been painfully restored and marvelled us beyond expectation. Mahabalipuram is a primary seat of stone carved handicrafts.

Sculptures of Mahabalipuram
Sculptures of Mahabalipuram

We hit the biggest stone caving studio of the region and met the manager Mr. M Durairaj. He took us through his studio and presented some striking information. He said that Mahabalipuram is mainly known for granite carving. However, since people from all over the world come looking for other stone carvings too, they store big collections of red and green marble, other color granite carvings sourced from multiple locations in India. This projects Mahabalipuram as the primary stone sculpture hub in the country. Also, the local carvings are done in a village full of sculptors, situated over 50 km away from the city to prevent noise pollution. We saw some exquisite pieces both in traditional and contemporary styles. We met the interesting Mr. Sahu from Orissa who runs a workshop in Keonjhar, Orissa and supplies to Mahabalipuram. Then we walked out of the stone and moved towards the silk. Kanchipuram beckoned us!

Kanchipuram – Kingdom of Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and weavers…

Kanchivaram Sarees
Kanchivaram Sarees

Located on the banks of the Vegavathy river, Kanchipuram has been ruled by the Pallavas, the Medieval Cholas, the Later Cholas, the Later Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, and the British. Historically, Kanchipuram was a centre of education and was known as the ghatikasthanam, or “place of learning”. A bustling trade hub, the city is full of temples and silk stores and looks like a city which is perennially busy.

Kanchipuram is a traditional centre of silk weaving and handloom industries for producing Kanchipuram Saris. We met Madhusudan, who after 14 years of corporate life had chosen to revive the silk family business of his father in law. Kanchipuram silk is renowned all over the world for the softness of fabric, the shine and also the unique weaving style. We went through the yarns and hand weaving units and saw for ourselves the beautiful Sarees and other pieces that were produced.

Silk Saree Weaving at Kanchipuram. Source: Wikipedia
Silk Saree Weaving at Kanchipuram. Source: Wikipedia

Kanchipuram was our last stop on this leg of our craft journey. What started with the royal Mysore ended at the silk alleys of Kanchipuram. As we stepped into our car to drive back to the regular world our minds were clouded with thousands of visions and surprises that the journey had thrown at us.

Read about our journey in South India here, here, here and here!

 

Shakuntala is an entrepreneur and runs a venture Maaati.com , in which she closely works with traditional artisans from corners of India and gets to the consumer markets Indian handmade products of diverse source and designs. In her personal life she is a book worm, hippie, lover of art and history, and strong feminist rolled into one. Her business partner, Debraj collaborates with her via his photographs in most of her travel writing, otherwise she is a self proclaimed Technology-Bum, and can not handle most things that come with a switch,!

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1 Comment

  1. Swetha says: Reply

    Kanjivaram silk sarees are of exclusiveness for every discerning woman. Found an interesting online place for shopping pure kanjivaram silk sarees here

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