Silken Towers & Gentle pachyderms

City, village, seashore or hill – go where you will in Tamil Nadu, its gopurams or iconic temple towers are unmissable, symbols of a vibrant, unbroken tradition of faith. These imposing structures, with ornate sculptures often picked out in fluorescent shades, are temple gateways that often dwarf the inner sanctum in grandeur.

Kanjivaram being a temple town, it was inevitable that the striking outline of the gopuram should find its way as a motif onto the silk saris woven here.

The ‘temple border’ is usually featured as a stylized row of triangles with serrated edges, their bases resting on the upper edge of a broad sari border. Woven with zari or in thread of a brightly contrasting shade, the gopurams rise against the plain backdrop of the sari – simple, yet dramatic and eye-catching!  The gopuram motif is also famously associated with the Tamil Nadu’s Kornad saris, traditionally offered to temple deities.

Mindspace and heart space. The elephant, gentle giant among animals, occupies prime position in Indian thought, culture and mythology. Vedic poets eulogized its enormous strength. Its huge size and grey color were associated with rain-bearing clouds that brought relief to land parched by the sun. Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati is an adored household deity. In truth, it is not so much the animal that is worshipped as its qualities of wisdom, loyalty and spiritual insight.

Kanjivaram’s weavers have long celebrated the beloved pachyderm’s contrasting attributes – a bulky frame and gracefully waving trunk – with elephant motifs on their splendid silk saris. From a row of tiny elephants trumpeting in unison along a sari border to motifs scattered across the sari field, this is one symbol that never goes out of style.

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