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Dynamic lines, tinkling bells

Kinetic! That aptly describes the ‘neli’ motif used by Kanjivaram weavers. ‘Neli’ in Tamil refers to a wriggly movement akin to the quicksilver slither of a snake. On a Kanjivaram sari border, this abstract motif translates into one or more slender, wavy lines. The silk thread used for this design contrasts brightly with its background, accentuating the sense of movement. ‘Neli’ lines wriggling across an entire sari field have a positively electric effect!

The ‘neli’ is ubiquitous in varied aspects of Tamil culture. A ‘neli modhiram’ is a deeply curved, U-shaped ring, typically with a precious stone nestling at the base – perhaps the inspiration for the alternating dots that sari weavers incorporate into this motif. Married women adorn their feet with ‘neli’ toe-rings. ‘Neli’ lines also make for wonderfully intricate kolams, the rice-flour based patterns that decorate the entrance to Tamil homes.

The deep, jeweled colors of a Bharatanatyam dancer’s silks are complemented by her belled anklets or ‘salangai’ – a vital part of her ensemble that symbolizes her guru’s blessings. The bells make for charming border edges on a Kanjivaram sari when reproduced in exquisite detail.


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