The Chettinadu Kandangi sari, introduced by the Nagarathar community is native to the town of Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu, India. Kandangi Saris are the traditional Chettinadu saris with the innovative weave wherein each strand of thread is taken separately and attached on the loom. It is highly renowned for its striking features brought about by the extensive use of colors, contrasting tints and stripes and bold check patterns. These saris have long been known to be a prized possession of every South Indian woman. The real charm of the Kandangi Sari is its ethnic look and versatility, making it a favourite for any occasion. Back in the day the sari was used as a drape to cover the whole body without the inclusion of a blouse or an inner skirt. Due to this the sari was woven with a thicker weave and was also worn in a very different manner than as we know it now.
Traditionally the Kandangi saris were all made in a combination of brick red, black and mustard- a combination that flatters any type of complexion. Also originally the sari had a width of only 91xm, much shorter than its more current sister that sits at 120cm. The reason behind this was that it provided for ease of comfort when the women worked the loom or toiled in the fields. Amongst the more affluent women it gave them the perfect excuse to show off their bejeweled anklet.
A typical Kandanga sari which has 2 borders and is checkered at its centre is usually 48 inches wide and 5.5 meters in length. Weavers usually stick to the characteristic colors of maroon, mustard and black. Traditionally Chettinad and Koorainadu are the two types of Kandangi sari popular in their native Tamil Nadu. Now, however the TN government has developed and introduced many new types of Kandangi like Koorai (a blend of silk and cotton) to meet the expectations of the modern consumer. A Kandangi sari which earlier was made by old variety thread (40s x 40s) in the 1920’s is being used for research purposes by NIFT scholars. This led to the finding that saris being manufactured currently in Karaikudi by using 60s x60s thread are the modified versions of Kandangi.
Currently however, there are only 3 weaving groups left of the original 50. To battle this bleak representation of the community the Government is keen on active intervention. The Ministry of Textiles has declared that the government will do everything in its power to aid the betterment of the weaver community. The first big step taken in this direction is sourcing of silk threads to them.
The sari’s design has evolved over the years, in sync with changing lifestyles . The modern version still retains a lot of traits of the original but has been suitably modified to meet the needs of present day weavers and users. Currently both silk and cotton are used as base fabrics and feature the elegant Kandangi borders that have been merged seamlessly with embroidery designs and colorful patterns. The thread count has also increased to refine the texture of the finished product. The weavers now use synthetic fabrics and machines so as to be in sync with new trends and high demands.