The traditional festivals in Kerala are incomplete without Kerala saree or set mundu. The Malayalee community all across the world take pride in wrapping these for special occasions. These have become an indispensable part of Kerala culture. From time immemorial, the women folk of Kerala feel a sense of happiness and pride while they are clad in this tradition. The elegance associated with these sarees is also a class apart.
During the celebrations such as Onam, Vishu, and Kerala Piravi, the traditional clothing of women add colours and a special spirit to the celebration. Along with conveying the simplicity of this crisp cotton material with cream colour with golden border, it emanates an aura of richness and elegance which only a Keralite can experience. Even during the wedding ceremony, this Kerala set saree is sure to capture the attention.
The saree has gained great significance even historically as it has appeared in numerous beautiful paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. These have also travelled into traditional dance forms such as Mohiniyattom, Thiruvathirakkali, and Kaikottikkali. This is the significance of the Kerala saree in the state. Even though the fashion industry has undergone sweeping changes, the importance of traditional wear has never diminished.
A Bit of History
Set mundu or kasavu mundu’s history can be traced back to the origins of the Buddhist era. The saree is known to be introduced by His Highness Maharaja Balaramavarma at the beginning of the 19th century. The mundu is believed to have started a revolution in the handloom industry. The revolution was started on account of leaders inviting the people of the Shaaliyar weavers community who lived in Nagarcoil in Tamil Nadu. The leaders treated them with respect and the weavers, in turn, expressed their gratitude. They used the cotton that was available in the market in order to produce cotton garments that are handwoven and presented it to the royals of Travancore. And this led to a sudden demand for hand-woven sarees. This captured the attention of Portuguese and Dutch exporters.
The barter system was seen as an opportunity to make use of gold. They introduced gold into the hand-woven saris. This came to be known as Kerala kasavu, whose origins can be traced to ancient Buddhist literature.
A variety of traditional wear such as saree, mundu, and set mundu is commonly called ‘kavithai’, meaning handloom. Depending on the various geographical clusters these are associated with, these have gained different identities. In Kerala, three clusters have been identified by the Indian Government. These are Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully - named according to the places. They are also given a GI (Geographical Indication) tag. All these clusters make Kerala kasavu saree.
Balaramapuram cluster originates from Trivandrum and the artisans of this cluster are from the Shaaliyar clan. They were basically from Tamil Nadu and it was the Travancore royal family who brought them to Kerala. The place is famous for pure zari and fine thread counts. Chendamangalam cluster is notable for Mundus and saris are woven using half-fine zari. They were sponsored by Paliam, an aristocratic family. What makes the last cluster different is that, in the Kuthampully cluster, patterned and jacquard borders are included that feature the figure motif. The aristocratic community associated with this cluster is called Devanga.
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