Head South, Then Turn Rite

Head South, Then Turn Rite

What South India means in our crafts and cultural vocabulary and how the deeply entrenched influence of artisanal practices influences how we live, what we think, what we reject or select in public and private

Four months back, when The Voice of Fashion was launched, I wrote a letter (I am sure you missed it!), explaining why this platform will offer a deep dive into the crafts and handlooms of one region before moving to the next. Socio-political challenges, sustainability, yarn, production pipelines, people, and their intimate-innate responses to handlooms and wardrobes would be the texture of our reporting. “Inside Northeast”, a special section under the Fabric of India bucket of this platform that runs till today and will continue to fatten, delivered on all these promises—some layered and entertaining stories sit in this section. Do look them up.

There is no simplistic way to write about India’s textile and handloom traditions, weaver networks, the business of artisanship in this century, the men and women involved in these wheels of work, unless we make one region the focus of consistent study. And then stay with it for a few months.

With that same intent, it is time now to head South.


Photo: Shutterstock

The elaborate costume and striking makeup of the temple dancers of South India are distinctive of that region.

Last month, Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, hosted one of the most important conferences and cultural dialogues of this year. Titled “Anchoring Innovation in Handloom Weaving in India,” the conference was on “rethinking Indian industrialisation of crafts.” Directed by Annapurna Mamidipudi, a doctoral scholar of innovation in handloom weaving, it brought together not just some of the most relevant and brilliant minds who think for and work in India’s crafts and cultural sectors but weavers and artisans as well to speak, argue, demonstrate, explain, and converse. Among many compelling subjects at this conference, there were subjects that we fleetingly grapple on social media: Ownership of Design, Reflections on the Connect between Craft and Knowledge, and Interacting with People in Change. The last subject talked about the dynamic of weaving in South India. I so admire this phrase: “People in Change”—something clicks into place with it.

We invited Annapurna Mamidipudi to write the opening column of The South India Edit, the section that flags off today and will continue to publish a few stories every week. Over breakfast together recently in Chennai, Mamidipudi enigmatically brought up what she has written here. “Marriage is the spine of the handloom tradition in South India,” she told me, arguing that if a marriage between a weaver couple disintegrates, livelihoods break down and weaving as an industry suffers. Read here


Photo: AFP

Over the years, Rekha has defined the quintessential South Indian aesthetic.

We are not going to choke you with highly stylised or academically bundled articles from South India. Rajnikanth, Rekha, Kanjeevaram, Masulipatnam, Co-Optex, Livelihoods and Love, Kalamkari, Kalakshetra, Goddess Culture, the South Indian love for ostentatious gold jewellery, the new emerging Kerala Cult, Hyderabad on fashion steroids, Dastkar Andhra, Uzramma Bilgrami’s Malkha Khadi, Auroville and sustainability, dance costumes of South India, Tamil Nadu weaves, Ponduru Khadi, the complex story of the Kodali Karuppur sari, private collections of shringar and jewellery plus interviews with people who matter and who are “In Change” … And more. And more. I get goosebumps as I write this.


Photo: kalyanjewellers.net

South Indian brides literally weighed in gold are a part of the region’s love for a maximalist identity.

It is a challenging time for The Voice of Fashion team to bring to life these ideas. Especially as South India in visual and material cultural stands for a maximalist identity—glittering Kanjeevaram saris, fascinating temple architecture, buttery Mysore crepes, brides literally weighed in gold jewellery, the white-yet-Indian Kerala Christian weddings, sparkling diamond nosepins everywhere, gun powder in food, flavoursome rasams and so many jasmine flowers that you can’t but feel fragrant. On the other hand, in a curious contrast, people from most regions of South India are often perceived as “simple”. What does this simplicity really mean and how does it play out when mind and material clash? For instance, would you call someone with 83 gold chains “simple”?

Shall we then? Head South for rite and song.