Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Dr. M. Vasantha.


Woven cotton textiles of India are ancient, diverse, and steeped in tradition, an amalgam of different ethnic influences, much like reflection of the country itself. Having had the advantage of possessing a unique raw material for more than 5000 years of recorded history, she has been a benefactress of her rich cotton textile heritage to the entire world. In a world where the trends are dictated by the mass producers and the consumers no longer make out the difference between the hand crafted and the machine made, it is a miracle that these textile traditions have been persistently passed on from generation to generation, still catering to the clothing requirements of the domestic and export requirements even though to a miniscule extent. In the wake of sustainable design campaign of twenty first century, the legacy of these textiles is waiting to be reinvented for a circular movement in the evolution of textiles. This case study traces the origin of one such legendary fabric of India, the traditional yarn dyed hand woven, cotton lungi of Cuddalore, situated about 160 km from Chennai (formerly “Madras”) the capital of Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India (Fig. 1). This state had plethora of textiles techniques since Sangam era (1st century BC to 6thcentury AD)1. Be it the most exquisite of the textiles or the ubiquitous one meant for daily wear, each had a distinctive character as imbued by the hereditary weavers. From ancient times, Cuddalore is a seaport located along the historical Coromandel Coast which produced a rich variety of textiles that was much in demand outside India. It was part of South Arcot District in the Madras Presidency of British India2. Ethnographic field research was undertaken in the villages in Cuddalore district -Vandipalayam, Palayam, Pudupettai, Kurinijipadi and Naduveerpattu to observe the making of yarn dyed cotton lungis in the present day. A wide range of people including weavers, master weavers, third generation exporters, Government officials, and buyers from Malaysia and Indonesia were interviewed to explore the way in which urbanization, technological upgradation and changing market dynamics have influenced these textiles.