Tag Archives: Fashion

Kalamkari Sarees

The following Post was composed by Sheetal Mishra.She is Fashion writer at IndicPortal


kalamkari-saree

So Monday again !!! When the rest of the world searches for motivations to get back to its work place, I enjoy my weekly off.  Usually on Mondays I prefer to sleep, sleep and sleep…  But surprisingly this Monday is motivating me to write something. Something about my favorites, like the finest  handlooms of the Telugu states. Few of my favorites are Pochampalli, Mangalagiri, Uppada and Kalamkari of which Kalamkari holds a special place in my heart.

50% of my wardrobe is being taken by Kalamkari palazzos, jackets, sarees, short kurtas, long kurtas, skirts even kalamkari bags… I am fortunate enough to work in a place where I get to meet a lot of handloom weavers and vendors. So I take pleasure in sharing a few tidbits about this wonder weaving style…

How it originated …

In this busy life we often pick up things in rush. We don’t bother to look into the hardship and passion which go into its making. Each piece of fabric carries a rich history and has a story tell which goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Let’s dig the cultural history of India a bit to track the origins of the Kalamkari Fabric.

Indian society has a rich tradition of folklores, folk arts and dances. In ancient times, people traveled from one village to other narrating stories of Hindu mythology. Later people evolved various methodologies to make these story-telling sessions more effective. Representing stories through paintings, songs and dance was very commonly used. The Pattachitra, Cheriyala, Madhubani and other styles of art were widely used for this purpose. Even now you will find traditional craftsmen singing songs based on their paintings. In fact, Kalamkari is related to the traditional art of Pattachitra (still called by that name in neighboring Odisha). Though they have both become their own separate styles, they share a common origin in Temple painting as prescribed by the Sastras.

And no wonder this is how Kalamkari came into existence.

In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved village to village to tell the village dwellers, the great stories of Hindu Mythology”. They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plants

The Kalamkari tradition chiefly consists of scenes from Hindu mythology. Figures of deities with rich border embellishments were created for the temples. In Machilipatnam, the weavers were involved in the block printing art, while at Kalahasti, the Balijas (a caste involved in making bangles) took to this art and gave it a free hand dimension. Kalamkari is basically done on cotton fabrics with pens or blocks.

Kalamkari art or hand printing can be broadly categorized into two major forms – Machilipatnam Style and Srikalahasti Style. Machilipatnam style is dominated by block prints where Srikalahasti style is famous for its free hand drawings. As for the process, “there were 12 steps employed at Masulipatnam (this after the cloth has been woven) and 17 steps at Sri Kalahasti.” [4] Kalahasti is near the famous temple town of Tirupathi, and Machilipatnam is on the central coast.

machilipatnam_-_tirupathi_link_narsapur_-_tirupathi_express_route_map

The Kalahasti style developed around the temples with their patronage. As a result it has a distinct religious identity and thrives on mythological themes. The attractive blend of colors on the fabrics usually portrays characters from the Indian mythology. with the divinity figures of Brahma, Saraswati, Ganesh, Durga, Shiva, Parvati as the main source of inspiration [3]

While the traditional art was practiced in the ancient period of Andhra desa, there were changes during the medieval era. Owing to the Qutb Shahi period of Golkonda, the Machlipatnam Kalamkari was influenced by Persian motifs & designs, widely adapted to suit their taste. The outlines and main features are done using hand carved blocks. Srikalahasti, however, remains more traditional and in line with the ancient standard.

The term Kalamkari itself signifies artwork (Kari) done by a “Kalam” (Pen). Despite the recent name, the technique is very ancient and precedes the period of Turco-Persian influence, making it a native Andhra craft [4].  Kalam, which gives the characteristic look to this art, is traditionally made of bamboo.  Craftsmen pick fine bamboo sticks and rolls around few strings of thread for the grip. This helps in getting the fine strokes of this unique variety of handloom. Craftsmen prepare colors from vegetable and root extracts which are very good for skin too.

The beginnings of Kalamkari probably rest in South India and grew out of the need to illustrate some of the temple rituals. The temples commissioned large religious themed cloths.[4]

What I heard from weavers…

kalamkarifabric
Sree Lakshmi Kalamkari Works

On a lazy Sunday evening I was just checking out some Kalamkari sarees from a vendor. As any girl would like to, I started bargaining on the Saree. The vendor who happened to be a craftsman also, narrated the process of making the Kalamkari Saree. I was taken aback!!!  The Saree they sell for only 1500 bucks actually takes a month’s time to get ready. It takes months to prepare the fabric and the natural colors. Then they draw designs and patterns and fill it properly with hands.The entire process requires 17 complex steps to complete. The process starts with the bleaching the cotton fabric in a solution mixed with cow /sheep dung. Later, the fabric is washed and rinsed number of times in clean water. The bleaching process takes a couple of days.

Once it is done, the next step is to soak the bleached fabric in a special solution called myrobalam prepared with milk and resins. Then the fabric is left for sun drying. Once it’s dry and crisp, it becomes the canvas for the craftsmen. Craftsmen paint patterns and designs in series and each time they have wash it again and again to get the desired look.

kalamkarifabric2

What different articles tell about Kalamkari –

An article written by Kishore Singh in Forbes India dated Apr 16, 2016 says “ In terms of story-telling, the Kalamkari painted cloth tries to provide a religious or historical narrative, often in the form of panels, with or without a dominant central figure.”

An article on Kalamkari says– “The Kalamkari tradition is more than three thousand years old. The earliest fabrics amples of this craft found in the Mohenjo-daro excavations date back to 3000 B.C. Some samples of Madder dyed cloth with traditional Indian motifs have also been discovered in Egyptian tombs during excavations at Al Fustat near Cairo. These bear testimony not only to the antiquity of the craft but also prove that it was well developed and formed part of a flourishing export in ancient times.

An article on Chitrolekha says– “The Kalahasti style developed around the temples with their patronage. As a result it has a distinct religious identity and thrives on mythological themes. The attractive blend of colors on the fabrics usually portrays characters from the Indian mythology. with the divinity figures of Brahma, Saraswati, Ganesh, Durga, Shiva, Parvati as the main source of inspiration. The Kalahasti artists generally depict on the cloth the deities, scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Puranas and other mythological classics mainly producing scrolls, temple backcloths, wall hangings, chariot banners and the like. In ancient times, the common man learned of gods and goddesses, and of their mythical character from these paintings.”

And here goes my personal touch to the article –

As you might have sensed from this article, I am crazy about Kalamkari fabrics. I won’t do justice to my article if I won’t share few clicks from my beautiful Kalamkari collection…..

kalamkarisitu

So as you see, Kalamkari, apart from being a weaving style, is the life and livelihood of many traditional artisans of The Telugu States. This generation should stand up to promote our ancient handloom weaving techniques which have a lot of stories and historical references connected with them. Our act of supporting handloom will pave way to pass on cultural values to posterity. When handloom is being promoted as a part of “Make in India” by our Government, it is our responsibility to add it to our wardrobe too.

Hope my article urges you to pick Kalamkari fabrics for your family. By doing this you will not just support the craftsmen involved in this, but also will adapt a healthier life style by wearing pure cotton or silk and chemical free clothes.

kalamkarisitu2

References:

  1. Bhatnagar, Parul. Kalamkari. https://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/65619463?access_key=key-1i4e4emilphei76vaxgl
  2. http://www.forbesindia.com/printcontent/42983
  3. Kalamkari, the Art of Painting. http://chitrolekha.com/kalamkari/
  4. Shep, Robb. http://www.speakingwithhands.com/article_details.php?aid=44

Set Mundu – A Kerala Woman’s Quiet Dignity

India is a land of varied geography. But geography in India is not just about physical features; it is sacred. The geography of a particular place is intimately intertwined with its culture and its people and people mould their lives according to the geography they are in. Living in a certain geography in India means to be in harmony with it, to enhance it, and to make it more beautiful. I dwell on the subject of aesthetics here with the example of dress and particularly female dress.

Let us take the two examples of Rajasthan (desert landscape) and Kerala (lush vegetation). The women of Rajasthan wear flowing lehengas with cholis and chunaris which are in bright shades of yellow, red, blue, green and so on. These bright colours do enhance the beauty of the stark, sandy, desert landscape and are a feast for the eyes. On the other hand, the state of Kerala, a tiny strip on the west coast of India is a riot of green, blue and brown because she is richly endowed with lush vegetation, is by the sea, and has a high hill range protecting her. When she is endowed with so much natural beauty, people don’t need to add more colour to add to her beauty; which is why the predominant colour of the dress that Keralites wear is white or off white, with some minor embellishments. It is so apt, for this simplicity just adds elegance and a look of purity/freshness to the greens, blues and browns of the richly endowed land.

So, my focus here is only on one of the off white garments that Keralites wear. I refer to the set mundu that is the most simple attire of a lady in Kerala but which has evolved into one of the most understated, lovely, fashion statements at least in sections of Malayali society today.

The set mundu is essentially a two piece clothing worn with a blouse which has evolved to be worn like a saree in the present day. However, the origins of the garment were certainly not in the present form.

The Evolution of the Set Mundu – A little bit of history

Kerala is a very hot and humid place and I contend that its society was not overly concerned with issues of clothing and fashion. Moreover, the Western Ghats bordering Kerala act as a natural barrier and cocoon the land from overland influences. Hence influences from outside reached Kerala only slowly except if those influences came via the sea route. The preferred dress was to wear a simple white/off white cotton cloth called mundu which was tied at the waist and fell to the ankles or below the knees. A light piece of cloth across the breast and over the shoulders was called the upper cloth or melmundu.

 

Malayali Nair Women wearing Mundu

Slowly, the present day blouse that most Indian women wear with a saree began to gain popularity in Kerala.

And the melmundu began to be worn over the blouse in the traditional way.

The Weaver Story

As I was researching for this subject I came across information about the creators of this garment. There are I think principally 3 regions where the weaver community who create this garment live. One is Balaramapuram near Thiruvananthapuram, another is Kuthampully in Thrissur district and the third is Chendamangalam near Ernakulam. The weavers In Kuthampully and Balaramapuram trace their origins to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Kuthampully weavers say they are from the Devanga community in the erstwhile Mysore state who left their ancestral land during the period of Turkic rule which was hostile. They settled in Kuthampully, a village on the banks of the Bharatapuzha (Nila) and became the weavers for the Royal family of Kochi (Cochin). The Balaramapuram weavers trace their origins to the Shaliyar community of Tamil Nadu who were again brought to Thiruvananthapuram by the Travancore kings to be weavers for the Royal family.

How did the Set Mundu evolve to its present avatar?

With the coming of the weavers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a part of their culture would have come to Kerala. Both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a culture of little girls wearing chattai pavadai /Langa (two piece garment with a long pleated ankle length skirt from waist down and a waist length blouse for the top).

This garment metamorphoses into dhavani-pavadai as the girls turn into their later teen years. A dhavani-pavadai is a three piece garment. Like in chattai pavadai, you have the ankle length long pleated skirt, the waist length blouse of the childhood years turns into a blouse that is used with a saree. Over this ensemble is worn the dhavani which is a long piece of cloth which is pleated and goes across the left shoulder with the other end tucked into the pavadai. Essentially it looks like the pallu of a regular saree. This culture was probably brought into cocooned Kerala by the weavers who were anyway familiar with these clothes.

pattupavadai

Now, once the girl got married, she graduated from the dhavani phase into the mundu blouse phase. That’s probably when the melmundu began to be redesigned like a dhavani with pleats going across the bosom and over the left shoulder with the other end end tucked into the mundu. This gave the whole ensemble a saree like look.

Generally, the set mundu is quite simple when it comes to embellishments. For the larger part, it is plain off white, cotton cloth both in the mundu and the neriyathu (melmundu) with just the borders of the cloth and the two ends being either woven with jari/gold thread (kasavu) bands or with bands that are of different colour thread. The garment is elegant, understated and extremely comfortable to wear. And most of all, it gives a pristine, fresh look when contrasted with the lush vegetation. It is everyday wear for older women and it is really a pleasure to see elder women start each day wearing a fresh, starched set mundu after a bath. The look of freshness is enough to wake one up and be thankful for the new day!

Kerala Mundu Saree. First ReporterSaree Drapes, Saree Collection, Onam Saree, Kerala Mundu, Kerala Saree, Saree Traditional, Indian Saree, Kerala Style, Mundu Saree

This garment while it was regularly used by the older generation, generally by women over 45-50 since it imparted an air of maturity and understated beauty, it has now been adopted by youngsters too as a style statement. In the Namboodiri community, this garment has become the rage in recent years with it being adopted as the standard dress code for occasions. For occasions such as a wedding, it has now become the norm to order set mundus in bulk. They are ordered like a uniform with the groom and bride’s side being distinguished by the respective uniform set mundus.

The set mundu is a definite requirement when doing the traditional folk dance of Kerala for women, called the Kaikottikkali or Thiruvathirakkali. It is also worn on festive occasions like Onam , Vishu and Thiruvathira.

Problems facing this sector

As everywhere else, this is purely the handloom sector and facing an existential crisis. As I did my research, I chanced upon news item after news item which spoke of the penury of these handloom weavers. All the three places Kuthampully, Balaramapuram and Chendamangalam have been given intellectual property rights through the Geographical Indication Act. But even this has not prevented the decline in their means of livelihood.

Their profession is not seen as being respectable and the younger generation is clearly not interested in taking up the trade in a 100% literate state. Many of the weavers themselves do not encourage their children to take up the profession. They push them towards professional courses so that they have better prospects in the ‘marriage market’[2]. This is in Kuthampully.

I happened to chance upon a blog by a young boy who is from Kuthampully but not into his ancestral trade anymore. From the tenor of the post, I felt the boy is quite apologetic about his ancestors’ profession and does not look upon it with pride. He of course seems to be employed in an IT firm in some other state. He seems to feel his village is a relic of some bygone era and one senses that he feels he has escaped the drudgery. Irony is that education has meant becoming disassociated from your past. Education has meant devaluation of a skill and its ability to become your livelihood. Weavers face many hardships too because earnings are low, peoples’ choices have evolved and hence their market has shrunk, and they are unable to repay debts as institutional funding is not easily available to them. However, the few who remain in the profession say that it “gives me immense pleasure to see the finished product[3]. I can only agree with her that that is the unalloyed joy one gets when one creates something.

The Road Ahead

While the market for set mundus will not die out for another generation maybe, its long term prospects are certainly in Intensive Care as the younger generation moves on to trendy western clothes and salwar kameez (which incidentally was a rarity in Kerala even in the 90s). I sincerely hope something is done to restore this extremely humble and simple yet elegant garment regain place of pride. For nothing brings more beauty to the lush landscape of “God’s Own Country” than a beautiful Malayali woman donning this fresh and simple dress with the simple accessories that go with it. Nothing rivals it to exude that quiet elegance which contrasts with the riotous colours of nature.

References:

  1. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/A-Life-without-Zari-for-Kuthampullys-Weavers/2014/11/10/article2516445.ece
  2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/A-story-of-the-struggle-for-survival/2013/10/22/article1848198.ece
  3. https://myshadowflowers.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/kuthampully-the-village-of-weavers/
  4. The Spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Socio-religious context of Trivandrum/Kerala, pg. 109
  5. http://pazhayathu.blogspot.in/2012/02/kerala-dress-1500-till-now.html
  6. http://www.mkhandlooms.com/about_us
  7. http://www.ashahandlooms.com/history.php
  8. http://www.kaithary.com/about-us

 

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Mangalagiri Sarees

mangalagiri2Hullo, hullo, everybody 😉 , I am back this week to continue our series on Andhra Sarees. Last time we covered the Madhavaram. This week is another one starting with ‘M’. That is the Mangalagiri Saree.

History

mangalagiri_location2000px-andhra_pradesh_district_location_map_guntursvg

Meaning ‘Auspicious Hill’, Mangalagiri is a famous town in the newly setup State Capital Region.   Located in the greater Amaravati area, it is known for its beautiful and tall gali gopuram in the Lakshmi Narasimha Swami Temple.

This was constructed by the Vijayanagara Emperors and finished by Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, Raja of Amaravati.  While they prospered under the Kakatiyas, weavers in the region later fled after having had to endure the oppressive taxes of the Qutb Shahis. They were liberated by Krishna Deva Raya. They later came under the rule of the Vasireddis, who are associated with the Narasimha Swami temple.

The presiding deity, this Avatara of Vishnu is worshiped with Jaggery water. Sweet like the language of Telugu, this Panakam dish gives the name Panakala to the first of the temples. With three temples dedicated to Narasimhaswami, Mangalagiri is more than just part of the administrative capital, it represents the lion and lioness spirit of the Andhras. Hence, like our legendary dynasty of queens and kings who were known by their mother’s name, Mangalagiri represents the strength and pride of place the women of Andhra have in their society, and now again, capital.

The ksheera vruksha (milk tree) there is particularly auspicious for women. There is also a main festival three in Phalguna masam (february-march month). The shape of the hill of Mangalagiri is in that of an elephant. Hence, like the famous charming hastini walk that ancient beauties were described as having, this saree too represents the allure of Andhra women.

A stone’s throw away from Amaravati, Mangalagiri is the saree of the AP’s administrative capital. Women of the region are both traditional and trendy. Like the rajdhani represents all the shades of Andhra, the Mangalagiri Saree showcases a variety of different colors from around the state. It is an evening wear saree with a fresh look, perfect for summer evenings at the temple or official events. Like Andhra, it is bright but classy. It catches the eye in a refined way rather than a gaudy one.

Characteristics

 mangalagiri-plain-silk-sarees-mrr-00077

Mangalagiri is recogizable by its border. These are emphasized more than the body of the saree itself. Most obvious is the double border, which is rarely found in other sarees. ‘Getti anchu’ means solid border, which like this saree, means the lady wearing it immediately becomes the center of attention. They frequently have parallel lines that adorn it like the famous gopuram of the town. While it is refined in its silk look, it has a handwoven cotton base. This gives it a widely-prized softness and durability.

mangalagirisaree_image1-56343

Because of the cotton mix, it keeps the body cool in the hot summer of Krishna District. This style also represents Krishnamma, who is the personification of the Krishnaveni River. She too is elegant while retaining the traditional look and feel of the region. Kanakadurga in nearby Vijayawada also has this auspicious beauty.

Mangalam antey Mangalagiri

Styles

A traditional saree that is increasingly getting a modern look, the Mangalagiri saree is found in different styles. You can get the traditional patterns. You can get sico-cotton look, which is more everyday, and the pattu look which is the rich silk feature we see at the very top. This second style makes it a very rich saree.

Thread count varies from 40 (coarse) to 120 (superfine). It frequently has a gossamer or translucent weave that is ideal for export.  Traditional motifs include “leaf, mango, parrot, gold coin, rekhu “. They come in:

  • Plain Color-For a bold look.
  • Striped-These range from bright to earthen hues
  • Checks-Identifiable & traditional with organic dyes & kalamkari block print
  • Mixed-Combination of different patterns and silk cotton

 

mangalagiri_peacock

Korni Solid, Striped Mangalagiri Polycotton Sari

 

Industry

mangalagiri-industry

Considered one of the finest examples of the handloom cotton industry, Mangalagiri, like the capital of the Andhras, has stood the test of time. This carefully woven weave is prized throughout India.

mangalagiri_aasu

It is has a very structured process of manufacture as well. The yarn is colored and dyed, and then starched and bleached. The warping makes sure the color doesn’t fade.   After that, it is spun by traditional Charkha. Now made into thread, it is woven in various forms on warp and weft using pit looms. This process usually takes a week. Here is a great walkthrough of the process.

mana_mangalagiri

This industry is driven by 5000 traditional weavers who inherited a traditional craft, representing the spirit of Andhra. While sarees today are increasingly showing the machine look, Mangalagiris are handcrafted to perfection, and it shows. Finely woven, they are a must have for all true Telugus.

 Andhra Rajdhani Saree

  http://n1.sdlcdn.com/imgs/a/j/r/Priyankas-Red-Printed-Polycotton-Saree-SDL913091298-1-44fa9.jpg

Andhra’s Capital Saree

References:

  1. http://www.mangalagiri.net/temple/temple.html
  2. http://www.templenet.com/Andhra/mangalagiri.html
  3. http://www.utsavpedia.com/textiles/mangalgiri-sari-from-the-fine-edges-of-andhra-pradesh/
  4. http://www.dsource.in/resource/cotton-sari-mangalagiri/warping/index.html
  5. http://mangalgiri.com/index.php/mangalgiri-weavers-world
  6. http://mangalagiricotton.com/sarees/
  7. http://swadesh.unnatisilks.com/finely-crafted-cotton-weaves-mangalagiri/

Madhavaram Sarees

In our newest installment of our Series on Andhra Sarees, this week we will be covering  Rayalaseema’s Madhavaram Sarees.

History

File:Rayalaseema.png

Madhavaram is a village in Kadapa District that is etched in the popular imagination. While the Jilla in general is known for its temples, forts, poets, and artisans, the Saree of one of its most famous villages is no less significant.

The picturesque grama of Madhavaram is nestled in between the Penna River and majestic hills; its fashion is also simple and soothing. The weaving was historically concentrated in Sidhout and Kamalapuram taluks of Kadapa district.  It is generally associated with the weavers of the Togata community.  These cheeras have become staples in regional weddings.

Characteristics

Madavaram pattu cheera is the all-purpose saree.

It is called this because it is easy to maintain. The colors are usually in the range of red and black. The patterns are usually alternating squares, but floral designs were later introduced as seen below. Pink and pale blue are also used.

The fabrics and weaving process behind the Madhavaram has become so popular that they feature now in Sarees and Dhotis for weddings. These are known collectively as the Madhavaram Madhuparkam. Madhuparkams are used for both bride and bridegroom, and thus, used for the fabric for both sets of Wedding Attire.

It is also featured for Turbans (Thala Paaga ) . Vegetable based dyes are used, making it an exceedingly eco-friendly. Regular and Petu (border) Sarees are manufactured, with Cotton Jari types being very common as well. One of the USPs of this saree is the trademark Modugu Puvvu that is used to give a reddish color to the border.

Industry

There are currently 2500 weaving households in Madhavaram who are dependent on this industry, and another 5000 supporting workers. The annual revenue generated is estimated to be around 15 crore Rupees. There is great business potential for this item, and many skilled textile workers whose fortunes could be turned around if the state people invest in developing this.

Variety is the spice of life, and Madhavaram comes in just such variety for at home or at parties!

Rakka Rakkaalu Saree

The All Purpose Saree of the Andhra Lady

 

References:

  1. http://www.fibre2fashion.com/indianhandsnlooms/madhavaram.asp
  2. C. F. Brackenbury. District Gazetteer, Cuddapah.
  3. http://www.traveladda.com/south_india/andhra_pradesh/people_and_culture/handlooms_of_andhra_pradesh.html
  4. http://www.indianetzone.com/24/handloom_weaving_andhra_pradesh.htm
  5. http://www.indiantravelportal.com/andhra-pradesh/arts-crafts/handlooms-of-andhra-pradesh.html
  6. http://www.kadapa.info/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=39

Warangal: The City, its Art & its Architecture

After Amaravati, the second capital of the Telugus was Warangal (also referred to by its Sanskrit name, Ekasheela). Literally meaning “One Stone” (Oru gallu), the great capital of the Kakatiyas long stood truly as a “single rock” of Dharma defying Delhi.

Those of you following us on twitter would have read our tweets giving snapshots of the glories of this once flowering citadel of Dharma. This post will not only expand upon them, but explore new, especially visual, areas as well.

Background

Famous Ekashila Hill that gave Warangal its name
The Famous Ekasheela Hill that gave Warangal its name

While settlements in the area date as far back as the Chalukyas (who built the nearby Bhadrakali temple), Warangal truly became a city under the Kakatiyas, at least since the days of Rudra I. Construction of the fortress-capital took place under the greatest ruler, Ganapati Deva, who shifted the government from Hanumakonda. It was completed under his daughter, Rudrama Devi, some time after. In fact, despite the granite strength of the walls, the feminine touch of the Maharani of the Kakatiyas was credited for the ornate carvings of the stout citadel.

Located in new Telangana State, Ekasila-nagari was the capital of the historical Andhra desa that reasserted itself after the ending of the Satavahana dynasty and the dominance of the Chalukyas & Cholas in the land of the Telugus. In fact, after ancient Amaravati, it was medieval Warangal which was called  “Andhranagari”.

Geographically, it is about 150 km from Hyderabad and 10 km from Hanumakonda. In fact, Warangal-Hanumakonda-Kazipet are collectively referred to as the Tri-City area. After the Twin Cities, modern Ekasheela is the second largest urban agglomeration in Telangana.

http://irrigation.cgg.gov.in/dp/WarangalMap.jpg

Palampet, Pakhal, and Ghanpur (Ghanapuram fort) are also in the general vicinity of Warangal. Should the district ever be renewed in vitality, these places would also be counted in a putative Metro area.

Fort

 

One of the most redoubtable forts of India, Warangal stubbornly stood as the Telugu thorn in the side of the Turks, first under the Kakatiyas and later under the Musunuri Nayaks. Its defenders were able to accomplish this through a strategic layout of outer and inner moats, secondary mud walls, and an intimidating granite primary wall.  Built with cyclopean stone masonry,  the inner wall was a fearsome obstacle for attackers. The Outer earthen wall was no less ingenious as rocks from catapults would famously bounce off it, much to the consternation of besiegers. Its well sculpted battlements provided crenelated defense for the countless archers who once manned them (900,000 by one count). Recent excavation by archaeologists uncovered a third ring of fortification inside.

 

The Mighty Walls of Warangal

Almost poetically, there were 77 towers once commanded by 77 Nayaks. The main fort, however, had 45 towers and was 5km in circumference. It was spread out over 19kms. It was also very well-supplied with water, both through lakes inside the fort and canals/moats outside of it.

In a triumph of irrigation, a number of man-made bodies of water were constructed by the Kakatiyas.

View inside Warangal fort

City

Truly the “City of Stone & Lakes” in the land of the Telugus, there is a bit of Warangal in the heart of every Andhra (whether AP or TS). From its lush vegetation, to its resplendent waterways, to the grandeur of its granite, the city, citadel, and structures are verily   

A Vision of Telugu Unity.

Nearby Pakhal Lake was created as a sanctuary for the Warangal Royals. Some accounts refer to it as a summer palace. In fact, the artificial body of water dates back to the earlier Kakatiyas. The last Kakatiya King, Prataparudra is credited with the construction of a stone bund across it.

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Serenely beautiful Pakhal Lake

There were a number of extensions (suburbs) as part of the old city. One such famous addition was Panukantivada. This was built specially for settlers from Nalgonda district, who had been invited to settle down in the rajdhani.

Art

The Art of Warangal (and associated structures) is virtually synonymous with stone sculpture. Indeed, the polished granite and elongated figures are seen as almost the trademark style of the Lords of Kakatipura.

12 Madanika statues seen in various dancing poses, often with musical instruments

This style of physiognomy is considered an innovation and a departure from past convention in sculpture (Silpa Sastra). Indeed, the Royals of Warangal should be commended for patronizing such artistic experimentation. Art should not merely reprint standard practice, whether textual or not, but take inspiration from the text to explore the artist’s own creativity, resulting in a more vibrant end-product.

The most famous specimens from the era are the polished statuary of the Madanika dancers above and the alert Nandi below. Both are from the Ramappa Temple in Palampet.

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The Nandi of Ramappa Temple, Venkatpur Mandal

This Nandi statue is considered unique as it was shaped to be uncharacteristically elongated and at attention. Typically, Nandi murthis are focused and facing directly at the Shiva-linga, but that is not the case at the Ramalingeshwara Temple of Ramappa.

 

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Pensive Pandit Statue in Warangal Lake

Despite the destruction wrought by Central Asian invaders, sculptures at Warangal fort itself have managed to survive as well. The Pandit above is also emblematic of the experimental nature of Warangal Art, which did not merely repeat time-tested patterns, but broke new ground and invented new technique and approaches.

Painting

While most famous for its statuary, Warangal Art also boasts specimens of Chitra-sastra (Science of Painting). At one time, at least 1000 paintings are thought to have been present in the capital. In fact, the painting gallery (Chitra Sala) of Prataparudra’s favorite courtesan, MachalDevi, was particularly famous. It notably depicted scenes from the Siva Purana, Krishna & Gopis, as well as various erotic pairings such as Tara with Chandra, Menaka with Viswamitra , and Rati with Manmatha (God of Love). Other examples include the Cherial Painting above from nearby Pillalamarri. The Blue Samudra-manthan painting at Ramappa dates to the Kakatiya era as well.

A Chitramandapa for public entertainment is also said to have existed at Warangal. It featured different scenes from historical battles fought by the heroic Brahma Naidu.

Architecture

Chalukya Heritage

The Heritage of Warangal includes the efforts of the Kannada Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties. Their legacy is still seen today in a number of Warangal area temples. Vimanas (heavenly vehicles, houses of God) or more specifically Sikharas (towers surrounding a sanctuary) were historically constructed in various styles: Nagara (mostly North India), Dravida (mostly South India), Kalinga (Odisha), and Vesara . The Chalukyas developed a new style called Rekhanagara, which was more parabolic in nature, and another called Bhumija.

Jain Temple just outside Warangal Fort

Jain Temple, Warangal, Dedicated to Mahavira

Padmakshi Temple

Bhadrakali Temple

Kakatiya Grandeur:

The Kakatiyas continued this heritage from the Chalukya era, but then took this inspiration to make their own name. The Pillalamarri inscription, dated to 1195 C.E., states  the following:

Beautiful, as high as the peak of kailasa, with the clouds, kissed by their banner clothes, are the golden kalasas placed on the top-of these temples of Erakeswara and Naameswara

Beautiful as they were, only a few of these Kakatiyas temples have emerged unscathed from war. Kakatiya vimanas can be broadly classified in two varieties (1) the stepped pyramidal type (2) the storied pyramidal type. They constructed sikharas in mainly Nagara and Dravida styles.

Entrance to Warangal fort

After countless battles and numerous wars, the Entrance to the Fort of Warangal stands defiantly to this day. Like the city and rulers who defended it, it is a stubborn reminder of the stubborn will of the Telugus.

Keerthi Torana

The Trademark Warangal Torana is of course the most famous structure of the site. Indeed, it has come to define its medieval past and, as readers will see below, even its modern image.

Use of the Torana goes as far back as the Vedic period, and smaller versions featured even in villages. The earliest examples of grand stone Toranas are seen in Buddhist structures such as Bharhut and Sanchi. Amaravati in Coastal Andhra also displayed Toranas, as evidenced by the surviving statuary and stone bas reliefs.

They, however, truly reached their zenith under the Kakatiyas. Toranas were an important and distinctive aspect of Kakatiya architecture, and were used in sites beyond Warangal, such as Nandikandi and Kolanupaka’s Somesvara Temple. Nevertheless, the Keerthi Torana of Warangal is the gold standard. The ends of the Torana’s lintels are ornamented with hamsas, which symbolize keerthi (fame). Thus, the improvement of the indigenous Indic gateway is the signature contribution of the Warangal style to India’s Architecture.

Warangal Fort Shiva Temple (interior)

 

Svayambunatha Temple

Mandapam of the once magnificent Svayambhunatha Temple

The true ornament of Warangal fort, however, must have been the Svayambhunatha Temple. The colossal proportions of this complex are corroborated by a contemporary work called the Kridabhiramamu as well as the still extant mandapa. It is primarily the mandapa that remains today, and the Kakatiyas devotion to Lord Shiva made them construct this Mandir as the main Architectural attraction of their capital.

This was also adorned by free standing pillars called nandistambhas, nagasthambhas, and deepasthambhas. These were typically placed in front of the temple itself, as can be seen here. This is considered another marker of Warangal Architecture and its style.

Khush Mahal

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Broken Idols kept in Shitab Khan’s Khush Mahal

One of the very interesting stories coming out of Warangal’s time-worn heritage is the curious case of Shitab Khan. The Bahmani governor is rumored to have been a Telugu convert named Sitapati Raju. He later took advantage of trouble within the Sultanate to declare independence. As a Telugu Muslim, he was a patron of the native Telugu literature and poetrythe Chitra Bharatam was credited to his era. He is said have aimed to  restore the indigenous glory of the previous Kakatiya era, and renovated many irrigation tanks and ponds.

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Khush Mahal (Interior)

While the iconoclasm of the Turks resulted in the destruction of many temples, numerous idols can be found in the Khush Mahal credited to Shitab Khan. The only remaining palace in this once city of palaces, Sitapati’s structure, like Sitapati himself, eventually escaped the Turks, and was returned to his own people related by blood, in the Coastal regions.

Hanumakonda 1000 Pillar Temple (Veyi Stambha Mandiram)

Built by King Rudra Deva in 1163, it is the iconic temple of the Kakatiyas. Constructed in nearby Hanumakonda, it is considered an architectural gem.

 

While the gopuram (tower) was tragically knocked down by vandal invaders, the main structure itself has managed to survive the test of time. The pillars of the temple in particular are known for their detail, design, and resplendent polish.

The pillar itself embodies the sophistication of traditional Dharmic architectural precepts. The Kakatiyas themselves are famous for their polished stambhas. They used the Brahmakanta variety of pillar, though Silpa Sastras also mention Vishnukanta, Rudrakanta, and Skandakanta (also called Suryakanta and Chandrakanta). Podikas (pillar capitals) are the crowning feature and tended to showcase leafy patterns, floral designs and cobra-hoods.

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Ceiling Sculpture from 1000 Pillar Temple

The ceiling too features intricate carvings in stone along with the trademark Kakatiya stone polish.

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Thousand Pillar Temple Pond

Ponds and tanks were also common in traditional Hindu temples. The Veyi Stambhala Gudi was no exception as seen above.

Ramappa Temple in nearby Palampet

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Though located a little ways away from Warangal (70 km), Ramappa temple has become closely associated with it and the rule of the Kakatiyas. In a departure from naming convention, which is typically determined by the presiding deity, this Mandir’s appellation is in fact in honor of its Architect: Ramappa. The temple and its eponymous lake are lovely examples of Kakatiya architecture. Credited to general Racharla Rudra (though possibly also Rudra I), the subordinate of King Ganapati Deva, this temple is regarded as emblematic of the unique style of Warangal/Kakatiya Art and Architecture.

Most beautiful are the Madanika Dancer sculptures of lustrous polished black granite and elongated features seen above. They feature as brackets.

Ghanpur group of Temples

Quietly tucked away in the nearby fort town of Ghanapuram, the Ghanpur Group of Temples is an additional stopping ground for any trip to Warangal. 22 in number they remain very close to the style and execution of the Ramappa Temple, and are surrounded by a wall. Built from red sandstone, they are an ocular feast and very much the archetypal vision of Indian ruins amidst lush vegetation. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, they also feature the signature Madanika bracket figures in the archways of temples.

The Kalyanamandapa and Sabhamandapa porches are the most notable architectural sights here. Most significant however is the innovation of mandapas, seen here in the Ekakuta and Trikuta styles of temple. The Kakatiyas also introduced two whole new styles of temple: Panchakuta featured elsewhere (Ramanaujapuram) and Chatuskuta at Panagal’s Somesvara temple.

Chaya Somesvara Temple at Panagal

Dharma

Staunchest Kakatiya defender of Warangal & Dharma

From their earlier Jain inclinations to their later popularization of Shaivism, the Kakatiyas were known as Men (and Women) of Honor and patrons of Dharma.

Shiva temple at Ghanpur (Exterior)

The Walled City of Warangal itself was said to have contained hundreds of Shiva Temples in its heyday, such as the small one above.

Bhadrakali Murthy

The scenic Bhadrakali temple just outside the city is also well-known, and dates back to the pre-Kakatiya era. It symbolizes the long standing roots of Dharma in the region.

Bhadrakali Temple decorated for Brahmotsvam Festival

Despite its history of triumph and tragedy, Telugu unity, and colonial rule, Warangal’s many temples have preserved the dharmic traditions of this area.

Walls may be knocked down, statues may be broken, and stones may turn to dust…but Dharma will never die. The struggle and sacrifice of the Telugu leaders of this region is testament to that, as is the history of Telangana.

Dynasties

While the Chalukyas deserve mention for their initial presence and contribution of the adjacent Bhadrakali temple, it is the Kakatiyas who are truly the founding dynasty of Warangal.

Though the Turks themselves only record 5 expeditions to the Andhra country, native sources such as Pratapa-charitra, Vilasa, and the Kaluvacheru copper plate grants record 8 wars in the reign of Prataparudra.  Thus the current consensus of 2 Telugu Victories and 3 Turk Victories may, numerically at least, be more in favor of the Kakatiyas than previously thought.

Nevertheless, it was the walls of this citadel of Andhra that stopped the Seunas of Devagiri in their tracks, and stood against the Turks in at least 5 wars. So imposing were the 50 ft walls and 30 ft gates of Warangal, that the Delhi General, Malik Kafur, could not breach them in the 2nd war, and so he began committing atrocities on the women in the surrounding settlements. Thus, while the defenses stood strong and proud, the heart of the King proved soft, and out of concern for his subjects, he relented. The walls were so powerful that it in fact took a brand new type of catalapult to finally knock them down. And knocked down they were, as the fifth and final attack proved ruthless in a way only the silent stones of Warangal can retell.

The Delhi interregnum of Malik Maqbul was put to an end a mere few years later by the Musunuri Nayaks. Liberated under Krishna Nayak (Kapaneedu Musunuri) it would remain in Telugu hands for another 50 years. Recent findings (as well as the ruins themselves) are also testament to the iconoclasm of the times.

Tragically, as Telugus have habitually done, infighting and petty jealousies took place. The traitorous Rachakonda Rajas betrayed the Musunuri Nayaks and captured the fort in battle. The Bahmanis took advantage, and the city fell from Nayak rule to the Sultans, and to eventual political unimportance. Through politicking with and eventual cooption of the traitorous Recherla Nayaks, Warangal remained under Turk hands first under the Bahmanis, then Qutb Shahis, and finally the Asaf Jahs. Due to their neglect, Warangal never again regained its former glory.

Future

Modern Warangal district offers much potential for development.  The current population is around 32 lakh people, with 51 mandals, and over 1000 villages. A number of colleges/universities have also sprung up, like the NIT and, fittingly, Kakatiya University.

Aside from the numerous Hindu temples, from Bhadrakali and Padmakshi to 1000 pillar and Ghanpur, the Jain heritage of the district, and united Andhra in general, should also be capitalized upon. Most of all, is the entire fort complex of Ekasheela-nagaram, which recalls the Vision of Unity that the Kakatiyas of Telangana region so steadfastly fought to give the Telugus.

Sadly neglected since the fall of the Musunuri Nayaks, the Grandeur of Warangal is very much a shadow of its former self. Despite this fact, “Andhra Maha Nagari” lives ever in the hearts of all true Telugus. It is not for nothing that the Keerthi Torana of Warangal was selected for the 29th State’s emblem. One hopes that with the rise of the new state of Telangana, Warangal’s importance will once again be restored.

References:

  1. Rao, P.R. History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh. New Delhi. Sterling Publishers. 1994
  2. http://www.slideshare.net/venkatasivaprasads/history-oftheandhras
  3. http://www.bharatonline.com/andhra-pradesh/travel/warangal/excursions.html
  4. Cousens, Henry.  Lists of antiquarian remains…in Nizam’s territories. ASI. 1900
  5. Singh, Satyanarayana. The Art and Architecture of the Kakatiyas. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 1999
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