It is a New Year  and I wanted to start the year with a promising note. We hear about dying crafts everyday. Here is one such that has stood the test of time due to exposure and patronage. A family of craftsmen who migrated from Karnataka to Swamimalai during the Chola dynasty. The king invited them to set up a workshop. Since these craftsmen are heavily dependant on the soil quality, they settled down here on the banks of the river. They found the right kind of soil here and established themselves. There has been no looking back ever since.

Everything is Tamil Nadu starts with paying obeisance to the local deity. We did the same at the local temple and started to find the idol makers of Swamimalai.

We found the workshop located quite centrally. Around 20 craftsmen were working under the guidance of the Sthapathy brothers. In the picture, you can find one of the brothers at the end of the line.

The Sthapathy family can date their ancestors back to the Chola dynasty and their genealogy proudly hangs on the wall of the reception area.  The craft has been carefully passed down over generations and the quality of the product is unmatched and even gets better with passing time. The demand is also similar with orders for the next whole year.

The craft owes its upkeep and success to patronage from the local community. The walls are adorned with black and white photographs of eminent personalities who are patrons of this craft. The family has a National Award winner in every generation!

Owing to the growing demand, the family has employed more people in this craft. But the secret of creating the perfect wax model lies entirely with the family. The model is made of wax and it’s proportions conform to the fundamental principles of Shilpashastra (ancient science of making sculptures). The various body parts and the ornaments are carved on the model based on this science. A strip of moistened coconut leaf is used as a base of measurements.

The wax model is then covered with alluvial soil taken from the river bank. A few slots are cut out to drain out the wax during the heating process. The model is then sun-dried to remove excess moisture. This process is repeated till the whole structure has an even layer of soil coating. The model is further wound with steel wires to avoid breakage.

The model is then heated in a chamber using dried cow dung as fuel. The wax melts and pours out from the slots provided. This is called the ‘karuvu’ (chamber) and is filled with a liquid mixture of copper, brass and lead. This is done with the karuvu buried in soil in an upright position.

Once the sculpture is cooled, the outer soil coverings and steel frame are broken.

A rough metal image emerges which is chiselled, filed and engraved to get the final figure.

The Sthapathy family have taken measures from their end to preserve this craft. They have a website and are almost always cordial to visitors.  In case you travel to the Thanjavore temple, this craft abode is a must visit.

In spite of a message from mom and a note written on my board, I missed Karthigai Deepam. For the ones who are wondering what this is about; the legend behind this festival is that  Brahma and Vishnu entered into an argument with each other, as to who was the powerful of the two. Lord Siva arose as a huge column of fire, of immeasurable height and humbled Brahma and Vishnu, for they failed to scale Him. Since then a huge cauldron, used as a lamp, is lit atop the Hill of Thiruvannamalai, commemorating the event.

The birth of Lord Murugan also holds special significance to the celebration of Karthigai Deepam festival, the festival of lamps. It was on this day that Lord Muruga who first incarnated as six infants, (out from six sparks from the third eye of Lord Siva, in Saravana Poigai (a holy tank) ), was conjoined into one, with the embrace of Goddess Parvati. (

For a Chennai girl that I am, this is the festival of lights. Every year, Karthigai Deepam heralds the onset of winter- the cool breeze that blows on your face as you cycle to school, the Tamizh month of ‘Margazhi‘ when the streets are decorated with beautiful kolams (rangolis) and of course, it means Christmas is not far away! :) Every year, mom and I would light up the entire balcony with little lamps that I would re-fuel till I was tired to do so.

Since I missed the festival this year, I am making amends with a few photos from the lamp makers of Ariyakudi in Chettinadu. Chettinadu lamps are not hollow on the inside like most metal casting techniques. The core is also filled with metal and is supposed to be very sturdy. Little wonder that the lamps form an integral part of dowry in Tamil Nadu. The white metal lamp is a recent addition and is slowly replacing the silver(owing to the price) lamps in the dowry.

The lamp collection is not limited to the regular tall  ‘Villakku’. New additions like the Paavai Villakku, where a lady (Paavai) holds the lamp and the Aanai Villakku where the lamp is mounted on an elephant (Aanai).

Molten metal is poured into the hollow in the mould. The final touches are given by filing. Traditional designs are made of clean, straight lines and are usually devoid of ornamentation.

The designs don’t stop with the ‘Villakku’. Bells of various sizes that are used in Pooja room doors of both homes and temples and the big bell that hangs at the entrance of the temple are also made here.

Swing chains are very popular here. Various figures are added in to the chain which is used to hold a wooden plank. Birds like parrots and peacocks are commonly used motifs. As the motifs are made of solid metal, a set of 4 chains for a swing would cost roughly around Rs.25-30k!

Hopefully the Karthigai Deepam in 2012 will be celebrated with one of these lamps. A definite must have, if you are a collector.



My home and my kitchen are always open to my friends. The joy that I derive out of cooking a meal for someone is inexplicable. So when one of my friends recently asked me if I cleaned up the place because she was coming to visit, I was surprised. My home is mostly organised, atleast on the face of it. I know some cheat tricks that I learnt way back in college when I shared my tiny room with two other girls. Then of course, I would re-use shoe boxes and cartons, but mostly I put things I didn’t use (and didn’t have the heart to give away) in a dump spot. I maintain that theory till date and I have an organised home.

But there were these things like keys, stationery, CDs and all the ear-rings that I remove just before going to bed that never really had a place to go to. They had to accessible and cannot be put in my ‘dump spot’. So when I found these beautiful, colorful boxes, I thought it was a perfect thing to put such stuff away. The fact that these were made by our enterprising women from the tsunami-ravaged Pulicat adds to the charm!

orange palm leaf kottan box from Pulicat

Orange palm leaf kottan box

You can use them everywhere to put CDs, stationery, keys, medicines and that little bedside stuff that you need. With dimensions of 10 inches by 7 inches, it comes with a matching lid.

Set of 2 Kottan boxes from Pulicat

Set of 2 Kottan boxes

While this stand alone box was bright and colorful, there is one with a neutral shade, a set of 2. With dimensions of 8 by 8 inches and 6 by 6 inches each, these boxes fit into each other.

Set of three pink kottan baskets from Pulicat

Set of three pink kottan baskets

I am very partial to pink and cannot end this with my favorite ‘shocking’ pink colour. A set of 3 boxes, these fit snugly inside each other and come with a matching lid. Dimensions are 9 inches, 8 inches and 6.5 inches in diameter respectively.

Hope you like these boxes. If there is a good response (which can happen if you share this), the women can be commissioned to make more of these boxes. It will be of great help to them! :)

How to order Athangudi Tiles?

  1. There are various designs. You can choose a design and colour of your choice. Click here for a catalog of designs.
  2. You can also custom make designs. In this case, you need to pay the cost of the mould.
  3. Once the order is placed, the tiles are produced. The tiles cannot be stocked for a long time as the ends are porous and discolouration is bound to occur at the corners.
  4. Only about 75 sq ft can be produced each day.
  5. The tiles are about an inch in thickness. Three size options are available- 6 by 6 inches, 8 by 8 inches and 10 by 10 inches.

How are Athangudi tiles laid?

  1. The laying process is different from the regular tile laying process. Masons from Karaikudi should be employed as they understand the process better.
  2. For a minimum of 600 sq ft, the local masons are willing to travel anywhere in India for the laying process. Depending on the quantum of work, one or two helpers need to be provided for the masons. Please note that the mason speaks only Tamizh. A better idea would be to source low cost labour from Karaikudi itself.
  3. Rice husk is used for polishing, which is also sourced from Karaikudi.
  4. About 100 sq ft can be laid in a day.  Post laying, 2-3 days are required for polishing. The polished tile reflects light like a mirror.

How are Athangudi Tiles maintained?

  1. The tile responds well to use. The more you walk on it, the shinier it gets. Non usage may dull the tile. Hence, it is not advisable to use as wall tiles.
  2. Regular cleaning should do. You can even wash the floors. Once a week, mop the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil. It keeps the sheen intact.

What areas are best suited to Athangudi tiles?

  1. It is best suited to porches, verandahs and living rooms where traffic is quite high.
  2. Not advisable for kitchens and open to sunlight areas.
  3. For smaller size rooms, use smaller and less intricate designs. The more intricate ones look dramatic in larger areas.


Athangudi tile designs from Karaikudi

Athangudi tile designs from Karaikudi

It’s been 2 years since I set my eyes on Athangudi tiles. I saw it on a blog that I frequent and it was love at first sight. I’ve spent all these months planning for a trip to Karaikudi. I travel quite a bit, but this trip wasn’t just coming through. When I finally managed to get here, the trip was just perfect. Two really close people, one a friend with whom I’ve spent the dreamy years of college giggling, shopping and forging a friendship for the rest of our lives. The other one is an interesting story, I’ve hardly met him thrice in the ten odd years that I’ve known him and we get along very well.

In the coming weeks, I will write about all the wonderful sights and people we met in this packed four day trip. For now, let me start with my first love.

Athangudi tiles in Chettiar mansions

Athangudi tiles in Chettiar mansions

Athangudi is a relatively new craft. The region is dominated by Chettiars, a community of rich traders. The Chettairs built fabulous mansions with wooden pillars, Belgian and Japanese tiles, Italian marbles and imported stained glass. But over time, they realized that repairs were expensive due to the non availability of spares. So the inherently enterprising community set up an industry that made replicas of the imported tiles. The sand from Athangudi suited this procedure the best and this village became the hub of tile production.

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) Made with white cement, sand and pigments, the tiles are entirely hand-made. Colors mixed with white cement are poured using a mould on a glass base. The glass helps in giving the tile a smooth, polished surface.

Athangudi tiles blue and red

Athangudi tiles blue and red

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) The design is packed with cement on top and left to dry in the sun.

Athangudi tiles out to dry

Athangudi tiles out to dry

It is later cured in water for a couple of days and again dried in the sun.

The laying process involves the use of sand, cement, lime and the top is polished with rice husk.

There are about 60 designs, will try to put it up on Flickr with product codes. Here are some of them.

Athangudi tiles contemporary design

Athangudi tiles contemporary design


Athangudi tiles on a staircase

Athangudi tiles on a staircase