The Navagraha Collection

2020 | Kanchipuram , Arni, Madurai, Tirupur

This project is an attempt at exploring the definition of a ‘kanjivaram pattu’ and at large, the relevance of expensive handloom sari weaving tradition today. Comparison of the traditional processes used in making the sari with the processes and technology used today, gives an important insight into how the aesthetic of the craft has evolved. This led me to work with and understand the abstract concepts of authenticity and tradition.

Due to uncertainty in the market during the COVID-19 lockdown, the sampling of the Navagraha collection was then taken forward in collaboration with Co-optex.

market study

Famously known as ‘The Land of Temples’, Kanchipuram is believed to be one of the holiest cities to the Hindus of India.

Temples were the center of all activities in the town during the medieval period. As a matter of fact, the society was built around the temple premises. These temples have stood the test of time and are still the cultural identity of Kanchipuram.

My journey in deliberating upon the reflection of local identity, narratives and the way of life of the people through this exotic medium led me to delve into certain religious and spiritual ideas that were part and parcel of the research involved in understanding different aspects of the place. Throughout the process of ideating, I was aware of a conscious effort to ensure that the universality of a sari as a garment is maintained in the design for a contemporary market despite the religious undertones in the inspiration.

Looking at modern paintings for inspiration was another approach at designing a contemporary collection of a traditional craft. The progression of colour palettes with advancement in technology can be observed through paintings that reflect trends or in some cases, look to break trends. The Navagraha paintings of H.N. Suresh particularly caught my attention because of the similarity of themes to the temple murals but the contemporary style in which they were presented.

The nine planets are personified with their consorts, vehicles, directions, positions, nature and preferences which include food, clothing, embellishments, plant, colour, gods and demigods. Thus there is an interesting literature spun around the concept of grahas.

Navagraha being an important concept of the temple culture of both North and South India, provides an opportunity for a connection between the makers and the consumers.

The specifications of each graha acted as guides and a base to develop motifs and layouts. Complete with a unique colour scheme and a particular geometry, it dictated the mood and look of each sari and provided tools to create with. Borrowing suitably from traditional designs and ideas was essential in maintaining authenticity. The nine saris were named after the grahas - Surya, Chandra, Mangala, Budha, Guru, Shukra, Shani, Rahu and Ketu.

Co-optex resolved to produce the Navagraha collection across different clusters in Tamil Nadu and with using different materials. Finally, the designs of surya, chandra, budha, shani and rahu were given to the clusters of cotton weaving in Madurai who are used to weaving on double jacquard looms. The Mangala design went to the weavers in Tirupur who weave light cotton saris. To get an idea of how the designs would look in silk, Shukra, Guru and Ketu were woven in Salem silk and Arni silks as these weaves are lighter than kanjivarams, are more suitable for daily wear. 

Weaving of ketu design in Arni 
Setting the warp of Mangala design in Tirupur