An unstitched garment of fine muslin cloth woven exclusively by the Chendamangalam cluster in Kerala, the Chendamangalam dhoti is identified by its plain body and kasavu border. The main body of the dhoti is left unbleached and white, while the borders are either in plain gold or coloured zari in tones of blue, purple, green and black. The dhoti may also have narrow borders, often woven in the puliyilakara (tamarind leaf) pattern, running parallel to the broad kasavu border. An extra-weft cross-border, known as chuttikara or kattikara, runs along its width and perpendicular to the kasavu border. Known as mundu in Kerala, the garment is either sold alone or as part of a set, known as mundum neriyathum, along with an upper-body wrap (neriyathu) for women.
Chendamangalam is a town in the Ernakulam district of Kerala, where the garment is traditionally woven on frame looms by members of the Devanga Chettiar community. While historical accounts differ, it is generally believed that its handloom textiles were introduced under the patronage of the feudal Paliam family. Their patriarchs served as hereditary prime ministers to the maharajas of the Kingdom of Cochin from 1632–1809. Initially, the handloom garments were made mostly for the men and women of the noble families, as they were considered benchmarks for quality and status. In the early 1900s, it received more widespread popularity through the establishment and marketing initiatives of two separate industrial units — one operating from Kottayil Kovilakom village from the 1930s to 1948 and the other, The Pioneer Company, operating for two years in Chendamangalam from 1948. Their operations, though successful, were short-lived, and as a result, due to the lack of concerted marketing, the popularity of the Chendamangalam began to decline again.
The fine and smooth texture that distinguishes the Chendamangalam dhoti is achieved through the preparatory step of street sizing, done twice in succession. In this step, the yarn is stretched across two wooden beams and a paste of rice flour and hibiscus leaf water (chembarathi thaali) or wheat flour paste, is applied on the threads, which are then combed with a coir brush. The yarn is then squeezed and dried in a designated street before the process is repeated. The threads are then separated with lease rods and transferred to the loom through a process known as beaming. The additional step taken in the weaving of the Chendamangalam dhoti makes it labour- and time-intensive, and therefore more expensive than similar dhotis manufactured elsewhere.
In 1969, the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act successfully reorganised the Chendamangalam handloom cluster, which had been suffering a decline from lack of organisation and market demand, and also ensured that the quality of textiles was preserved in the weaving process. After an application filed in 2010 for the registration of “Chendamangalam Dhoties and Set Mundu'' under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection Act), 1999, it received a Geographical Indications (GI) tag from the Government of India in 2011, giving the entire textile industry of Chendamangalam a boost. The weaving cluster, however, suffered another setback in 2018 after the devastating floods in Kerala but was revived through the efforts of NGOs and social fundraising initiatives. Though revitalised, the Chendamangalam dhotis are yet to enjoy commercial success due to their high price and competition from similar textiles woven on power looms.
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James, Shalini. “Read about the regained looms of Chendamangalam.” The Hindu, December 23, 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/society/keralas-design-community-got-together-to-bat-for-chendamangalam-handloom-in-2019/article30358790.ece.
OriGIn (Organisation for an International Geographical Indications Network). “Application for Registration of Chendamangalam Dhoties and Set Mundu of Kerala. Form G1-1A.” Accessed August 08, 2021. https://www.origin-gi.com/fr/i-gi-origin-worldwide-gi-compilation-uk/download/345/10817/24.html?method=view
Textiles Committee (Ministry of Textiles, Government of India). “Chendamangalam Dhoties & Set Mundu (Kerala) (GI Regn No. 225).” Accessed August 08, 2021. http://textilescommittee.nic.in/chendamangalam-dhoties-set-mundu-kerala-gi-regn-no-225