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Karaikudi

Karaikudi is a small town in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, known for its traditional handmade colourful tiles.

Karaikudi is a small town in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, known for its traditional handmade colourful tiles.

SHOWCASE

  • TRUDGING ALONG

    Quaint huts welcome you as you step into Karaikudi, a little town tucked away in Tamil Nadu.

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      GREEN SALAD
  • GLIMPSES OF ROYALTY

    A vast expanse of green, the scape along the road is an expanse of green, sprinkled abundance with peacocks that run amidst vegetation and coconut groves.

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      HILL AND VALE
  • DIVINE ORIGINS

    Each family in the area is born into one of the nine main temples of this region. Wedding alliances are often made between families of two different temples.

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      MORNING FROST
  • DAYS OF GLORY

    Palatial houses skirting the dusty roads stand as evidence of the wealthy Chettiars: traders and money lenders chiefly known for their accounting skills, who used to inhabit the area.

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      BLISSFUL BLUE
  • SIMPLE ELEGANCE

    Flavours from their extensive travels can be found in their lavish homes- pillars from Burma, tiles from Japan, marble from Italy and Belgian mirrors. Their simple white shirt and veshti poses a strong contrast to their ornate homes.

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      SWEET DREAMS
  • HERITAGE AT ITS BEST

    A handful of these mansions have been converted into heritage hotels or tourism spots, drawing travelers from across the world to experience Chettinad culture in all its authenticity.

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      MIDNIGHT OIL
  • KEY TO THE PAST

    Some of the old mansions are maintained by caretakers today with families coming together for special occasions.

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      MANGO MOOD
  • RUBIES AND RUINS

    Though dilapidated, some of these mansions continue to be lived in, some are locked up and several lie abandoned. As the village quiets down before sunset, the town seems to belong to an era lost beyond time.

    • 9548
      CLEAN AURA
  • COLOURED CARPETS

    As you move away from the Karaikudi town centre, there lies some 15 kms away a little known visual treat - Athangudi village - home to the beautiful Athangudi tiles. Doors and floors are covered in a riot of colour, each equally enchanting.

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      BING BLUE
  • ARTISANS ASSEMBLY

    Each of the houses, big or small sport these colourful tiles. Although earlier proficient in various arts, the village is now most popular for the bespoke tile work that is one of its kind.

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      MUD HOUSE
  • TAILOR MADE TILES

    These special tiles are handcrafted in small factories with no more than two to four work stations each.

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      PHAROAH
  • SOUL FROM THE SOIL

    On prodding the artisans will proudly tell you that it is the local soil that helps maintain the perfect temperature of the tiles irrespective of the season.

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      CERAMIC
  • THE PERFECT MIX

    Apart from the cement and local soil, the mixture is coloured with dyes to get the right colours. All proportions are measured on intuition and mixed together.

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      TERRACOTTA-N
  • TOOLS OF THE TRADE

    The artisan uses a variety of improvised brushes and brass moulds to create the desired patterns on the tiles. The frames are made with such precision that one color doesn’t bleed into the other.

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      GARDEN BENCH
  • FRAMING GRACE

    Frames are vital to the aesthetic. Incidentally all the frames at the workshop seem to be have been made by only one man in Muthupattinam in Athangudi- Munnusami.

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      FAWN
  • FAMILY FLAIR

    While his father would initially make frames of 8x8, Munnusami now makes 10 x10 frames. Although it takes him 10 days at times to painstakingly complete a frame, it is a matter of great pride for him.

    • 8168
      FRENCH ROSE
  • DOWN TO BRASS TACKS

    His son Manikam hasn’t taken after him and he seems unconcerned that there is no one to continue his work. He bends each piece of brass to accuracy till it flawlessly fits the drawing.

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      HERBAL GREEN
  • PANES AND PATTERNS

    Each tile is set on a glass pane, and sometimes patterns are hand drawn or colours are filled in the patterns of the mould.

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      COUNTRY BEIGE
  • FRAMES TO FLOWERS

    The inside of the frame is rubbed with oil before the glass pane is placed under it. The mould is set on the glass after which colours are poured with large ladles.

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      PINE CONE
  • COLOUR ME RED

    Frames are marked with colors to guide the artisan into pouring the coloured mixture with measured accuracy. As some of their designs are hand drawn, no two tiles are completely identical, and therein lies its inherent charm.

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      IGNEOUS ROCK
  • SEALED IN HISTORY

    A mixture of cement and mud are then scattered by the an artisan to seal the design before it is cemented by his partner.

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      TREE BARK
  • BESPOKE ELEGANCE

    Customised to the clients, colors are used in combinations of red, green, yellow, blue, white and black.

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      BRICK PILE
  • TIME AND TILES

    The tiles are stacked horizontally to dry for a day before they are immersed in water.

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      SANDS OF TIME
  • CEMENTING CULTURE

    The tiles are immersed in water for about three days, to set the cement post which they are left to cure in the sun for a week.

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      CLOUD BLUE
  • A PIECE OF ATHANGUDI

    The smaller 4x4 tiles are created specifically as souvenirs. The whole production process takes ten days and is eco friendly as it requires no fuel consumption and relies purely on man power and skill.

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      PURPLE PLAINS
  • FLORAL FOOTPRINTS

    The motifs are primarily floral or geometric. The ‘thalam' flower is said to have inspired this motif which can also be seen woven into sarees from this region.

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      IRON ORE
  • A LABOUR OF LOVE

    Men and women are both employed in the tile factories, producing upto 100 tiles a day.

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      EMPIRE YELLOW
  • LAYING THEM RIGHT

    A single pattern can form a variety of patterns across a large floor space depending on the way they are laid out. Masons are sent from Athangudi with the tiles to ensure that the tiles are laid out in the right manner and pattern. Incorrect laying of these tiles could cause them to crack.

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      OCEAN FORCE
  • A STEP INSIDE

    Floors in mansions and cottages alike, reveal myriad glorious patterns. With people preferring to sit on floors rather than chairs, all the more reason to have elaborate ornate flooring. Like all good things, the Athangudi tiles gather shine with usage the more they are used, the newer they appear.

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      DEEP DIVE

    PROFILE

    Kirthana Devdas
    Photographer

    Kirthana is a photographer based in Mumbai, and has been working on both documentary and commercial projects after her studies in Visual Communication and later photography at the Light and Life academy. She is passionate about working with NGOs and cultural documentation and is currently working on a long term project that documents the Theyyam, a ritual art form in Kerala, which she is native to.

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