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Nilgiris

Toda embroidery is the traditional craft of the Toda tribe from the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, and is based on geometric motifs and calculations.

Toda embroidery is the traditional craft of the Toda tribe from the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, and is based on geometric motifs and calculations.

SHOWCASE

  • FAR AWAY LAND

    Tucked away in Northern Tamil Nadu, lie the beautiful Nilgiri hills or Blue Mountain most popular for the hill station Ooty, or Ootacamund as the local tribes would call it.

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  • ONE OF A KIND

    The Nilgiris were home to several ethnic tribes like the Badagas, Kotas, Kurumbas and Irulas. One of them, the Todas have been around for several centuries, but their population has dwindled down to a few hundreds today.

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  • ROOTED IN NATURE

    The Todas, the initial owners of Ooty, are a pastoral community, with their livelihood traditionally centred around buffalo herding for centuries now. In fact most of their religion and rituals involve practices around dairy and buffaloes.

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  • NEW PASTURES

    While the community is venturing into more agricultural practices and away from the traditional pastoral work, life around dairy continues to hold great religious and cultural significance to them.

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      SHADOW DANCE
  • TEMPLES AND TRIBES

    The Toda ‘dairy’ Temples which look similar in structure to the bamboo huts they live in, are surrounded by stones in a circular pit and have a head priest in attendance.

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      BLUE HORIZON
  • A DIFFERENT IDENTITY

    Not only is the language, rituals, clothing and dressing vastly distinct from the nearby tribes, even their ancestry is sometimes claimed to be linked to the Pandavas or somtimes even to the Greek army of Alexander.

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  • WRAPPED IN HISTORY

    One glance at the tribesmen and the dignity and the aura around them leaves you in wonder about their ancient connections. The way they drape their traditionally embroidered shawls and the perfect ringlets into which the women weave their hair are.

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  • WEARING THEIR PRIDE

    These traditional shawls Puthkulis showcase intricate symmetry and geometrical designs symbolic of the nature around them, and are embroidered by the women in the community with minimal tools and help.

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  • TRADITIONS AT HAND

    Occasions like wedding ceremonies see the tribesmen sporting a variety of these shawls, each with the traditional red and black stripes over a white plain cloth.

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      MORNING FROST
  • MARKING A PHASE

    Mirrored in the tattoos that the village elders sport, the puthukuli designs are also of great cultural significance. The wearing of this completely embroidered shawl holds in itself a great value in their tradition restricted to special occasions like a wedding.

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  • GIFTS OF NATURE

    Wedding ceremonies usually involve gifting of buffaloes and dairy products, while now there is also the inclusion of gold and money, the buffalo gifting is still central to the practise.

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  • A VILLAGE SHOWCASE

    Large community celebrations see the entire tribe show up in their finest specimen of the embroidered cloth.

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  • KEEPING IT SIMPLE

    The ladies of the tribe work on the fabric with a simple darning needle and thread without the assistance of modern tools.

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  • THE CANVAS

    Women have been practicing this art since ages. The base cotton material, normally bleached and pale white in colour, is hand woven in single width and the weave is such that it allows for the embroidery to be done by counting of threads.

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      COTTON WOOL
  • IN BETWEEN THE LINES

    The edges of the puthukuli have red and black bands, woven at 6 inch intervals, and the women embroider in between these bands creating a striking 'pallav'.

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      RICH ROUGE
  • INTUITIVE DESIGN

    The women do not refer to a stitching pattern as one would normally do for creating cross stitch designs, neither is a frame used to keep the cloth in place.

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  • COLOUR CULTURE

    The traditional three colours also have great cultural significance to the tribes: the cream/ pale white stands for purity and innocence, while red stands for youth and the black for maturity.

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      COTTON WOOL
  • WEFTS AND TUFTS

    The embroidery is worked on the reverse of the cloth and a little tuft of thread is left behind while drawing the needle back, thereby producing a rich, embossed effect on the surface.

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  • TWICE AS NICE

    Having created the design hundreds of times, the women replicate it on the cloth without tracing the pattern or referring to a book. A unique aspect of the finished cloth is that it is reversible with both sides having a usable finished look to it.

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  • OF FLOWERS AND STRIPES

    In the local Toda language, the embroidery is known as Pugur meaning flower. Flower and nature itself inspires names for several elements in the Toda vocabulary, and many of these motifs are used in the puthukuli.

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  • INSPIRED BY NATURE

    The geometric motifs, merging as they do with the woven bands are often mistaken for woven patterns. These motifs are traditionally inspired by the Sun, the Moon and animal life like snakes, squirrels, etc.

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  • HAVING AN EDGE

    Of course, like most things in Toda paying reverence to the buffalo, the buffalo horns are also seen as a popular motif in the embroidery. Rabbits ears are also often embroidered on the fringe of the shawl.

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  • LABOUR OF PAIN

    Embroidering each shawl takes a lot of effort and strain on the eyes and takes about 2 to 3 weeks to wrap up.

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      COTTON WOOL
  • A HELPING HAND

    While the tribe primarily use to trade produce with neighbouring villages, the women now have started to embroider and use the sales as supplementary income for the families.

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  • GETTING MODERN

    The embroidery now a days is not limited to just shawls. The work is now seen in stores on dupattas, drapes, table runners, purses and even yokes that can be attached onto dresses.

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  • TRADITION FOREVER

    Of such great significance are the shawls, that even at funerals, the bodies of the departed are covered with these traditional pieces.

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  • AN ODE TO NATURE

    In sync with all things that the Todas do, even the pugur embroidery is a mark of respect and reverence to the bountiful nature that they venerate around them.

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    PROFILE

    Sanket Khuntale
    Photographer

    Sanket is a graduate from the Raheja School of Art in Bombay, and works as a commercial photographer specialising in Fashion, Products, People and Portraits, Fine Art and Weddings. Sanket fell in love with photography at the age of 12, spent his youth in the pursuit of mastering it, and believes it is a never ending learning process for him. Sanket has won several international words including the Sony World photography Award, London; Indiaafrica - A Shared Future Photography Competition, Red Frames - Shoot my City, Bangalore, Mumbai Metro - Metrosights, Vista photography Competition, Canon PhotoMarathon - On the Spot Photography Contest and his work has also been published in magazines like Better Photography, CreativeGaga and Smart Photography.

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