Kasavu attires are almost always associated with Kerala traditions. You must be thinking – “I know that!” But have you thought about why Kasavu is so important to us? What is the reason behind its colour, texture and more? Here’s a look at the Kasavu Kathakal of Kerala, and how it has influenced fashion and tradition in our state.
Golden Idea – Origin
For those who did not know, Kasavu refers to the golden Zari work that is present on the borders of the saree. And that is the major reason behind calling it a Kasavu Mundu. In Kerala, the traditional clothes worn are Mundu, Set-Mundu and Set-Saree, which fall under the Kaithari (Handloom) genre.
There is an interesting story behind the origin of Kasavu clothes. In the ancient days, women of the rich clans accumulated immense amounts of gold. This was due to the barter system that existed back in the day. In exchange for spices, the merchants demanded gold. So, they tried to intertwine it in the weaves of the clothes they wore.
At first, only the elite clan of Kerala could be seen wearing such attire. Whereas, normal people wore a colour-dyed version instead of the gold-zari embedded clothes.
Why White – Some Witty Reasons
There are many answers to this question. The basic design of the Kasavu saree comes from the age-old belief that patterns and prints weren’t considered “decent”. Haven’t you noticed how printed Mundu is prohibited in holy places?
Legend has it that Malayalis preferred to wear neutral outfits since it was well-suited to Kerala’s climate and ladscape. The hot climate of Kerala made people prefer cotton-white clothes, which is known to help fight the heat. It is often said that people chose attires based on the geographical ambience of a place. A perfect example would be that of Rajasthanis who choose to wear colourful and lively clothes in barren desserts.
Another interesting reason behind the white colour of Kasavu is the rain. Kerala has more rain compared to other regions. As such, dyeing clothes and drying them was a challenge.
The third reason, assumed to be true by many, is that Keralites have an affinity towards golden accessories. As such, the clothes they wore were minimal in style. Also, if you haven’t noticed it yet, the white colour blends with the golden colour quite well.
Like the above, there are many reasons that could have made this classic attire one of our favourites.
Kasavu Kathakal of Kerala: Historical Transformation
In the beginning, many in Kerala wore a Mundu (dhoti) irrespective of their gender. There was one piece of garment to cover their lower body. And if you are quite aware of our history, you might remember the Channar revolt (Maaru Marakkal Samaram). It was a massive movement by the Nadar climber women in the Travancore kingdom of India who fought for the right to wear upper-body clothes to cover their breasts.
This revolutionary revolt gave people the opportunity to use another piece of garment to cover their upper bodies. And that is how the concept of Set-Mundu came into existence (Two-piece set). For women, it got transformed into stitched blouses. Then the Set-Mundu got upgraded to Set-Saree.
His Highness Maharaja Balaramavarma and his Chief Minister Ummini Thampi are the major pillars who established handlooms in Kerala.
The Chief Minister welcomed the weavers from the Nagercoil province of Tamil Nadu. They were the Shaaliyars who made an industry out of Kerala’s cotton market. In fact, they hand made woven garments for the royal families of Travancore. Soon the weavers and the handwoven sarees and Mundus became popular, and a common sight in Kerala. The Dutch and the Portuguese exported them too.
Soon the handloom industry spread to Chendamangalam in Ernakulam district and Koothampalli in Thrissur district.
Kasavu Kathakal of Kerala: Simple, Minimal and Fashion
The highlight of the traditional Kasavu attire is its minimal design, lightweight cotton texture and simplistic elegance. Depending upon the occasion, there is a difference in the garment. For example, if you are planning to wear this for an auspicious occasion, then choose a 2-inch gold border. If you are wearing Kaithari to a funeral, then the border should be a half-inch coloured border.
With Kerala’s fashion landscape evolving, a lot of Kasavu attire variants are gaining attention. There are countless motifs, prints and patterns on traditional Kasavu you’ll see today.
There are three clusters in Kerala that produce this traditional attire – Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully – that have a Geographical Sign (GI) tag. It takes days of effort to create a single piece of attire. That is why they cost more. Each of the golden threads used to weave speak of Kerala’s heritage and traditions.
Also Read: The Rise of Minimal Brides in Kerala
This was all that we could think of while looking back at Kasavu Kathakal of Kerala. Would you like to add some? Let us know in the comments below!