Madurai is one of the most ancient cities in India, located in the south of the country in the state of Tamil Nadu. It has a long history stretching back thousands of years and at several points, it was the capital of flourishing south Indian kingdoms and the seat of grand dynasties. It has a rich and varied culture and is known, till today, for its beautiful, ancient temples and thriving textile industries that produce some of the prettiest fabrics in India. One of its greatest imports that have today become popular across India and the world are the Madurai sarees, which come in a lot of different varieties in terms of fabrics and designs.
Both silk and cotton are used to create gorgeous Madurai sarees but the most traditional and commonly found fabric in Madurai is cotton. The saree weavers and wearers prefer it because of its property of being absorbent, breezy and light-weight. It is a great fabric for the hot and humid south Indian weather. Traditionally, Madurai cotton sarees would come with silk borders but nowadays other fabrics with silken appearances such as polyester are also used. There are two main types of Madurai cotton sarees. The first is the Chungidi saree which is synonymous with Madurai sarees; these are the most popular types of sarees in this region as they are comfortable, versatile and extremely adaptable. Typically, tie and dye methods are used to create bright and vivid patterns on the saree; traditionally only certain colors such as red, black, blue and purple were used. The border of the saree (as well as the pallu colors, at times) is in contrast to the main body of the sari which gives it a dual tone effect. Typically, printing is combined with tie and dye methods to create beautiful designs on these Madurai cotton sarees. Geometric prints called Kolam and Rangoli are the classic designs used to decorate these sarees.
Madurai sungudi sarees are the other, popular type of Madurai cotton saree, distinguished by the use of block printing. Block printing is a traditional method of decorating a fabric used in rural areas of the country, in which carved blocks of wood are dipped into different colors and pressed on the cloth to create a motif design or a continuous pattern. Madurai sungudi sarees are made of fine cotton threads which beautifully show up the delicate, colorful block printed designs that decorate the entire saree. They are known for their bright and vibrant appearance and colors such as yellow, green, red and blue are frequently displayed on such saris.
Besides these thin and light weight cotton sarees, one can also find a lot of gorgeous and beautiful Madurai silk sarees. The traditional weavers of Madurai have taken to using silk as well as cotton when weaving their beautiful products, in order to cater to the tastes of modern customers. Madurai silk is woven in the same traditional manner as the cotton fabrics from this region, which gives it a fine appearance and light weight feel. A Madurai silk saree sports traditional design variations created in the same way as the designs on the cotton sarees. These include block printed floral patterns, geometric rangoli patterns and large, shimmering borders, as well as temple inspired depictions of nature and divine beings.
One can also find more ornate and elaborately decorated Madurai silks with gold borders, gold thread designs and intricately embroidered pallus, which are typically worn by women for special occasions such as weddings, ceremonies and festivals. The shimmering look of these sarees, combined with their elegant drape and intricate designs, makes them a hit across India. Madurai silk sarees are considered a very distinctive type of saree as they combine the vibrant, ethnic beauty of block printing and tie and dye with the sheen and glory of silk. Today, they are highly coveted even in urban centers, much loved for their aesthetically appealing appearance and vibrant use of colors.
Trends and Styling Madurai Sarees
In recent years, ethnic fashion has seen a major spike in interest regarding regional crafts and ancient textiles and Madurai sarees have benefited from that. They are considered quite trendy and some Bollywood actresses have even been seen wearing them. Madurai cotton sarees are particularly in demand for daily and office wear amongst working women who love the comfort and versatility.
Styling these sarees is quite simple and would depend a lot on the fabric and designs used. Typically, Madurai cotton sarees are worn in a unique style of draping called the ‘fisherwoman’ style though women today largely prefer to go with the ubiquitous nivi style. They should be paired with well-fitting blouses in complementary colors. Madurai silk sarees can be paired with simple gold jewelry to match with the distinctive shimmer of these sarees, while the vibrant, cotton ones can be paired with beaded jewelry, silver pendants and tribal necklaces.