Present Scenario of Kerala Kasavu Saree and Mundu

Present Scenario of Kerala Kasavu Saree and Mundu

R.S. Balakumar
Associate Professor
Dept of Fashion Design & Arts
Hindustan University, Chennai, India


Kasavu is a hand-woven cream colored saree with gold border. Usually, worn by Kerala (Malayalee) women of all the age groups and this sarees are their custom and traditional based. From the land of ‘God’s own country’, Kerala’s Kasavu materializes as one of the premium traditional saris which describe the spirit of the attractiveness of every woman in Kerala.

Kasavu is the handloom designed material which heightens its fascination through the integral borders soaked in the color of pure gold. This fabric sari is considered to be the most auspicious clothing for women in Kerela, especially during their new year, (vishu) as per the Hindu calendar. Kasavu refers Mundum Neriyathum (Nereyathum). Pure Kerala Kasavu Cotton Saree in Off White.

Origin and History of Kerala Kasavu Saree
Kerala Kasavu which was formerly known as ‘Mundum Neryathum’, traces itself way back to the Buddhist era. Slowly and progressively this indigenous fabric spread out its spirit to the southern parts of India and developed richly noticeable in Kerala. However, the style of the fabric also finds its inventive spirit from the Graeco-Roman culture which was known as ‘Palmyrene’.

This attire was gradually reflected as a long piece of fabric which influenced a colored gold border that was exhibited as a long garment and pinned onto to the left side of the shoulder part of the woman. However, this costume till the 1970s was not worn as a typical sari, as the pallu was not considered as something that had to be draped as an upper garment. Nowadays gold zari mostly attracted by all other states of Indian women likely to be more fascinated to buy and customarily used. Most of the Foreigners visiting Kerala as the tourist place eagerly bought and interestingly used to wear as their attire and also purchased more number of sarees to present them to their friends and relatives in their country. Due to this reason more income received by the saris sellers of Kerala.

Present Day Scenario
Golden borders have now been changed with different kinds and color of zaris and the work and designs which represent the traditional culture, are now crafted in recent years to attract more number of visitors and tourists.

Kerala Kasavu Fabric
Kerala kasavu saree is improving the look and appeal of the sari. Regular Kasavu blouses have now covered the way for designer blouses, which are more in attractiveness with today’s generation and contemporary fashionable tastes and trends.

The upper clothing of the mundu is no longer traditionally tucked inside the Kasavu blouses, since now as per the recent trends these pallu go over the left shoulder which gives the whole attire a cultured and sophisticated appearance.

Sources of Encouragement
The golden and cream threadwork crafted on this ethnic fabric are fundamentally set giving the attire a traditional appeal. The borders which are set on the pallu or on the body of the sari look like a movie reel as the borders are designed in a Kerala kasavu saree style with the use of different colored threads, embossing ethnic and religious motifs in multi-colored threadwork.

Faces Behind Hand the Fabric
This artwork presented on the sari signified and well-defined the personality and the cultural aspect of women who had their cultural roots deep in the earth of Kerala. The innovative principle of this fabric felt a perceptible attendance portrayed through the remarkable sketches of Painter Raja Ravi Verma. The design of this fabric also found its attractiveness in the mythological epics like Mahabharata which portrayed Shakuntala in many Kerala Kasavu attires.

Kerala kasavu cotton saree
Fig: Kerala kasavu cotton saree

A few Varieties
The basic attire of Kerala Kasavu is basically characterized into two pieces of garments; one is the ‘kara’ which represents the colored bit of a design that is embossed in the border and the second which is the ‘Mundu’ that defines the lower portion of the garment (Dhoti). The dress also comprises of the upper garment which is known as the ‘Neriyathu’.

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In the recent years, Kasavu embroidery (surface ornamentation) has gone elsewhere saris by imprinting themselves onto younger generation garments like salwar kameez, Churidar with Kurta, Patiala salwar, Anarkali suit, Katori style sari blouse, Princess cut sari blouse, Pyjama-suit trendy ‘Onakodi’ attire, which is a blend of modern and traditional look, skirts, kurtis and several dress varieties.

Traditional kasavu borders have also been artistically exchanged by Diamonds and check shaped motifs and designs. Golden borders have additional extra colors like Green and Red in them, thus ornamental enhancement the superb appearance and expressions even more.

Wearing Kasavu
‘Onam’, a festival that is commonly famous and notable in Kerala eyewitnesses the gorgeousness of Kasavu embroidered outfits among the young and the older women specifically while contributing in their folk dances. Now, with the present patterns and designs in these attires, it can be treated as a celebratory costume as well as an everyday outfit suiting ever circumstances and period throughout the year. Traditional Copper jewelry and even pure Gold jewelry with a reddish tinge go well with this fabric.

For the first few washes constantly call for the dry cleaning methods, after which hand washes with gentle detergents can retain the magnificence of these garments.

Fascinating Facts and Comparisons
Chiffon and Georgette sarees played competitors to the Kerala kasavu saree. Sonam Kapoor in the film ‘Aisha’ wore a Kasavu sari. Mohini Attam, the traditional dance of Kerala is incomplete without the Kasavu look.

In a country full of innumerable patterns and bold colors, Kerala’s traditional kasavu saree stands out for its sophistication and visual limitations. But underneath its simple appearance lies a cultural legacy and unique aesthetic. Worn by the Malayali community to temples, wedding and funerals alike, today, this age-old woven craft is in need of a design involvement.

The term kasavu actually refers to the zari used in the border of the Kerala sari and not the sari itself. It is the name of a substantial used in the manufacturing process. Thus, when kasavu becomes a part of the mundu (dhoti), it’s called a kasavu mundu. In Kerala, traditional outfit like saris, mundus (which are sarongs worn by men) and sets of mundus (a two-piece sarong sari) are generally called kaithari, translating to handloom. And the individuality of the sari commonly comes from the cluster they are associated with.

Kerala mundu
Fig: Kerala mundu

Kerala has three clusters that have been given a Geographical Indication (GI) tag by the Indian government, and all of them make what are commonly known as kasavu saris, as well as the white Kerala saris that swap the kasavu border with a colored repetition (called kara).

These three famous clusters are as mentioned here under:

  1. Balaramapuram,
  2. Chendamangalam and
  3. Kuthampully.

They are briefly described below:

  1. The Balaramapuram cluster is based near Trivandrum and the artisans here are from the Shaliar clan. They were originally from Tamil Nadu and were brought down to Kerala by the Travancore royal family. Balaramapuram is famous for its use of pure zari (silver thread plated in gold), and very fine thread counts like 120s.
  2. The second cluster called Chendamangalam is famous for saris and mundus that are normally woven using half-fine zari and 80s-100s thread counts, but without too many motifs.
  3. They had the benefaction of an upper-class family called Paliam. Finally, the Kuthampully cluster also makes white saris with zari, but includes patterned and jacquard borders sophisticated motifs.

The artisan community here is called Devanga, and they were brought down by the king of Kochi.

The yarn must have been hand-spun customarily, but these days they use mill-made yarn (hand-spun is both expensive and challenging to mass produce). They put this yarn through a long pre-weaving process, and especially at Chendamangalam, due to this process that got them the GI tag.

Once they get the yarn, it is soaked in water for seven or eight days, and stamped on every day (the artisans do this with their feet) while it’s soaking, to get the dirt and starch out and make sure it is totally soft.

The yarn is taken out after a week, and part of it is dyed (if required). Then, they make the warp and stretch the yarn. But agreeing to tradition, this stretching has to be done between four and seven in the morning—mild hotness and atmosphere during those hours was considered suitable for this process. Technically, the yarn has to be stretched in an open area, but these days it’s difficult to find that gentle of space.

Before the warp is put on the loom, the artisans re-starch it in the morning and permit it to dry. Then they starch it once more and brush with a comb made out of coconut fiber. It is dried until sunrise and then put on the loom. This stretched yarn is clean and absorbent, and the starch is added so it doesn’t break on the loom. Elsewhere this, there is really no post weaving process. They just take it off the loom and put it on the shelf.

The Kerala sari and mundus are very minimalistic because they’re mostly white with a plain weave on the body. The only design component these garments have is the border, which is the selvedge. It has a rib weave to enhance a more solid look to the gold or color.

Patterning is insignificant and happens sometimes with weft inlay or using jacquards. But, it is this very simplicity that makes Kerala saris and handlooms so superior. They have an extremely minimal approach to design.

The difference between normal wearing sari (a sari with a two-inch gold border) wedding saris are bordered with 5” to 6”. But during attending a funeral normally this sari with a half-inch colored border is simply preferred.. Basically, gold zari border attached it becomes a luxury product and the price value is also to be increased.

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