CHENNAI: Draped in black and white checks, Chennai has been in a flurry of chess mania in celebration of the FIDE Chess Olympiad 2022. As people rejoice and revisit the sport, social media has been inundated with chess-themed creations, amid which was Sthree Creatives’ display of a checkered sari.
Monochromatic checks on the orange kanjeevaram may have seemed to be specially designed for the occasion, but the owner of the brand reminds us that these checks are hardly a novelty to Madras.
“I saw Prime Minister Modi’s chessboard veshti look and thought ‘we also have this.’ So we began posting monochromatic looks (on our profile). However, this is not new to our clothing at all. In fact, this sari showcased what British art historian EB Havell called High Court Papli checks as it resembled the flooring of Madras High Court,” explains Sreemathy Mohan. She adds that like how a lot of textile design borrows inspiration from architecture — like temple architecture — perhaps, this was also inspired by the construction.
Apart from the High Court Papli checks, we have many more chequered patterns that have been a part of Madras’ legacy, including Palum Pazhamum checks, Kasa Kasa Kattam checks, Lungi checks and of course, the popular Madras checks. “Apart from Madras, if you see Orissa vichitrapuri ikkat, you’ll find that it looks exactly like a chessboard. Generally, the colours of all these patterns are not always white and black, but there is a good market for the colour combination in corporate settings,” she adds.
In fact, in her blog ‘Indian Saree Journal’ in 2018, she highlighted the popularity of black and white checks on saris in yesteryear Tamil cinema and the significance of the colours in our culture — black is considered to ward off the evil eye and white symbolising purity. While the city may only be celebrating the chequered monochromatic trend for the chess of late, the pattern actually has a much deeper connection to our textile and culture than we might have thought.