The threads of the Todas

The name Nilgiri Hills paints a green picture of the vast tea plantations under blue skies.

Published: 01st November 2022 02:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2022 03:27 PM   |  A+A-

Todas and their craft

Todas and their craft

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  The name Nilgiri Hills paints a green picture of the vast tea plantations under blue skies. When Logashini, a History graduate from MCC and museum management intern at DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum took us here, virtually, it was not the usual imagery, instead, a deep dive into the Toda community and their Pukhoor embroidery.

Library Talks, the monthly virtual discussion conducted on Saturday by DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum, educated the viewers on the indigenous red and black thread works, usually done on white cloth. 

Into the indigenous crafts

Introducing the Todas and their craft, Logashini said, “Todas are the indigenous tribal people of Nilgiri hills who speak the language Toda, a mixture of all the Dravidian languages. Both women and men wore long flowing shawls with embroidery, which is wrapped around their shoulders and worn with a white waist cloth. The distinct style of embroidery is locally called ‘Pugur’, ‘Pukhoor’ which means flower in the Toda language.” 

The art is done on matted and loosely woven cotton fabric with twigs from the shola plant as needles. They specifically choose thick woollen threads of red, black, and rarely blue as the thickness of the thread ensures that the pattern is finished with a raised look.

“The basic technique involves counting the threads of the coarsely woven base cloth. Darning stitch is solely used in this embroidery. No embroidery frame is used here, instead, they employ their fingers to stretch the base cloth, and hence, they are able to clearly see, count, and pick up threads. The embroidery follows the warp and weft thread of the coarsely woven base cloth and the designs are emerged by the counting of threads. Therefore, they are geometrical and appear very similar to woven patterns,” she said.

The motifs and meanings

Worn on marriages, deaths and festivals, the designs and motifs embroidered are all related to prosperity, fertility, and security.

Logashini continued to explain the designs, “The motifs included zigzag lines showing rabbit ears, Booth Pukhoor, Kinask Pukhoor (heart-shaped designs), Esh Pukhoor (arrow-shaped designs), Poth Pukhoor (diamond-shaped designs), Keb Pukhoor (triangle-shaped designs), Mad Pukhoor, peacock feather, Buffalo horn pattern, lamp, mountain and honeycomb. The designs are inspired by nature from birds, feathers, animals, wildflowers, and the sun, moon and stars which play an important part in determining the time for the elaborate rituals of the Todas.”

Highlighting that today’s tourism has fortuitously revived the craft, enabling women to make a modest living, Logashini concluded, “The Toda embroidery has been given GI certification. The recognition came after five years of effort by Toda Nalavaazhvu Sangham in 2013, no changes or modifications in the design have been allowed.”


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