Traditional craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage, states the UNESCO. This is precisely what Visalakshi Ramaswamy has been doing with the rural crafts of Chettinad since 2000 through M.Rm.Rm. Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organisation. The NGO works on the revival of crafts, textiles and architecture that are fast disappearing in the Chettinad region.
The list includes Chettinad kottan (the traditional palm leaf basket), handmade tiles from the village of Athangudi, the Kandanghi sari in cotton and silk, the Chettinad lime-egg plaster and plastic tape, and knotted wire baskets and totes.
To cater to the urban market, the foundation opened its craft store Manjal in Chennai in 2008. Their product line offers sling bags, file holders, tissue boxes, jewellery boxes, files, baskets, pouches, planters, trays, iPad sleeves, winnowing trays, hand fans and so on. Over time, the colourful end eco-friendly kottan caught the attention of plenty. But fate had other plans.
Just when the foundation turned 20, things went for a toss. “Following the lockdown, orders and sales came to a complete standstill. Transportation was a challenge, too,” she says. This prompted Ramaswamy to look for other avenues for her NGO, which stresses Research, Document and Revive as its objective. The team has actively started embracing technology to reach out to a larger clientele.
They recently launched Manjal’s online store. “Orders are now placed and processed via mobile phones and all the women are connected to us virtually. We’ve also encouraged them to get vaccinated,” she says, adding, “We are trying to reinvent ourselves to sustain.”
Employing over 125 women, the foundation has revived the craft of palmyra basketry, which was once woven by the aachis of the Chettiar community. Thanks to the relentless dedication of Ramaswamy and her team, women from Keelayapatti village in Chettinad, Sivagangai district, besides Siravayal Pudur, Nachiapuram, Vairavanpatti, Koratti and Periyakoil have something to be empowered with.
At a Glance
The foundation received the UNESCO Seal of Excellence Award. The Chettinad Kottan received the GI tag in 2013.
Visit: mrmrmculturalfoundation.com; Instagram: @manjalshop; For orders, contact: 6374627663