Pattamadai Pai: GI Tagged Beautiful Handwoven Mats from a Tiny Tamil Nadu Village - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Pattamadai Pai: GI Tagged Beautiful Handwoven Mats from a Tiny Tamil Nadu Village

Elderly woman making silk mat by traditional hand machine at Pattamadai

This heritage item of India was once gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by the Government of Tamil Nadu. In 2013, it received the geographical indication (GI) tag. It is an art form that is centuries old and that is unique to this region. I am talking about the absolutely gorgeous pattu pai (silk mat) and the korai pai (grass mat) from the village of Pattamadai in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu state in India. It is fondly called as ‘Pattamadai Pai’ by the locals.

A stunning 100 count pattu pai (silk mat) from Pattamadai, Tamil Nadu

Made from korai grass found abundantly on the banks of the Thamarabharani river of this region, the Pattamadai Pai started when Syed Khalifa Meeran, a preacher who belonged to the Lebbai community, settled in Pattamadai many centuries ago. Today, this Pattamadai pai, is so famous that it is seen in almost all weddings and engagements that take place in this region. Either, the wedding rituals take place on these mats or they are gifted to the bride and the groom on the wedding day. I have such a pattu pai with the names of my parents from their wedding day 42 years ago and it still exists in pristine condition and it is an absolute joy to sleep on it.

The natural colouring ingredients  for the traditional Pattamadai Pai

The Lebbai community started this art form to provide themselves with a supplementary source of income. They involved everyone in the household. While the men did the outdoor work, the women were in charge of the weaving. Even today, it is the elderly women of this Muslim trading community who weave the high quality silk mats or pattu pai. Unfortunately, there are only a few weavers who are keeping the tradition of weaving high thread count mats alive. Today, a lot of weaving takes place through power looms and the ones that are made via handlooms are lower thread counts.

The famous korai grass from the banks of the Thamirabharani river that goes into making the Pattamadai pai

The journey of the Pattamadai Pai begins with the harvest of the karungadukorai grass from the banks of the Thamarabharani river in the months of September and October and February and March. This korai grass then goes through processes like drying, soaking, splitting and dyeing. The grass is then further dried under the sun and polished with a stone for a smooth finish. Both natural and chemical colours are used to dye the grass.

Inside the workshop of a pattamadai mat weaving center

Once you soak the grass, you can actually split it into different threads. This is what allows the weave of the high quality silk mats. These mats are soft to the touch and can easily be folded and hence demand a premium. Unfortunately, this art form is limited to a few people, especially elderly women. Hence, not only are these mats really expensive, but they also take more than three months to weave the high quality 100 thread count mat.

A beautiful design of a 52 count pattu pai (silk mat) from Pattamadai

I waited for close to a year for these 100 thread count custom silk mats, but unfortunately could never see the final output. That is the sorry state of affairs with our GI tagged heritage products. But, luckily, I received the 52 count intricate design custom silk mats within 6 months of placing the order. You just have to hope and pray that there are no unforeseen rains during that time else the weaving process is bound to take a few more weeks.

Mats of all colurs, designs and types at Pattamadai

If you don’t mind for any custom mats with your name mentioned on it, then you can find a whole lot of ready made options and you might be able to strike a bargain too. Apparently, the demand is for mats with names and dates stitched onto it. People prefer these for weddings and events and hence they cost a premium both in terms of money and time.

Modern power looms that make cheaper pattamadai pai

If you like rich Indian heritage and culture and you like rural holidays, you will definitely fall in love with Pattamadai and its silk mats. Ideally, you should start off with the government weaving center, get to know how they procure the raw materials and prepare it for weaving, see the handloom and power loom weaving take place up close and then move on to the many shops in the village. The icing on the cake would be to take back home some GI tagged Pattamadai Pai gifts for yourself and your family and friends.

A traditional Pattamadai pattu pai weaving in action

Typical price of products:

1) 100 thread count handwoven pattamadai silk mat (pattu pai) (standard size is 6 feet length and 2.5 feet width): ~ INR 8000 with extra for extra length and INR 300 per line of name

2) 52 thread count handwoven pattamadai silk mat (pattu pai) (standard size is 6 feet length and 3 feet width) with intricate designs: ~ INR 3300 with extra for extra length and INR 200 per line of name

3) 52 thread count handwoven pattamadai silk mat with simple designs: ~ INR 1800 with extra for extra length and INR 200 per line of name

4) Powerloom based simple pattamadai pai: INR 180 to INR 1500, depending on quality and design

5) Handwoven silk pooja mat: INR 750 per piece

6) Bags, purses, storage boxes and/or hand fans: INR 50 to 200 depending on product and design

Inside a Pattamadai pai shop and looking at the mats

Health benefits of Pattamadai Pai:

1) Unlike a modern day mattress or plastic mats, the korai grass of the pattamadai pai is believed to cool down the body and hence reduces all kinds of inflammation in the body. One can either keep the mat directly on the floor or on top of a bed for full benefits.

2) Since the pattamadai pai is made of natural fabrics, it is believed that one gets good sleep on it. It is considered to be very good for toddlers and young kids.

Mats of all shapes and sizes at Pattamadai

Where to buy authentic pattamadai pai?:

1) Raziya Mat Industries – Suleiman: +91 98433 86435. They have two different shops in Pattamadai. One is inside the village and the other is on the highway from Pattamadai to Tirunelveli.

2) Aspeer Mohammad - +91 94435 07392. This shop is right at the corner where the highway meets the village road.

Gift items and daily use items made from Pattamadai pai

Items that can be bought here:

1) Pattu pai or silk mats with or without names and dates engraved onto it.

2) Regular pattamadai pai for day to day rough use

3) Pooja mats and placemats

4) Hand bags and Purses

5) Baskets and storage boxes

6) Hand fans

Daily use items made from Pattamadai pai

Best season to visit:

Pattamadai’s best season has to be between the months of October through February. April through June happen to be the hottest months and are best avoided. However, if you wish to custom order any pattamadai mats, then do keep in mind that work on handwoven mats take place only during the dry season. The moisture in the air during the wet season makes the grass strands stick together and make weaving difficult and a painstaking process.

Inside a pattamadai pai weaving center

How to reach there:

The nearest railway station and bus station would be Tirunelveli, about 22 kms away.

The nearest airport would be Tuticorin, about 60 kms away.

Pattamadai is well connected by a good road network. Buses ply regularly between Tirunelveli and Pattamadai. One can also easily find taxis for hire at Tirunelveli. Hiring a taxi/cab is best if you wish for some comfort and plan to explore other tourist attractions in this region.

Women giving the finishing touches to the Pattamadai pai

Where to stay:

If you prefer creature comforts, I would recommend trying the hotels at Tirunelveli – GRT Regency, Janakiram, Aryaas.

If you wish to stay in slightly cooler weather, you should try the resorts in and around Courtrallam.

If you wish to stay in pristine nature, I would recommend that you stay at the forest rest houses in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

If you care for a true rustic experience, I would recommend that you stay at any of the homestays or guest houses in Kallidaikurichi village agraharam.

The modern pattamadai pai making power loom

Where to eat:

One can easily find basic food to eat at Pattamadai, but if you want something more elaborate, head to the nearby city of Tirunelveli for lots of options. Hotel Janakiram and Hotel Aryaas are two popular options for snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

An elderly woman weaving the traditional Pattamadai pattu pai

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Kallidaikurichi: The village of the Saaral season

2) Iruttu Kadai Halwa: Icon of Tirunelveli

3) Nellaiappar temple: A 7th century cosmic dance wonder

4) Thamarabharani river delta: A motorcycle route full of rustic gorgeousness

5) Karaiyar dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep south

6) The hidden gem called Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger reserve

7) 1000 year old Papanasanathar temple: Where you can wash all your sins away

8) Courtrallam: The herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu

9) Tiruchendur Murugan temple: Sea shore magic

10) Mannarkoil Rajagopalaswamy temple: Magnificent 10th century temple with an ashtanga vimana

11) 10th century Kailasanathar temple at Brahmadesam

12) 10th century Valiswara temple at Thiruvaleeswaram

13) Sivasailam: One of the wettest places during the north east monsoon in India

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