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  Art is found in every nook and corner of India.  From the mountains to the plains; from the valleys to the plateaus even on small islands that surround the subcontinent.  Art is found in the sculpture, music, literature, paintings and dances. Art is also found in textiles –  in Weaving and Embroidery.  Toda Embroidery, an Indian tribal art is famous all over the world for its exquisite geometric patterns.

In ancient times Indian kings and emperors wore cloaks decorated with embroidery as a status and power symbol. The motifs were of nature.  The embroidery techniques and brought name and fame to our country. Some examples are Chinkari, Kantha, Phulkari, Aari and patchwork. Toda Embroidery is one such technique made by Women Toda tribals.  Various NGOs are making great efforts to bring this art into the mainstream.

Who are the Todas

Also called Tudas or Toadar, Todas are Primitive tribal groups who live in the Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu, India.  Their name is derived from the word Tud, which is their sacred tree.

Todas are a pastoral community dependent on their buffaloes for livelihood.  Their economy is based on dairy products which they sell in the Nilgiri villages.   Toda lands are designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

The Todas pray to nature and are peace-loving people.  They live in Toda munds which are constructed in an oval shape.  They also practice a special type of embroidery called Pukhoor which we commonly know as Toda Embroidery. Toda Embroidery is practiced only by the women of Toda tribe.  It is passed down from generation to generation.

The materials used in Embroidery

The embroidery has a fine finish.  It is made on a coarse white cotton cloth using two color threads black and white. The word for embroidery in Toda terminology is Kuty which means stitching.  The colors of these threads symbolize social values of Todas.  White indicates purity.  Red depicts youth, while black is a symbol of maturity.

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How are geometric patterns achieved?

Darning needle is used for the job.  Embroidery on the cloth is done without even using any frame.  There are no set patterns, designs or drawings.The wrap and welf are counted to develop a uniform pattern.  The reverse stitch method is employed for the process.  So, one can wear this fabric inside out as well.

The remarkable fact is that Toda women have no knowledge of numbers.  It is amazing how they are able to achieve geometric precision without any external aids.  Also, Toda girls start learning the art at age 5.  By ten years, they are masters at it.  These girls are even able to create their own patterns by the time they turn 15.

The main motifs for the embroidery patterns are nature and daily life routines.  Sun, moon, reptiles, buffalo horns and floral motifs are some regular motifs  Tuda women embroider on the exquisite cloaks. The borders of the fabric have rabbit ear designs.  Black triangles in box is another frequent design which is made to honor the Toda head priest.

Toda cultural Heritage

Toda embroidery is part of the Toda’s proud cultural heritage.  Both men and women wear shawls and cloak embroidered with this technique.  The cloak on which the embroidery is done is called Pootkhulzh. The embroidery itself is a tribute to Nature that nourishes the Toda people.

While the regular dress of Todas is colorful, these embroidered cloaks and fabrics are used during festivals, ceremonies, and funerals.  Senior members wrap themselves in this fabric almost every day. As a mark of respect, the dead body is wrapped with a fabric of Toda Embroidery and buried.

Toda Embroidery is Geographically tagged product

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This handmade product has been listed as a Geographically tagged product.  It is protected by Government of India under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection)Act (GI Act) 1999. The title registered by Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks is “Toda Embroidery. Toda leaders received the GI registration certificate in June 2013.  The efforts to get this certificate was made by the Nalavazhvu Sangam, Keystone foundation and Poompuhar since the year 2008.

Where can you buy Toda Products

Many NGOs and the government have taken upon themselves to promote this form of embroidery to the mainstream.  Though, fabrics with Toda Embroidery is popular in countries like Germany and US, in India people find them expensive.

To counter this, a novel idea of incorporating this embroidery in small products like mobile pouches, pillows covers, shawls, home linen, shopping bags and key chains was developed.   All these products are easily available, online.

We are  losing various traditions and values to modern life.  Beautiful art forms are being lost on a continuous basis. You can do your might to help keep the tradition alive by doing your might in promoting or buying such beautiful products. 

Featured Photo by lkonstanski


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