A reflection on braiding - the heart of a south indian grandmother's love

A reflection on braiding - the heart of a south indian grandmother's love

Words by Padma Murughappun
Madras, India

My grandmother had small, warm hands with nimble fingers that mended my clothes with colored threads and my heart with soulful food. I was probably 5 years old when I started noticing the rhythm in her braiding my hair. I was mesmerized by her ability to perform this task so effortlessly and with such precision.

Doing my hair every day was probably her favourite activity. It was done twice a day, the braiding, in absolute silence. It was an unspoken agreement that I would bring the hair tie and she would choose the comb depending on the daily texture of my hair. She would comb out all the hairs from my forehead to the top of my head and hold them in her hands. And then began the fascinating technique of making my hair look strong and luscious.

Somehow the braiding exercise was always done outdoors - on the staircase to the terrace, the balcony or the steps leading to the backyard garden. This sacred ritual was always set up outdoors because my grandmother believed only the sun to be the perfect lighting equipment.

I couldn’t shake this memory out of my head as I was observing the braiding of the pinnal koodai at the workshop for basketry in Southern Tamil Nadu. It went right over middle over left and so on in a lulling rhythm.

These brightly colored baskets are the result of an age-old practice of weaving baskets much like a grandmother braiding her granddaughter’s hair - by hand and with a lot of love. The Koodai Pinnuthal industry originated from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in Karaikudi and has been in practice for over a century. The activity was practiced by affluent Chettiar women who took much pride in its conception and making. The brightly coloured baskets were a showcase of opulence and riches as they were used for religious rituals and wedding ceremonies alike.

The baskets are made from palm leaves collected only during certain times of the year, dried to perfection, dyed with colours bought from travels to Europe and South East Asia & paraded to show the prowess of culture.

Today, the Kottans (palm leaf baskets) have become an object of aesthetic pleasure, while highly functional as storage bins and help transform houses into homes.

Scroll through the images adjacent to understand how the Kottan baskets from Papreeka Sandhai can be styled in your homes. Their bright colours instantly light up a place. They also make for wonderful festive decorations and party favours.

Shop these handy handwoven baskets straight from Chettinad on the Papreeka website!

Back to blog