Ettana - The Looms of Kanchi (Part 1)

When talking about Ettana and the handlooms in Kanchi, we wanted to show the world the rich cultural aspect of typical South Indian heritage with a modern flare of various weaving styles mixed with colours one would have never seen or heard of....

Through this board game.... Ettana – The Looms of Kanchi, one would explore how the weavers (players) strategize their actions with colours and patterns, with their quick thinking in order to complete the assigned designs and be the first to make “8 Annas”, - Ettana, colloquially pronounced. It is a multiplayer game that challenges you to create a unique patterns, deploying winning tactics and defeating the opponents’ designs and plans. The goal of the game is make 8 annas – i.e., victory points.

Anna (or ānna) was a currency formerly used in India. One rupee was divided into 16 annas. Then Anna was demonetised as a currency when India decimalised its value in 1957. Ettana means eight annas or 50 paise which is also no longer in use since over a decade.

When you think of looms of Kanchi, think of korvai and petni and how it binds generations of cultural evolution that is tightly woven in tradition. This game involves designs with these ‘birthmarks’ – a unique traditional technique, which are so deep-rooted in the looms of Kanchi culture. Kanchipuram is a veritable text book of South Indian art history. The great dynasties of the Pallavas, Cholas, Vijayanagar and Nayak kings left their majestic imprints on temple architecture and sculptures. The richness and intrinsic beauty of these motifs have a timeless appeal in temple and textile traditions, and remain steadfast in their appeal, and constant in their representation.

When we talk about the handlooms in Kanchi, it reminds us of Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder lamenting.... 'The cloth of India is draining away the gold of Rome.’ It could be an aphorism but it is very clear that cloth was a major item of export from Kanchipuram, the southern town of India

Kanchipuram is a town situated south of Chennai, India. It flourished during the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Being one of India's seven sacred cities, it was the historical capital of Pallava and Chola dynasties. It is also known as ‘City of Silks’ as the main profession of the people living in and around the city is still weaving silk sarees. The silk weavers settled here for more than 400 years. Kanchi Looms known for silk over several centuries has a sense of timelessness and unchanging antiquity. Kanchi is world renowned for the gorgeous handwoven sarees of myriad rich colours, famed for their luster, finishing and their matchless beauty. Silk is a symbol of luxury and class which no other fabric can match in glow and elegance. The touch of silk reminds the very thread of history, a shimmering fabric of unparallel grandeur.

There are inscriptions of Uttama Chola [the Chola king who ruled between 970–985 CE] from 10th Century with references to weavers being part of governance of the locality. Around the 13th century when the reign of the great Cholas ended, Kanchipuram came under the rule of the Vijayangar kings. It was the great king Krishnadevaraya who commissioned saree creation, for women of the palace to wear during religious ceremonies, weddings and other festivities. The craft actually picked up when the two weaving communities — the Devangas and the Saligars who were reputed for their weaving skills, mass migrated and that’s when looms of Kanchi rose to eminence.



- - Mani