Monday, January 23, 2012

Changing times

As one grows older, relationship with your relatives keeps changing. Certain experience forces one to change one’s views drastically, however it may hurt you. A part of you dies, eternally. It must be similar to the grief one feels when someone very close to you dies.  Anyway, it is neither about grief nor about relationship that I wanted to pen on my blog today. It is about an attire that will soon disappear from a section of the society in Kerala. It was brought to my mind when I remembered my maternal grandmother who continues to hold a special place in my heart. She was a very strong lady and her memories continue to give me strength during the dark days of my life. Although she lost her elder son in his prime age, it never turned her into a bitter woman. She became only more strong and more nurturing.

During a certain era, the Christian ladies in Kerala used to wear only the "Mundu and Chatta". While the origin of it is still in dispute, some say this tradition dates back to the time of the Jewish settlement in Kerala, while there is also some who say that it was brought to Kerala by the Portugese. But then, it is also similar to the Indian sari. The white “Mundu” is about 7 yards in length and covers the lower part from the waist while a form of blouse(in white) with a “V” shaped neck covered the upper part of the body. A piece of cloth called "Neriyathu" (similar to the pallav of the sari) decorated with threads of gold is normally worn over the blouse while going out of the house. This will be gathered on the shoulder with the help of a brooch or a safety pin. The famous singer Usha Uthup can be seen wearing the same in the following photo. It is from the only Malayalam movie that she acted in, where she plays the part of a Christian lady.

Usha Uthup in the movie "Pothenvava"

An old picutre of a Christian Couple from Kerala
One can see the "Njori" or the fan like piece in this picture of an old lady of Kerala
I have seen both my maternal and paternal grandmothers wearing the “Chatta and Mundu”. While my maternal grandmother sometimes used to wear a sari too, at home I have seen both my grandmothers wear only this attire. Since I was more close to my maternal grandmother and since it is with her that I have spent more time, I have watched her wearing it too. She was very quick with the “njori” or the fan like pleats that was tucked into the back of the mundu. During her later years, I have helped her with this. The “neriyathu” or the “pallav” was worn only while going out. But neither my mother nor my MIL has ever worn this dress and for sure I shall never wear it too. I do not think my children have seen many wearing it too. I think the Christian girls of a bygone era started wearing this once they reached a certain age and then never got to try anything else.

While I may lament about lost traditions, I am happy that the women from my part of the world are free to wear any dress of their choice; whatever may be their age.



  1. hi there..
    i was reading an old book on Cochin and the writer mentions that christian ladies wore an upper blouse(this was 1700 or so) which was tubular with three holes.. i.e it looks like the sleeves came later!!but not sure if he expressed it correctly and forgot the hands.

  2. The sleeves may have come later.. in fact in some areas (mostly among the Catholic community) the sleeves are long and covers the entire hand.. similar to the one that the Muslims wear. But then it is interesting to note how the entire attire was dicarded for the sari. Must have been a sort of revolution by the ladies specially since the blouse started exposing more flesh :)


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