Friday, 27 September 2019

''Gods' umbrellas'' made specifically for temple festivals


Tirupati temple umbrella made in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India indiamart.com

Temple umbrallas for Tiupati Brahmotchavam tamil.oneindia.com
In countless Hindu temples across India, particularly in the south, you would have seen big, colorful, nicely decorated  umbrella kept under lock in the enclosures along the prakara or prathakshna path. Sometimes, you might have seen them  above the Utchavar idols  in the  procession moving along  four streets around the temples. The tradition of making temple umbrellas has been around for centuries and there are hereditary families in temple cities in the south engaged in making such sacred umbrellas called ''Gods' umbrellas''. The color and design of umbrellas are specific to certain temples. In all southern states in Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there are professional makers of temple umbrellas which are mostly hand made. It is a time consuming process and needs patience, skill and  good understanding of color combinations  motif work.  The Hindu temples hold many festivals year around and on specific occasions, they need special umbrellas for the deities.
Hindu temple umbrellas, deccanchronicle.com

Bali, Indonesia Hindu temple umbrellas. robertharding.com
As part of temple rituals, ''upachara'' or special service to the deity is an essential part of worship and prayer, a sort of paying respect and obeisance to the almighty. Upachara also includes  offerings and services made by a devotee to a deity as part of worship. During the daily  puja protocol, it is said, as many as 16 upacharas are offered. As for the number and kind of upachara, they vary from temples to temples. Temples dedicated to God Shiva, God Vishnu and Goddess Durga, Mariamman or Kali have different time-honored traditions. 

In Tanil Nadu god's umbrella is referred to as ''Kovil Kodai''(in local parlance 'kovil' meaning temple and 'kodai' meaning umbrella). Kovil Kodai - the ritual umbrella is considered as one of the important services offered to the deity. It is supposed to protect the lord from sunshine and rain when taken out in a religious procession

Among the temple umbrella makers in south India, Chintadripet, a small part of Chennai city is well-known to have several hereditary families who are experts in the area of producing sacred umbrellas. It is said that these families once formed a large weaving community hailed from the Saurastra region (once part of Maharastra/ Bombay Presidency) and settled down here during the early colonial period. The English company - East India company that was also engaged in the export of woven Indian cloths to England wanted to  create a facility in 1734. When  Governor George Morton Pitt was in charge, he granted a large area of land  to settle more than 230 weaver families from Saurastra. The English company who paid more attention to profit making wanted  them  to produce more cotton cloth on a regular basis exclusively for export. Subsequently, weavers' families decided to engage in a more profitable business - custom-made umbrellas for the popular  temples to be used for temple festivals. In course of time these   families  gained better experience and learned the nuances of this business, besides,  becoming well-versed in making eye-catching colorful and decorative  temple umbrellas. As there were inquiries from other parts of India as well, they, over a period of time, became major suppliers of temple umbrellas to famous temples across India, in particular, south India.  Puratasi month (according to the Tamil calendar) is closely associated with Vishnu temples and lots of umbrellas are made for the festivals held in that month (September-October).

Time keeps changing, so is the profession of temple umbrella making. It is a sad thing that  only 12 to 30 families are in this business today as the work  lasts for a few months.  Part of the reason is young  people in the families have no interest in this business that does not give stable income. Though modern technology is available, they try to follow the orthodox and traditional methods to make sacred umbrellas  In the making of these intricate handcrafted products many elderly men and women  are engaged in weaving   and crafting the umbrellas, Of particular interest is design motifs 
on the umbrella and they  find their roots in ancient tradition and mythological stories.

Each umbrella carries the image of the deity for which it is made. The long handle is mostly made of quality wood-teak. It is said, to cut cost strong and sturdy bamboo poles are used. The umbrellas meant for Vishnu temples are made in white and brown color silk cloth. Those designed  for Shiva, Ganesha and Devi temples are multi-colored.  The popular Kapaleeshwarar temple (dedicated to Shiva), Mylapore in Chennai needs huge umbrellas  for the temple festivals (utchavams) and it requires at least 4 months to make them, considering the sizes.
Tirupati temple umbrellas. templeumbrella.co/
 With respect to size of umbrellas, it  may come in many sizes and shapes. The top of umbrellas may be flat or  curved  depending on the requirements. The size - diameter may be from 4.5 feet to 18 feet. When the see the procession of gods or goddesses, big umbrellas made of silk material form a nice canopy over them, giving protection to them from sun and rain besides, adding grandeur to the mighty deities on the move. .
 http://www.madrasdocumentaries.com/kovil-kodai--the-umbrella-of-the-gods.html

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/140911/nation-current-affairs/article/vanishing-art-temple-umbrellas