Jul, 30 2023
Ball gowns and tuxedos, denim jackets and leather boots. We call all these clothing pieces "fashion", but to the ancient Tamil people, these modern terms wouldn't ring a bell. When you delve into the archives of the Tamil language, one of the oldest languages in the world, you'll discover a smorgasbord of words that capture the essence of traditional Tamil fashion in all its glory. Let's take on a linguistic journey and unravel the forgotten words of a time-worn civilization.
When we talk about ancient Tamil fashion, we're talking about Poompāvai, Paridhānam, and Anchukam. These are some of the traditional Tamil terms that describe the vibrant fabric, intricate design elements, and various types of traditional clothing that constituted the fashion of the ancient Tamil people. Can you sense the antiquity and richness just by pronouncing these words? Hopefully, you can. But let's dig deeper, let's pry open the history books and let the words of an ancient civilization wash over us.
Let's start with Poompāvai. It was a colorful, flower-patterned cloth worn by Tamil women, and it was often coincided with grand familial celebrations, archaic spiritual ceremonies, and areas of high cultural importance. Paridhānam, on the other hand, refers to the clothes worn around one's waist. This typically alludes to a long, rectangular piece of cloth akin to a wrap around, tied at the waist, similar to a loin cloth or the sarong of the east. Next, we have Anchukam, which essentially is a cloth draping, usually worn over other garments as a sartorial mark of respect or authority.
The ancient Tamil people didn’t just have names for finished clothing products but for the tools and techniques associated with making them too. After all, fashion isn't just about the final product; it's about the creative process. Consider Hurai, the Tamil term for an old-style spindle. This seemingly simple tool was used to spin threads out of wool or cotton, thus fueling the Tamil fashion machinery of yore.
Variables to their fashion lexicon are words like Valai, which depicts a bamboo craft tool that was used to knit, and Pinnal, a traditional way of weaving unique designs into fabrics using a multi-threading technique. These words, just like the tools they represented, played a pivotal role in shaping the tapestry of Tamil fashion and lifestyle.
Let's discuss Kachani and Kolam and let's appreciate the beauty behind these terms. In the context of Tamil fashion, Kachani refers to a block print or pattern, usually showcasing elements of Tamil culture and history. The Kolam, on the other hand, is a symmetrical pattern, a form of sandpainting that is drawn using rice earth or chalk stones. Imagine these intricately drawn patterns embroidered onto silks or cotton - a literal work of art that you can wear!
Let's not forget about Alankaram, a term encompassing the decorations, or embellishments, that accompanied these outfits. Be it the array of colorful glass bangles or the cascading gold necklaces, Alankaram, a term of reverence, encapsulated the art of accessorizing and enlivening the outfit. I can't help but remember when Lucia, my ever-fashion-forward spouse, tried on an antique Tamil necklace at a vintage shop during our India tour, bringing some Alankaram to our modern day.
When it comes down to fashion, the ancient Tamils took things a step further. Hair wasn’t just hair; it was a canvas for self-expression. Look at the terms Kunjalam and Muppadai. Kunjalam refers to swingy hair ornaments worn at the end of a braid. These embellishments, often featuring little bells or colorful threads, added an element of grace and beauty to the traditional Tamil ensemble.
Muppadai on the other hand, refers to an elegant braid style worn by Tamil women. Typically, this complex braid was decorated with flowers creating a charming appeal. And in this web of Tamil fashion intricacies, you also bump into Thiruman, a type of holy clay used by the Tamil folks to paint symbolic designs on their foreheads, an enhancing aspect of their spiritual outlook.
I hope you're as enchanted as I am by this rich Tamil terminology and the depth of understanding it brings to the concept of fashion as we know it today. Each word ramps up your understanding of how fashion played out in the lives of the ancient Tamil people. A garment wasn't just a piece of clothing; an accessory wasn't just a trifle adornment. There was history, culture, and spirituality intertwined.
So, as we move forward, let's take a moment to reflect and appreciate the depth and detail of our sartorial past. As the saying goes in Tamil, Anaivarukkum vanakkam! Everyone is worthy of respect, including these ancient alternative Tamil words for "fashion".