Embroidery of a region often tells a tale about the history, culture and day-to-day lives of a group of people. The same is the story for Toda Embroidery, with essentially just the use of two colours – red and black. The Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu are the home to the rural Toda community, where they live in small groups of families, called ‘munds’.
The Toda daughters learn this skill from their mothers. Sadly, this is a dying art, though thankfully, there are groups working hard for the revival of this art form. This embroidery is done lengthwise giving it a geometric appearance, generally on a white or cream coloured thick cloth (almost like a bed sheet) with a woollen thread. The most well-known piece with this embroidery style is the ‘Poothukuli’, an embroidered shawl, that is worn by both men and women, typically in weddings and funerals. In fact, there are stories where wedding guests who have not worn the ‘poothukuli’ embroidered fabric have been fined by the village elders 🙂 That’s how important it is!
Also, the buffalo horn is one of the most important motifs used in the embroidery, as the toda tribe worships buffalo. There are never any patterns these women follow, I am told. They let their creativity run wild with a thread in hand, over a nice piece of cloth to produce the most magnificent creations, which are a big hit amongst the tourists in Ooty.
The Toda embroidery is referred to as ‘Torhbohr’ or ‘poothkuli’ and the entire design embroidery is based on counting. Geometric pattern based on plain counting! Clever, don’t you think?
A lot of women from this tribe are now moving to urban areas in want of a better standard of life, which in itself isn’t a bad thing by any means; however, as an end result of this, there are lesser women bringing this beautiful art to the world!
Extensive work has been done to study their culture, beliefs, their connection with nature and their changing socio-economic situations, most known works being that of William Halse Rivers and M.B Emaneau. Probably the pictures don’t do justice to this beautiful art form, but is a representation nevertheless, giving you an idea and asking you to explore some more.
Two organizations – Chirpy India and Shalom are doing beautiful work with Toda embroidery and the artisans. Geometric patterns created using a needle and thread by skills passed on from one generation to another by creative women! A piece of art indeed….want some of these in your home?
Cover Image: via