The researcher thought that Madras probably has a more diverse history and heritage to talk about, so why not come up with a Madras-inspired saree. “I shared this idea with Varsha Panicker of Dastakar and she was happy to collaborate. Once I decided to experiment, the first step was the design. Initially, I thought of using Madras miniatures done by an artist. But I was not comfortable with using copyrighted material and gave up that idea. I decided it would be better to do hand painting rather than using block prints. The next question was what should be portrayed on the saree — I thought the saree could have everything that makes up Madras, but then the choice was too wide to pursue. I narrowed it down to monuments. Rather than painting monuments that no longer exist, I incorporated those that are available for people to visit. I wanted to break the stereotype and celebrate what we have in the present. I didn’t want to repeat the buildings, so the designs are asymmetrical,” shares Padmapriya about the making of Madras-inspired saree.
While discussing the choice of material, she wanted to bring in something unique and zeroed in on Chendamangalam saree from Kerala. “Once we finalised the fabric, the next important question was the pallu and how will the buildings appear on the top side of the saree. For the pallu, we designed Fort St George. Initially, I thought of having the Cooum river on the pallu and different landmarks on the banks of Cooum on the saree. But only those who know about those landmarks could relate to it. Rather than going with how Fort St George looked in British paintings, I gave the current look. We didn’t do any designs on the back of the saree and made sure that all the buildings’ design appeared on the top side of the saree. There are designs of Valluvar Kottam, Santhome Church, Madras Central, Anna Samadhi, Cornwallis Cupola on the saree. We wanted one symbol of a vanished landmark and that’s how Cornwallis Cupola was squeezed in. Also, the name Madras is written in different languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit, Hindi on the saree,” says Padmapriya, who was also involved in the cultural mapping venture of Cooum.
She wanted to unveil the saree in a place that celebrates the spirit of Madras and chose the Madras Literary Society Library — the oldest surviving library of Madras. “Architect Thirupurasundari Sevvel helped me with approvals and we unveiled the saree at the library. We also unveiled the saree on my daughter’s Instagram page @kaiturebyb,” Padmapriya sums up.