A “Find” in a Junk Shop in SE India: Angavasthram

On the wall at The Bangala Hotel (A Traditional Chettinad Home), Tamil Nadu State, Southern India

A year ago I went with my tech guy on a photography tour to SE India—an area called Tamil Nadu. Up until then I had only used point-and-shoot cameras on my travels. I had a lot to learn; it was for serious photographers. I was the only textile person; however, we did visit a silk weaving business that had jacquard looms weaving silk saris. I bought a simple one that is wonderfully iridescent.
One day we had free time and Bob and I hired a “took-took” to take us to a village to look in the antique shops—more like junk shops—so they were interesting. In a cabinet with a glass door, I saw what looked to me like a bunch of decorative tapes or ribbons. There was a lot of gold patterning on these very long things. I asked to see them and thought they would be great for my scrolls that I was going to make when I got home. There was a large, framed photograph showing how they used to be worn which interested me mildly. Bob did the bargaining, and I came home with 7 different ones.
When we got to the hotel, a woman told me that they were called angavasthram. I wrote down the word and that was it.
The owner of the little weaving factory knew more and said that they were special, and I could not cut them up. That was that.
At the hotel outside our room were a few old photographs of men wearing the angavasthram! We took pictures of the photos in their frames, so they aren’t very clear but enough to see how important men wore them. I haven’t found much on the internet, except that it seems that this was unique to this area of India and worn by Brahmin.

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This is what I saw in the junk shop.


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So, I did make a scroll after all. I discovered that the inside was as interesting as the outside.


On the wall at The Bangala Hotel (A Traditional Chettinad Home), Tamil Nadu State, Southern India

This photo looked like a family photo with only the men wearing the anvagasthram.


On the wall at The Bangala Hotel (A Traditional Chettinad Home), Tamil Nadu State, Southern India

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Another family photo I presume. I wonder if the different arrangements mean anything other than “taste”.  I also wonder about the bands on the foreheads, shoulders, arms and chest.


On the wall at The Bangala Hotel (A Traditional Chettinad Home), Tamil Nadu State, Southern India

Even this little boy gets to wear one. Notice that it is dragging on the floor in the back.


10 thoughts on “A “Find” in a Junk Shop in SE India: Angavasthram”

  1. I was reading the book ‘Caste’, and it describes a ritual in India where Brahmin boys ascend to manhood. During the ceremony the boys are given long threads they must wear at all times, marking them as upper caste. I wonder if your weavings have a similar purpose.

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  2. What a fascinating article of clothing! Is the whole piece woven at one time as I have seen in a sari or are the bands sewn on to the interior? I noticed that the woman in the photo of the family of three has bandages on her toes. Poignant. Good treasure hunting.

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  3. Beyond interesting … it is fascinating.
    A peek at culture from the past seen through the eyes of a weaver and photographer.
    Thank you Peggy.

    Reply

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