The Eco-friendly Handmade Tiles of Athangudi

The Eco-friendly Handmade Tiles of Athangudi

This more than century old utilitarian ‘make in India’ enterprise is now a legacy craft we can be rightly proud of

July 21 , 2021
04 Min Read

If you have been to Chettinad in Tamil Nadu, you must have visited the palatial mansions built by the wealthy Chettiar (merchant) community. And you could not have missed the colourful tiles on the floors and the walls.

Initially, the merchants would import the decorative tiles from Japan. But soon they found it was difficult to repair or replace the imported tiles. To overcome the problem, they encouraged the setting up of a tile factory in Athangudi village, near the famous Karaikudi town of Chettinad.

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A post shared by Popular Tile Works&Civil Plans (@popular_tile_works)

Now, almost 150 years later, Athangudi still excels in making those beautiful tiles. Each tile is made and finished by hand; hence it is an extremely laborious and time consuming process. The manufacturers believe it is the local soil which imparts the tiles their character and easy to create the beautiful patterns. Geometric and floral patterns in red, blue, green, and grey, are common. While manufacturers usually use template-based patterns, they may also create free-hand designs.

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A post shared by Shefali Vaidya (@shefvaidya)

You may take a look at the making of these tiles on the Google Arts and Culture platform here.

A complete Athangudi tile usually consists of smaller tiles put together. The Athangudi tiles are low maintenance on one hand and the sheen improves with time. The handcrafted process coupled with the use of local clay and sand, natural ingredients (such as husks), sun drying the tiles, etc. make the tiles eco-friendly too.

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A post shared by Benny Kuriakose (@bennykuriakose_associates)

Like most handcrafted goods which have to compete with cheap, machine made products, survival is an uphill task for Athangudi tiles too. Renewed interest in the tiles by a group of discerning architects and interior designers has given a fresh lease of life to this legacy art but more needs to be done.

So if you are visiting Chettinad in the near future, do pay a visit to the tile factories of Athangudi.

Note: If you want to order the tiles, please verify the store you are ordering from; there have been negative reviews about some of them on public forums.  

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