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Toda Embroidery – a poem in black and red written with needle and thread

The skill and craft of the Toda Embroidery is experiencing a slow but sure death.
What can 
we do to keep this alive?
Embroidery is an absorbing form of cultural expression and many a times tells the story of civilization itself.  The vast repertoire of embroidery forms found in India display contrasting techniques.
That simply two colours – red and black – can be used in limitless ways to fashion diverse designs is the hallmark of Toda embroidery. The Todas are a pastoral community from the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu who live is small hamlets called “munds” each having 4 – 8 families.  Their population in 2001 was recorded as 1560 with increasing numbers residing in urban areas. The Toda woman has been known for her expertise in embroidery that is passed down from mother to daughter.  This embroidery is done lengthwise giving it a geometric appearance on thick matty cloth (white or cream) and mostly using wool thread.  As in some other embroidery forms , the Toda embroidery too is done on the reverse and without the use of any drawn or traced patterns.  The Puthukuli (see images above) is a heavily embellished shawl worn by both men and women and a ‘must wear” during all ceremonies and rituals.

Travelling through various munds in the upper regions of the Nilgiris it is not uncommon to see Toda women basking in the sun and embroidering shawls (see image above).  In an informal survey, One Earth Foundation was surprised to learn that most Toda women thought that the craft and skill will fade away with their generation as it was not being passed down from mother to daughter anymore. The rising literacy rates resulting in many young girls finding work in urban areas was thought to be responsible.  In addition, surveying the few shops and co-operatives that stock Toda Embroidery items in The Nilgiris for sale (largely to tourists), it was noticed that the quality of base cloth used and the intricacy of designs embroidered was rather very poor.  Also, none of the locations surveyed carried a Puthukuli shawl and only stocked limited numbers of cushion covers and small shawls that were very scantily embroidered.  The densly embroidered full length patterns – the hallmark of Toda embroidery – was nowhere to be seen.   The dwindling number of women who were still embroidering and the need to bridge the demand / supply gap meant that the skills needed for a Puthukuli are disappearing fast.  A brief video on the Toda embroidery technique is appended.

Toda women sitting out in the sun and embroidering

Toda Elder in shael

For further information please contact

Raminder Chowdhary
Tel: +91-80-41616120
Mobile: +91-9008000338

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