Handlooms of Kerala

  • All you wanted to know about Handlooms of Kerala-Kasavu, Balaramapuram and Kuthampully sarees-Mundu-Lungi etc.  

The cultural variety of Kerala is created by its unique geographic features as it lies between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Rich in rain forests, ancient trade relations with foreign lands, entry of immigrant communities, agricultural tradition, cuisine and its tradition of art – literature –science and all these make the state of Kerala.


Traditional attires like sarees, mundus, and settu mundus are generally called kaithari which means handloom.” 1 Textiles and handlooms of Kerala are renowned for their craftsmanship, design, colours and simplicity. They are woven by skilled artisans whose families have been in the profession for centuries. Some of the popular items you can buy include the famous white Karaikudi sarees with a golden band on the border.


The Balaramapuram sarees and Kuthampully sarees are also high in demand and can be easily found in the saree shops of Kumarakom.


The textile products of Kerala are made with materials like cotton, coir, sisal, jute and palm fibres. The state is home to a number of cooperative handloom societies that supply cotton yarns and other required weaving accessories. Most of the textile products in Kerala are crafted by weavers in their homes using different types of looms like pit looms and frame looms.


The state generally weaves undyed, off-white cotton cloth with coloured or golden borders. Single and double mundu, mundum neriyathum (settumundu) i.e. traditional white cotton dhotis and sarees are its traditional dresses. Fabric is bright and elegant. Excellent texture and structure of the cloth, unique colour combinations and traditional craftsmanship have made it popular.


These pure cotton cloths are manufactured using eco-friendly methods. Apart from a well-connected chain of co-operative societies, several places from Trivandrum to Kasargod are traditionally active in handloom production. Many of them bear geographical index as well.


Kerala handloom products have roots in specific locations i.e. Balaramapuram in Trivandrum, Chennamangalam in Ernamkulam, Kuthampully in Thrissur and parts of Palakkad, Kannur and Kasargod districts.

Dyeing, winding, warping, denting and joining, beaming and weaving are the main stages in production. South and central Kerala are famous for weaving of superfine dress varieties while north Kerala concentrates on both coarser and soft varieties of home furnishings and linen. Kasargod is famous for sarees that have many similarities with Karnataka Mangalore style.


The handloom sector has traditionally been one of the most vibrant and profitable in the state with a distinct brand identity. They are keeping pace with changing fashion trends, but without losing their uniqueness. New colour combinations are added, ornamental works introduced and designer elements appended.


The very charm and elegance of these items, ideal for the state's hot and humid weather, make it an inevitable part of the Malayali wardrobe and celebrations. The lightweight nature and coarse texture make them comfortable. Kerala handloom varies slightly from place to place. Some of the weave mundu and saree with thin golden borders and pallu, others with heavy ornamental brocades, a third has coloured borders. Some fabrics are lightweight and some slightly heavier. In certain places, weavers use half-fine zari for ornamentation to reduce product price.


Initially, all weaving was done at homes with pit looms. Women helped in fixing and starching warp and weft. The younger generation left home for higher studies and jobs. So few or no looms are seen in households now.


Kasavu Saree


Kasavu is a soft, white or off-white handloom cotton cloth with gold-threaded borders.


“The term kasavu refers to the zari (gold thread) used in the border of the Kerala saree.”1 The original kasavu cloth was made by hand from cotton yarn and the borders from golden threads. It is believed to date back to the Buddhist era and continues to be worn by Malayalis. It is worn by both women and men, especially during festivals, dance programs, and special occasions such as weddings and piranna naal (birthdays according to the local calendar.)


During the Vishu festival, it is customary to place a brand new kasavu cloth near the traditional Vishukkani (lamp) as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. During dance performances such as the Mohiniyattam (dance of Vishnu in female form), only kasavu garments are worn by participants. Dances such as Kaikottikali or Thiruvathirakali (dance of clapping) also have women performers wearing kasavu sarees and traditional red blouses.



Garments made with kasavu are long, rectangular pieces of cloth called the mundu, wrapped around the lower body, and the veshti, wrapped around the upper body. Women typically wear a red, green or gold traditional blouse under the veshti while men sometimes wear a formal shirt.


The cost of a "kasavu set" or "kasavu settu" comprising the mundu and veshti varies according to the width of the gold borders. Borders can range from 3/4" or less, to 6" or more in width.


Modern kasavu

The traditional mundu-veshti has evolved over time and women prefer to wear a single-piece saree rather than the original two-piece garment. Also, the original garments had pure gold borders, whereas the newer versions have red, green, orange etc. colours along with gold, to make them look more attractive. Power looms are also replacing handlooms but the machine-made fabric differs in texture from the original, though they are cheaper to produce.


Traditional attires like sarees, mundus, and settu mundus are generally called kaithari which means handloom. The identity of the saree comes from the geographical cluster they are associated with. The Indian government has identified three clusters in Kerala - Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully - that have been given a Geographical Indication (GI) tag. All three clusters produce kasavu sarees.


How long does it take for a kasavu saree to be made?


A plain saree with a simple border takes roughly around three to five days. Ones with motifs and heavier work take longer. The sarees are priced depending on the time taken to produce and quantum of gold used in the zari or kasavu.


The traditional white and gold kasavu saris worn on festivals like Onam or Vishu adds to the colour and vibrancy of celebrations. The crisp cotton cream and gold six yards that women drape during the main festivities and even during weddings exude a sense of elegance and richness in its simplicity.


1. All you wanted to know about the Kasavu saree

2. To see nice pictures of different types of Kasavu saris

3. Different Blouse designs for Kasavu sarees

4. How to Identify Original Kasavus sari – Video 12 minutes

5. History of White and Gold Kasavu Sarees


2. Kuthampully Saree

Kuthampully Saree is a type of Sari traditionally made by weavers from Kuthampully village in Thiruvilwamala Grama Panchayat of Thrissur district, Kerala. The Kuthampully Saree is distinguished by its borders.



In 1972, Kuthampully Handloom Industrial Cooperative Society was registered with 102 members. Their caste was Devanga Chettiar originating from Bangalore and Mysore. Now it has 814 members with own building in Kuthampully.


A traditional cotton weaver’s village with around 600 Brahmin families, Kuthampully is well known for kasavu handloom weaving. Kuthampully saris are a favourite among womenfolk not only in Kerala, but also in other parts of India. They followed the traditional path in the early days and their different kinds of Indian clothing like kasavu double dhoti, veshti and set mundu have become popular.


Later on, embroidery techniques have been deftly applied on traditional Kuthampully sarees to produce designer ones. At present around 3,000 people are employed in this sector mostly through cooperatives and small-scale entrepreneurs.


Kuthampully is a small town situated in Thrissur District in Kerala. The major item of Kuthampully Saree is manufactured in Grey Style with Kasavu (Zari). This traditional product is woven with 80s, 100s fine count cotton yarn. These sarees are manufactured at Kuthampully, Thiruvilwamala, Eravathody and Kondozhi regions. Weavers from Tamil Nadu migrated to these areas during 1200-1700 AD and started weaving these sarees there.


Material used

The materials used for the weaving of Kuthampully Sarees are 80s and 100s cotton and for zari locally called as ‘Kasavu’.


Technique applied: The border is woven in extra weft zari designs by using dobby/jacquard. Buti designs are also woven on the body of the saree with zari. The pallu of the saree is woven with zari by using jacquard.  Specialty of the saree lies in preparation of warp thread in “street sizing” technique. The warp threads become almost round and uniform in shape after sizing so that the saree has very clear surface without any protruding fibres on it.


How to distinguish a genuine Kuthampully Saree?


Designs appear very prominently in both side borders, body and pallu. Sarees are mostly woven with undyed yarns like Balarampuram Sarees. Basic texture i.e., thread density of the fabric is higher than that of similar cotton sarees.


Less starchy finish in the saree gives softer touch. Kuthampully Saree is handmade, with each design and motif being carefully handwoven into the fabric by the weavers. 


Nice site for variety of sarees

Video Kuthampully Weavers Village


3. Balaramapuram Saree

Balaramapuram is a small village in the Thiruvananthapuram district of south Kerala, famous for fine cotton sarees and dress materials. It is woven from un-dyed natural cotton which suits the tropical climate of Kerala. It is usually a cream stretch of cloth with “Kasavu”/zari borders.


The weavers belong to the Saliya community who migrated from Nagarcoil and Thirunelveli in modern day Tamil Nadu. The sarees and textile products of Balaramapuram are magnificent in their un-dyed natural colour cotton yarn and inter-woven with zari. The product is basically a cream stretch of cloth with gold zari embroidered in the Pallu and body. It is known for the delicate threading and vibrant colours.


Traditional handwoven Balaramapuram sarees come with a golden zari weave, a wide golden zari border with golden lines throughout the saree and pallu paired with a matching blouse piece. Today, the reputation of Balaramapuram handloom products has spread far and wide. 


Credits or Wedding design saree

Good read – Preserving the famous legacy of the weavers in Balaramapuram

Video on Balaramapuram Village Visit – Good 8.40 minutes


Other Textiles

Erettu Thorthu/Erezha Thorthu/Mangadan Thorthu

Thorthu is a towelling fabric made of cotton yarn. It absorbs the moisture quickly due to its loose structure. It is woven in plain weave using two heald shafts. The warp is drawn 1-1-2-2 order, that is, the first two yarns are drawn through the two heald eyes of the first heald and third and fourth yarns are drawn through the two heald eyes of the second heald shaft. Then the first two yarns of the first heald shaft are drawn through the single split or dent of the reed and the third and fourth yarns of the second heald shaft are drawn through the second dent of the reed and so on. Due to this, the fabric woven will give the appearance of a mat weave in 2 and 2 order.



Kaili or Lungie

Kaili or Lungi is worn by the gents of Kerala. It is usually made of cotton but sometimes in poly cotton blends too. The kaili or Lungi designs are either in checks or stripes of vivid colour combinations. In olden days the yarns were dyed using Naphtol/Azoic dyes, nowadays it is completely replaced with vat and reactive dyes.


Double Dhothi or Double Mundu

Double Mundu or Double dhoti is gents’ formal wear. The dhoti has a small border and cross border, 1 to 2.5 inches wide, on both sides. Dark colours are used for these borders. The body is off white colour. Zari yarns are also used in borders and cross borders.



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Author Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. She is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She conducts painting workshops across India. She is also an art therapist and healer who works with clients on a one to one basis. Not to forget her quality writings on Indian Art and now Textiles for esamskriti. She fancies the art of creative writing.

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