Simplicity, grace and beauty-these are the three words that define one of the most ‘bound in tradition’ sarees called the Mundum neriyathum or kasavu or the Kerala Kasavu. Easily identified because of its rich gold border highlighting its ivory or off white color, this saree by far is one of the most distinct from amongst the plethora of traditional sarees from India, worn by Malayalee women not just at Onam or the Malayalee New year, but also through the year.
This hand-woven saree with its inimitable look too is draped in a typical style that has been seen very little change, keeping its pristine look inherently conservative.
The Settu Mundu is basically made up of the Kasavu weave that comprises of two parts, the mundu or mund which is the lower garment and the neriyathum or the upper garment. The portion that has maximum scope for design –in the form of embroidery, print or zari is called as the Kara portion of the tow pieces of clothing.
Traditionally the Kara has motifs that symbolized the life of Shakuntala and the stories of folk tales and mythology related to the local culture.
Here are two styles of draping the mund neriyathum that will help you achieve the Kerala drape to perfection. Do remember that originally there was never any six-yard long sarees that today are sold in the name of Kerala cottons. It was always the set mundu, but seeing the practicality of having a single length saree, many have chosen to switch to the more modern version.
The Namboodri drape is a little variation that the women of this Brahmin community, mainly from Travancore even till date continue to drape. You can find them in the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma, who extolled the beauty of not just the human form, but displayed in detail the culture of clothing of this land.
Traditionally at all festivals, and in some cases in the rural areas, this style continues to be worn as their regular attire. In fact, in caste-ridden Kerala, the manner in which the Mundu neriyathum was worn also helped in identifying of caste demarcations.
Wear the blouse and petticoat in preparation.
Take the lower garment or the mundu and take it around your waist so that both ends will merge in the front. Take it in such a way that the broad golden border forms a vertical broad stripe right down the front while you make adequate numbers of pleats. Tuck in the other end on the left side of the waist, while with the other end that has the broad golden stripe make several pleats and tuck it. The cloth will overlap each other, but don’t make pleats that are too tightly held together as it will inhibit movement.
Now take the top cloth or the neriyatham, and drape it across the top covering the front and allowing the length of the fabric to cover the lower portion of the mundum right up to the knees and even lower. The cloth is simply folded and tucked in front securely and maybe pinned up also.
Here too one has to wear a coordinating blouse and petticoat.
Take the lower cloth or the mund and tuck in on the right side of the waist ensuring that the length left over has the broad gold border. Now make pleats that are broad and tuck them in at the front in such a manner that the gold border runs down the front. Ensure that the mundu is not too tightly draped as it could restrict movement.
Take the top cloth or the neriyathum and begin pleating it from one end. Place the pleated cloth on the left shoulder leaving a pallu length of below the knees or at least till the knees hanging behind. Pin it at the left shoulder.
Now the longish length that is left, take one of its corners, and then take it round the back going under the right arm, and round the back, and tuck it as you cross the hip-tucking it in at the same place as the front pleats. Arrange the shoulder pleats once again till neat.
So many of us have procured the kasavu saree that is in a typical 6-yard length and we do not have a set mundu. So does that deprive us of trying the Kerala traditional drape? Not at all! Here is how to get the look with a typical kasavu saree.
Drape the saree as you would normally. Tuck in on the right and take it round the back, bringing the length to the front. Now leave some length in front for making pleats. Make pleats and tuck in neatly.
Take the rest of the length of the saree and drape it across the upper body going under the left arm, going back and emerging once again in the from under the right arm.
Take the length that is left and make three or so broad pleats with the golden border going downwards vertically. Tuck it into the front neckline of the blouse You may pin it up also.
While the Kasavu has undergone some amount of innovation in design, the signature look of Kerala saree remains somewhat the same –being off white and white with minor variations in the blouse styles and the new emergence of hand painted mural sarees. More or less the draping styles have remained confined to the traditional look.