Legacy of Athangudi Tiles

On September 15, 2017

Athangudi is a small rustic village located in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu state. It has a population of about 2,000 people and is famous for its tiles, woodwork and Chettinad food. Most of the families living here are involved in this trade which is famous for their use of eco-friendly materials and minimal use of resources and energy.These ethnic hand-made floor tiles are durable and follow traditional floral or geometrical patterns. Though methods of tile production have become mechanized, these special tiles are still following the age-old tradition of being hand-made in simple cottage industries. In the earlier days, these artisans were patronized by the rich and affluent as they were a more expensive option compared to the machine-made tiles.

The Nagarathar Chettiars of Chettinad travelled far and wide to various South-East Asian countries and their aesthetic eyes invariably picked on all the beautiful items they saw which they selected for bringing back home and skillfully incorporating into the décor of their mansions. Classical English furniture paired with Italian marble, intricately carved teak wood from Burma and stained glass windows from Belgium were harmoniously included into the Chettiar’s homes and mixed amazingly well with the rest of the décor. The patterned floors of these homes were often made from designed terracotta tiles locally sourced from Athangudi

It’s believed that the Athangudi tiles are the result of an inspiration of western and eastern influences; the intricate designs of the English carpets coupled with the glazed finishing of Chinese floorings is hypothesized to be the basis for the Athangudi tiles designing, texture and smooth finishing.

To appreciate these tiles, you first have to understand how they are made. The process of making these tiles is simple, though painstakingly done, tile by tile. They are made of locally sourced clay and sand and mixed with various oxides, berry jelly and dyes. Metal moulds with a glass base are used; the pigment or dye is first laid upon the glass and swirled to create the required design. A mix of sand, clay and colored oxide in slurry form is then poured into the mold in three-fourth inch thickness and allowed to sun dry.

The side touching the glass becomes the upper surface. The tiles are further cured in water for a minimum of 21 days before they become ready for laying. Imagine doing this individually for every tile created- what an amazing handicraft industry!

Photography doesn’t do justice to these tiles as they aren’t as gaudily colorful as the flash makes them appear in pictures, as they are used to modulate the darkness of dark-colored backgrounds of walls, flooring or ceilings. The traditional designs are still being practiced and discerning members of society use them to create an ethnic ambience in their homes. A unique feature of these tiles is their smoothness and sheen – not too shiny, nor too dull, but just perfect! And when it comes to design, durability and quality, these tiles can beat any of the tiles manufactured the modern way; they also make for great sustainable solutions with the world heading towards global warming….