Dressing style plays an important role in determining a person’s social strata. This factor applies to people of all ages. Especially, Indians had a unique style of dressing that helped them to be identified with. The dress code of Zamindars differed from that of Laymen, that of Merchants differed from Teachers, that of Priests differed from that of Sanyasis. Each social group was identified uniquely with their garb. All kind of attires included some special features, say a merchant, he usually wore white Kurta (a long tops) and Panjagajam, an angavastram (towel hung on shoulder), a turban on his head etc.
A Visiri Madippu is a unique style in which an angavastram is folded. Visiri in tamil means a hand-fan. A Visiri usually looks like a palm leaf. It is called so, because an angavastram with a visiri madippu when opened looks like a palm leaf. It not only increased the elegance of the wearer but also added to his prestige. Although the dressing style differed amongst the communities, visiri madippu remained common to all. Cutting across borders of time, this continued to be the cult for generations. There were three types of Melthunddu-s in which visiri madippu was famous and pattu (silk) with jari best suited everyone.
An angavastram is made to look perfect with a visiri madippu on correctly pressing it at the folds, which is usually done at home and sometimes at dhobis. It was usually worn either with kurtas or shirts. During olden times, people wore shirts with three golden buttons and cufflinks along with pattu visiri madippu which supplemented cachet to their appearance. It was kept clean and tidy and was hung on a coat stand after its usage. It was used commonly by people of all professions as it was time consuming to tie a turban. Merchants wore it during business transactions and others during special occasions. Visiri madippu was a style without compromise.
S. N. Padmanabha Chetty (1893-1973) was a textile merchant, on a joint-venture with Jaya Gopal founded the textile shop, ‘Gopala Padma Vilas’ at Salem. It was established in 1916. Chetty was both a successful wholesaler and a retailer. It can be easily said that he was a pioneer of visiri madippu. He used to sell this product of angavastram with visiri madippu in his shop. He lived a prosperous life and used to wear a golden hip chain. He was multilingual and was also a proficient scholar of Tamil and Sanskrit. Honesty, hard-work, and integrity were his ingrained qualities. Cleanliness was a part of him; he lived spick and span lifelong. One of the popular figures, Salem C. Vijayaragavachariar (1852 – 1944) and his family members were regular clients of the time.
Men belonging to that period also wore gold chains, navaratna rings, gold pocket watches, ear-studs made of precious gemstones and overcoats. Fashion was greatly in vogue after the advent of portrait photography. Wealthy landlords and merchants even commissioned artists to sketch their portraits which made them as well as their family members feel proud. The Indian usage of fashion widely differed from that of the Westerners. Refined fashion remained a part of our culture which in the course of time became an inseparable part of people's lives. The younger generations considered it a privilege to preserve the visiri madippu used by their ancestors.
Visiri madippu is still made relevant to the modern-day audience by ‘Rajavivaha’ textiles in Salem. It is being widely promoted by Karthik Badri, proprietor of the textiles. He is the great grandnephew of S. N. Padmanabha Chetty. The textiles play a pioneering role in re-popularizing the premium wear. Visiri madippu will hopefully continue to be part of the wardrobe of elite and thus the baton of culture is passed on to the safe hands of rising generation.
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