CLOTHING TRADITION OF THE KODAVAS
There is very little information from the past available about the clothing and textile tradition of the Kodava Community. Even today there are very few items of apparel or accessories that are distinctive to Coorg. Unlike other regions in the country there is no special fabric woven in the district , or embellishment, or particular kind of embroidery which is specific to Coorg, though Richter mentions that Coorg women did seem to embroider their “vastras” and “the patterns of native design are often very elegant”, and the work “shows the pattern equally on both sides”. He also mentions the “peculiar and picturesque costume” of the Coorgs.
There is no doubt that both the male and female apparel in Coorg is distinctive. The male attire, the “Kupasa” is a long coat, which reaches below the knees. One side of the front ties to the opposite inside seam of the coat and one side overlaps and is joined together with fabric ties. It is basically a tailored version of a shepherd costume or blanket, thrown over. C M Kushalappa likens the “Kupasa” to the “Kufia”, a similar coat worn by the Arabs.The latter who traded in the Malabar region, probably influenced the style, which later was adopted by the natives of the district. It is also similar to the “Angarkha” worn by royalty in the north, or as a court costume. The Kupasa is plain, whereas the “Angarkha” was heavily embellished. The Kupasa in the past was worn at all times, in cotton, in various colors with a high collared shirt inside. Today it is a ceremonial costume, in black. In earlier days it was made of wool, now made of a cotton blend, to handle the weather pattern that has changed in Coorg. The bridegroom wears a white “Kupasa” at his wedding; strangely he is dressed in a white “Kupasa”, when he is laid to rest!! The “Kupasa” is held together by brocade “Chele” which is a long and narrow piece of silk fabric, wound round the waist and tied in an elegant knot in the front. It is usually red or deep pink, highlighted with gold brocade work and very striking because of the contrast to the stark black “Kupasa”. Traditionally the “Kupasa” is worn without pants, but on his head the man wears a white and gold silk stitched turban, an adaptation of the “peta”, which has been borrowed from the Kannadigas. With the “Peeche kathi”, the ceremonial sword, tucked in the chele, the Coorg male, looks every bit the Kshatriya , and the costume is impressive.
Coorg women have no special fabric or style from which our sarees are woven; only different sarees are worn in a special style. C M Kushalappa in his little book on the Origin of the Coorgs, felt that since the occupation of the Coorgs was primarily cultivation of paddy, and the women worked in the fields, they found it practical to move their pleats to the back. When they had to bend to wash the paddy seedlings, the pleats moved up, instead of down, into the water which would happen if they were in front. Mrs. Cheppudira Appanna in her book on Kodava weddings has an interesting tale, as to why the pleats are worn at the back. Kavery , the river which starts in Coorg began its journey towards the plains. The people of Kodagu were most upset, and went to Balamuri, near Bhagamandala where the Kaveri starts, to stop the river from leaving the district. With the force of the water the women’s pleats moved to the back, and the Goddess requested the women that they wear the sari in the distinctive style of her homeland and promised to come back every year in the month of October.
Kodava women usually wore a long sleeved, high necked “jacket” made of cotton or silk, on occasion. Again, this was probably due to the weather conditions. Being hill country it could get very cold and damp in the monsoon, so the jacket took care of protecting the lady, without the added weight of a sweater or shawl! The same practical mind devised the “knot” in the Coorg style sari. They tied the loose end of the “pallav” to a portion of the sari near the shoulder with a clumsy knot, so that their hands were free. Today it is common to see this style among the Yeravas and Kurubas (tribes in Coorg). Modern Coorg women sport a “brooch” making the sari look like an elegant dress, the brooch has also become a fashion accessory.
The harsh weather probably accounted for the need to wear a head covering which gradually got refined into a “vastra” ( head scarf ) made of chiffon or georgette, embroidered on the edges and more elaborately embellished over the forehead and then gathered at the back , to fall gracefully over the shoulders. In some families the bride wears a “musku” at the single muhurta – a veil in red and gold that is draped over the head and shoulders.
In the past, Coorg wedding and ceremonial sarees were mostly made in Banaras, or in that style. They had ornate gold borders, floral motifs, and exquisite gold tissue or silk “pallavs” and often “konia” (corner) motifs at the edge of the pallav. The colours were usually black, red, purple, deep pink – judging by what one sees from the past. Even the old “musku” (head covering) was in the same Banaras style, as are the old “madaku battte” (lap cloths) that are spread on the groom or bride’s lap, to collect the rice grains and protect the bridal clothes.
Just as Kodavas are an interesting mix of original settlers who inter married with those who came to the district, so also in our clothing we have adopted elements from different cultures to suit our needs. The red silk check cloth that the bride groom wears on his head on the “Oorkuduva” (meeting of the clan, the day before the wedding) day is adopted from Kerala, as is the turban from Mysore. Since Banaras is famous for its silk and brocade, wedding and ceremonial accessories seem to have been sourced from there. The Coorg couple in their traditional attire makes a striking picture, and their clothes are as impressive as the land to which they belong.