The Kodavathi

16th January 2020 by Kaveri Ponnapa

The distinctive dress and jewellery of the Kodavathi, a part of her identity, add to her elegance and grace. An old myth tells the story of an angry Kaveri, flowing out of Kodagu as a river after being betrayed by Agasthya, being stopped by the Kodavas, who pleaded with her to remain in their land. The force of her waters is supposed to have pushed the pleats of the women's saris backwards. While sari pleats remain tucked at the back of the Kodavathi style of draping a sari even today, other elements of attire have evolved with time.

During the pre-colonial era and early twentieth century, the Kodavathi wore a kalakupya—a loosely-stitched, long-sleeved, close-necked garment that was fastened around the waist. Over this, saris were worn, and the free end drawn across the chest, below the left arm and knotted over the right shoulder. Heads were always covered when outdoors with a vastra or chowka.

Kodava jewellery too, is distinctive like the Kokketathi, a dramatic crescent shaped pendant with gold granulation and filigree work, set with rows of cabochon rubies; Paunchi, a gold necklace of spiked gold segments strung on black cotton thread, likened to the skin of the jackfruit in traditional poetry; the Jomale, with its long strands of gooseberry shaped gold black beads strung on black cotton thread and coral strands of Pommale. Beautifully crafted bangles and bracelets of unusual design completed the dress.

Some jewellery designs reflect contemporary influences: the pendant of the Kokketathi, for instance, which was studded with just rows of rubies some decades ago, is now frequently decorated with a repoussé Gajalakshmi, a recent Hindu influence. The Pathak, once a plain gold coin surmounted with a cobra hood, symbolizing fertility, often displays a Gajalakshmi. The kalakupya has been replaced by fashionable jackets, and elegant, custom-made brooches are preferred over serviceable knots. The vastra is now reserved for ceremonies. These changes are inevitable, as the Kodavathi evolves with the rapidly changing world: her unique identity, grace and simplicity, however, remain undiminished.