Kovil Kodai- the Umbrella
Kovil Kodai- the Umbrella of the Gods
In Hinduism, Upachara or service, refers to the offerings and services made by a devotee to a deity as part of worship. In daily worship, one usually offers sixteen upacharas to the Lord. Often in a temple the number of Upacharas offered are greater in number.
The Koil Kodai or the ritual umbrella is one of the important Upacharas or services offered. The umbrella protects the Lord from rain and Sunshine. It is also a symbolic way of paying respect to the Lord while we acknowledge His presence in the puja being performed.
In Chennai, in a small and old part of the city is located Chintadripet. The name is derived from "China tari pettai. The history dates back to 1734 when the British East India Company decided to create a facility to supply England with woven cloth at a controlled price.
Governor George Morton Pitt took over a large area of land and used it to house over 230 weaver families to produce more cotton for export.
Many years later, over 250 families from Saurashtra, in Maharashtra, moved into the area as refugees. These families found work as helpers in the businesses in the area. One of the popular business was the manufacture of Umbrellas for the major temples in South India. Soon the Saurastra families mastered the art of making colorful and beautiful temple umbrellas. They started to supply the temples all over India and to temples located in various parts of the world.
Today, the business is limited to around twelve families who share the work and become an efficient manufacturing center.
The manufacture is still an intricate handcrafted product. Old traditional ways are still employed. The fingers of many elderly men and women still weave and craft the umbrellas and the design motifs that cover them.
Technology has made some of the tasks easier and faster.
Each umbrella is designed with the deity it will be used for. The umbrellas being sent to temples of Vishnu are only in white and brown color. Those being sent to Siva, Ganesha and Devi temples are multi-colored.
The motifs on the umbrella once again find their roots in ancient tradition and stories.
Umbrellas come in many sizes and shapes. There is the flat top to the curved top. The size can be from 4.5 feet to 18 feet.
When we see the God or Goddess moving in procession with the huge umbrellas, we truly understand why this ancient art and tradition is still practiced and cherished by the temples and devotees.