The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 1

You don’t need much knowledge about India design to know that India is bursting with color and pattern. Widely varying patterns too, did you know? There are so many regions and peoples across India, and their histories and cultures are reflected in the patterns in their architecture, homes, jewels and clothing. Their patterns tell their stories. From the chunky tribal designs of Nagaland in the northeast …

… to the fine gold and silk weaves of Kancheepuram in the south …

But honestly, I’m a very elementary student in this world of India pattern. I grew up in a suburban Midwestern U.S. home devoid of noticeable patterns. (Well except for the Fair Isle sweaters … and some crochet square afghans made by great aunts in the 70s.) No criticisms, it’s just the way it is in many homes here. Having traveled through my adult life and seen everything from bold  Acoma Native American pottery in the Southwest to shimmering red and gold Thai palaces … wow, there’s a whole world of pattern out there. It’s time to bring it closer to home …

In my attempts to “bring it closer to home,” I’ve paired some Indian patterns together that my husband looked at and said, but you can’t do that. Okay well first of all, if you say that to me, doing what I’m not supposed to do is the first thing I want to do! Just enough of a streak of rebelliousness there. Doesn’t he know that by now?

Second of all, if it looks pleasing despite bringing elements of North and South India together, or Chinese and Japanese together, or Christianity and Islam together, frankly I really don’t care about the manufactured divisions us humans have created for ourselves. In fact my philosophy is that they should be purposefully brought together to live harmoniously in a single space.

For the India pied-à-terre, we’ve chosen some cool patterns. But something is conspicuously missing: South Indian patterns. The Mughal patterns of the North are far more commonly shared worldwide than the designs of the South (same thing with Indian food, too!). And so I’ve been exposed to patterns of the North much more, and feel more preference for them. The book Taj Mahal and its close-up photos of the Taj is one of my favorites on our shelves. These patterns flow all across the Middle East and North Africa. Particularly,  Moroccan patterns are really hot right now — I love the pattern and color in the book Marrakesh by Design.

But our apartment is in Chennai, in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, and it would be ignorant to not have the region’s heritage and culture represented. Just because I’m not familiar is no excuse, it’s time to go on a design adventure! I’m first exploring the Chola Period of South India and its design influence. I’ll unroll what I learn plus some design inspiration over the next few posts …

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