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Adai - Jala

Common linear designs plotted on graph paper

The Adai system was what was used till the advent of the Jacquard looms, and continues to be used to this day, The Adai is a system of translating the design into a bundle of knots, This will be mounted on the loom and it controls the heddles (headless) that raises and lowers the warp threads to from the shed for the weft shuttle to pass through to create the patterns, Design of the artist are interpreted into squares on a graph paper by someone called a pattern-maker (naqshabanda in Banaras). The design emerges as dots (called pulli in Tamil) in the squares.

It is this graph paper design that is translated into the knot of the adai or jungu (heard as sungu in Kanchipuram).The traditional patterns are set as to how the dots will be drawn. A bamboo or wooden frame is looped with a seris of thick threads. In early days the designer would sit next to the adai maker and “will read out the dots as ‘UP’ and the empty spaces as ‘DOWN’ of the graph paper design. He will read each line horizontally and he continues one line after another till the whole design is finished… The designer reads the dots as ‘up’ and empty spaces as ‘down’ on the horizontal line of the graph paper design in groups; for example: 2 UP (dots) and 4 DOWN(empty space), 8 UP (dots) and 3 DOWN (empty spaces) Etc...”

As he read the design on the graph paper, the adai maker lifts the number of ‘UP’ threads, and ties them. Using bedroom lamp wick cords the adai maker knots the whole pattern of the border or pallu so that it could be mounted on the loom. The pattern is created as the shuttle carrying the weft yarn passes back and forth through the varying sheds created. Nowadays the adai maker read and ties adai himself.

The adai is then bundled up and sent off to the weaver with the design – whether border or buta. Sometime there can be as many as four or more adai bundles for one pattern. Nowadays nylon strings instead of lamp wick cords are used. A lamp wick adai can be used at least 28-30times before it has to be discarded. A nylon one can be used many times more.

Dots to create the weaver’s art traditional pattern

“The traditional linear designs have a set number of squares that pattern makers use. We are taught these when we start out. 3 for pogidi, 2 for muththu, 4 for Banaras, 11 for pavun, 7 for paneersembu, 9,11 or 19 for salanggai, 7 for aria – maadam, 13 or 17 for rudraksham, 4 for neil and so on Within these we can increase or decrease in multiples according to the pattern. for the more elaborate motifs and designs, we colour them in to make it easier for the pattern – maker to read as he knots the jungu.”

As he was talking, Mr. G.Harikrishnan was plotting some of them on a scrap of graph paper almost absent – mindedly.

“It becomes mechanical for us after some time,” he chuckled at my delighted amazement.

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