Tile flooring

For a classic parquet floor – The Hindu

Ahangudi’s handmade tiles look chic even in modern homes, and a range of locally produced designs are now available in Bengaluru. By Ranjani Govind

Ahangudi’s handmade tiles look chic even in modern homes, and a range of locally produced designs are now available in Bengaluru. By Ranjani Govind

Athangudi tiles are handmade and named after Ahangudi, the village they originated from and located in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. They are also known as ‘Chettinad tiles’ or ‘Karaikudi tiles’ representing Chettinad’s heritage. Thousands of families were once involved in making these tiles, with the traditional craft being passed down from generation to generation.

Benny Kuriakose, a well-known eco-friendly architect who follows zero-waste construction, says, “Have you seen the brick-and-mortar treasures of Chettinad? The walls and floor belie their age and even the corners appear to have been polished recently. I dived into the interiors of Chettinad which bring iconic floor tiles from Athangudi, making their mansions captivating. The vibrant floral and geometric patterns of Athangudi have gone from being the signature of a Karaikudi mansion to the ornamental pride of popular hotels in India and abroad.

Freshly prepared tile

Freshly Made Tile | Photo credit: Madhurya Creations

Story

More than two decades ago, art shop Kipling & Co Arts in Chennai had shared information with this reporter on how patterned Athangudi tiles were inspired by Victorian tiles in the UK, and how the tiles were then attempted to be made in Chettinadu. Originally, tiles from Germany, England and Italy made their way into the homes of well-to-do Nattukotai Chettairs, but when the tiles were seen to wear out over time, repairing them became a burden. . It was then that more than 150 years ago, the enterprising people of the region learned tile making to have their own brand in Athangudi. The cured tiles were a mix of the originals and were expensive.

The Splendor of Chettinad

Ethnic interior products provided by catering shop Madhurya Creations in Bengaluru have an understated yet classic decor. The interior decorations of Madhurya are reminiscent of Karaikudi bungalows where the ancestral houses belonged to the merchant community of Tamil Nadu. Pointing to Chettinad’s treasures in the form of carved pillars, stained glass windows, Athangudi tiles and decorative doors in Madhurya’s workshop space, Bharathy Harish of Madhurya Creations says, “With restoration being our motto, we can recreating houses with earthy decors more so with the splendor of Chettinad. As we have our own unit of Sri Sri Rural Development Program (SSRDP) for making Athangudi tiles, we can supply them individually or take collective decoration set for houses by bringing pillars, Tanjore paintings, windows and doors, and the supply and installation. Athangudi floor tiles.

workers at work

Workers at work | Photo credit: Madhurya Creations

“River sand, white cement, naturally colored oxides and water go into this distinctive traditional artisan tile that requires no electricity or firing. They are immersed in water for drying and dried in the shade later,” explains Mohan Iyer, who heads the Athangudi production unit at SSRDP. “This unit was officially launched at the end of 2021 under the leadership of Sri Ravishankar to encourage Athangudi artisans to produce them manually in South Bengaluru to help locals to procure and maintain the art. Only with an increasing number of artisans will the art be practiced. Today, with so many contemporary choices, it’s hard to keep our indigenous craftsmanship alive and provide options for customers,” says Mr. Iyer, who has a background in civil maintenance and renovation.

Perfecting the technique

Being a handmade tile, its production certainly requires skill and dexterity. Because, a minor error and the defect of the tile is so pronounced that it makes it unsuitable for laying. Yet, interestingly, the pose looks quite simple when watched, with the procedure starting with deciding the design and creating the frame for it.

The making begins with a glass plate on which the chosen frame is placed. Brightly colored oxides are skillfully poured into the frame, with different colors poured into each slot many times, taking care to ensure zero spillage of the wrong colors into the wrong slots. The oxides are then covered with a mixture of mud and cement and left to harden. The dried and set tile is then soaked in water for three days, after which it is dried in the shade for a week to ten days before being ready for shipment.

The laying begins with a layer of wet cement and a mixture of mud on which thick cement milk is poured evenly before laying the tiles. Twenty-four hours after laying the tiles, the newly laid tiles are washed with water and another layer of cement milk is poured to seal the gaps between the tiles. This is followed by a coat of dry, colored cement which is then wiped away to reveal well filled spaces. The procedure ends with the final layer of grain dust which remains for a week. The tiled floor is then ready for use with a clean soap wash, revealing pure art on the floor.

It’s laborious

SSRDP has manufactured nearly 15,000 square feet of Athangudi tiles since Navaratri 2021. “It’s laborious, a unit of four can make 200 tiles a day and they make them standing, meticulously using natural colored oxides for each tile” , explains Mr. Iyer adding that oxides of red, yellow, green, blue, black and white colors are available, with more shades available by mixing these hues.

Athangudi tiles are available in 10″x10″ and as baseboards and borders in 10″x5″. Border tiles give the floor the appearance of a carpet. Ask Mr. Iyer about the most common complaints of cracks developed over time with Athangudi tiles, and he travels back to the days of red oxide flooring that has stood the test of time for centuries. “It’s the same technology used in the form of tiles in Athangudi. But there are more patterns and designs brought in. The tiles help not to have corrugated flooring as seen in red oxide. Cracks, to a large extent, can be avoided if the tiles have been cured exactly, in the right process. It is after all handmade so imperfections cannot be avoided although they can be minimized with carefully followed processes. Even natural marble is porous, so it’s in the way we celebrate the natural and the handmade,” says Mr. Iyer, adding that even the hairline cracks in Athangudi tiles are being accepted by people as a new pattern. . Maintenance is easy with regular brushing, he says, while adding a few drops of coconut oil once a month while mopping leaves the floor with a better shine.

Cost

Ahangudi tiles cost ₹80 per square foot with 144 tiles making up 100 square feet. Installation costs are extra. Customers can also come and choose their pattern and colors at the SSRDP unit, says Iyer.

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