I was reading up on the net to finalize my itinerary for Chettinad and one thing that intrigued me was Athangudi Tiles, indigenous and unique to the region. I had seen the fragile ceramic tiles, the red roofed Mangalore Tiles, the polished Vitrified Tiles in all shades and hues but it all appeared to have been machine made. When I walked into a palatial mansion in the Chettinad region; I walked on Athangudi tiles for the first time; the floral printed colorful ones that appear as if someone has painted on the floor. My friend’s parents who were hosting me on the trip were kind enough to take me to the factory where these tiles are made. The ladies in the workshop demonstrated amazing dexterity; their gloved fingers going about their work with keen focus without being distracted from our chatter.
Most of these tiles are of size 10″ by 10″. There is a metal frame with handles on two sides into which a glass piece of tile size is inserted and kept on the table.
The design is cut out as a metal outline of about 1 inch depth and placed on the glass. The metal design has painted edges corresponding to the colour to be filled in.
The colours ( generally basic) are poured through the frame onto glass, filling about a quarter inch. Then the piece is held by the handles and shaken to allow the colour to distribute uniformly and settle down.
The metal design frame is taken out soon after since the colour is quick dry and a layer of dry cement and sand mixture is filled in. At this point the piece is turned around so that the tile design can be seen through the glass.
Another layer of moist cement and sand mixture is packed in and pressed to give shape to the tile. Then the tile is taken off the frame, left to dry for a while and then curated in water for about 10-15 days.
The tile is taken out of water and the glass piece is taken off by pressing the sides.
There are different designs available but mostly geometric or floral. Sometimes to get a larger tile design; 4 different tiles are used.
Price and Maintenance:
The tiles are priced from Rs 32 on wards per piece which works out to Rs 40 per sq feet which is in the range of low end vitrified tiles. They shine brighter when walked upon and cannot be really cleaned with all the liquids available in the market for shine or brightness. Well; the Chettiar mansions were always full of people walking about and maintaining the tiles was never an issue.
It appeared to me that for the well traveled Chettiar of Chettinad; home was where the heart was and they brought in the best of the world for their families back home so that they could share their experiences. The gloss of the tiles very much from the East and the size of the tiles from the West; and when most people in the country knew little about floor tiles, our well traveled business men from Chettinad brought home the best of East and West and ensured the Make in India element as well. While many things have faded over the years for this thriving business community of the 19th century and early 20th century; the floor legacy from Athangudi Tiles still shines bright.
The above was demonstrated at Athangudi Palace Tiles in Athangudi; They can be reached at http://www.athangudipalacetiles.com