Mund. Munde. Mundu. All one and the same thing. In some cases a bit of a rag! In other cases, a delightful piece of attire that keeps the stuffing in! After a long gap I got the chance to wear that ‘delightfully easy to wear’ length of cloth – mundu. The occasion was a kathakali performance in Toronto by the all women Tripunithura Kathakali Troupe.
Mundu is the most sensible item of clothing that has come into being or been designed over the years. It is mostly worn in the southernmost part of India, particularly Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Mundu has, perhaps, spanned many centuries covering the privates and follies of many generations. To think that Keralites were and are so futuristic in their way of thinking is proved time and again by mundu’s design. To say that mundu is the first unisex clothing since the loincloth may not be off target. While other forms of clothing evolved into attire more, or less, decent, mundu has stayed on top of the popular charts from time immemorial.
You can take off mundu at the drop of an arm, or simply by wriggling the waist! One can fold it up still wearing it and take a leak!! And it can be shown off at any function. It goes with any color of shirt, T-shirt, jubba or whatever upper body garment one can think of… or even without it!!
When it rains one can take it off and wrap it around the head. A favourite ploy with drunkards is to use mundu to cover their faces when making their way home from the local liquor shop. They also use it to cover themselves up and curl up for a good snooze on the wayside! When monsoons wreak havoc on the countryside, mundu plays the double role as a popular attire and for mopping up wet hair. Properly hung on a long piece of rope it can be an effective divider, though not a sound barrier. Helpful souls have torn off pieces from it to tie torniquets, and to stop the blood from circulating after a snake bite! Money can be rolled up in the waistband of mundu eliminating the need for a purse. Man, Mundu seems to be the clothing of the century!!
My 13 year old son was also fired up one day and got ready to wear it for a Malayali function. I offered to wrap it around him. Tried it thrice…Either the inside end was showing or it was too short. He finally gave up and jumped into his jeans. [Jeans is perhaps the western equivalent of mundu.]
For those of you who have not worn one, or seen one, mundu is a long piece of cloth rectangular in size. A decent mundu can be wrapped around your body at waist level, is ankle length, and a bit more length and breadth-wise for the gathers. It comes in mainly two colors, pure white and off-white (kodimundu). The white variety again comes as single piece of cloth, or double which is more popular. They also have a line that runs breathwise at one end which is shown off while wearing it. It is a kind of border and comes in various designs, colours, even threaded in gold (kasavu mundu). The kasavu mundu is a favourite for social and cultural functions.
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