Chronicling Time Through Ravi Varma's Art

By Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

It is perhaps the earliest form of advertising in the Indian textile industry. Madura Mills Co. Ltd, were pioneers and leaders in the manufacture of yarns and threads. Headquartered out of London, the parent company J&P Coats, drew on its global presence and local knowledge. Realising the way to people’s minds and hearts for instant recall was through their depiction of gods and goddesses, Madura Mills took this lead and garnered attention through their Ravi Varma inspired calendars.

Madura Coats - Dakshinamurthy (1946) by UnknownOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

A & F Harvey Ltd., founded in 1883, was incorporated as a private limited company in 1945 in South India. To commemorate their set up, they brought out the first wall calendar in 1946.

Drawing upon local inference, they depicted Lord Shiva, widely worshipped in Southern India, on their first calendar, albeit in the form of Dakshinamurthy.

Madura Coats - Hanuman (1947) by Madura MillsRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

With India gaining Independence, the depiction of Hanuman with the sacred mountain, was a flash of brilliance as it reawakened and revitalised the nation after 89 years of British Raj.

The top panels of the calendar indicate Cone Yarn (conical shaped) & Cheese Yarn (shaped like a parallel tube). They were the brand names of the yarn made by Madura Mills Co., Ltd. during that period.

Madura Coats - Markandeya Abayastham (1948) by UnknownOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The calendars were also used as a medium to highlight the owners and local representatives. Notice the name ‘Ramanathan Chettiar of Kumbakonam’ at the bottom right of this calendar.

Ramanathan Chettiar was the first direct importer of yarns into Madurai. A bureaucrat, he also served as a member of the Indian Lok Sabha and was the Mayor of Madras.

Madura Coats - Rajarajeshwari (1950) by Madura MillsRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

This 1950 calendar featuring Rajarajeshwari was issued when Madras was still referred to as Madras Presidency.

Following the reorganisation of India as a Republic on January 26, 1950, presidency (highlighted at the bottom left) and princely states would cease to exist, as 'states' came into existence.

The mid-section of the calendar reveals three labels.
This imagery is of packaging labels that were anchored around the roll of yarn, and were actually referred to as ‘tickets’.

Madura Coats - Lord Krishna (1953) by Sharma Art StudioOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Lord Krishna with his magical and melodious flute, the imagery here captures various animals, captivated and seemingly in a trance to the music.

In 1953, yarns were used in the manufacture of ropes and tents, and for all industrial covers.

Madura Coats - Three Deities (1954) by UnknownOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

A pioneering work, if it could be termed that: the artist who created this iconography incorporated all the three deities, Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati in a single frame.

VS Gubiar, one of the later-day artists, incorporated Ravi Varma's depiction of Ganapathi, Lakshmi and Saraswati in a singular frame.

Madura Coats - Vishnu Garuda Vahan (1956) by Madura MillsRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

This calendar uses a reproduction of the famed Vishnu Garuda Vahan by Ravi Varma, showing Lord Vishnu with his consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi.

On the top right we draw your attention to details of the yarn. Belting Duck for instance was used on conveyer belts (used for transferring coal along heavy duty belts).

Madura Coats - Ganapathi & Karthikeya (1957) by Madura MillsRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

A decade after Independence, the theme of gods and goddesses was still running strong.

The iconograohy used here depicts one of the most revered bonds and an endearing sentiment of the Indian household - that of brotherly love.

The spindles (5,00,000) on the top left corner have been highlighted on this calendar. A spindle is a spinning frame from which yarn was made.

Madura Coats - Ahalya Shaap Vimochan (1959) by Madura MillsRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

This is Kondiah Raju's take on Ravi Varma's work -- Ahalya Shaap Vimochan.

In reference to the thickness of the yarn, the 80 count is mentioned above the year 1959. Thickness count in yarn was possibly introduced only in 1959, the year this calendar was produced.

Madura Coats - Lakshminarayan (1962) by C Kondiah RajuOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

This is a rare depiction of Lord Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi, standing together on a lotus.

The three mill locations - Madurai, Ambasamudram and Tuticorin had clubs designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, and were a serene depiction of the towns' ethos during that period.

Madura Coats - Draupadi Vastraharan (1963) by Madura MillsOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Clearly, one of the early calendars which proudly proclaims India (see at the very bottom in bold letters), this is borrowed from Ravi Varma's Draupadi Vastraharan.

This calendar pays tribute to the Harvey Brothers, Andrew & Frank Harvey, who brought their steam spinning mills to Madurai and helped build the success story of Madura Mills Co., Ltd.

Credits: Story

Calendars: from the collection of Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation donated to Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Information and Research on the History of Madura Mills: Chandrika Menon, Amarjith Bamarah, Print Brew

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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