A place once said to have given shelter to the Pandavas, now produces alluring cotton and silk sarees. These still retain their authentic charm and have beautiful colours, zari work, motifs and simple yet elegant borders. Chettiar community residing in the Vanavasi town of Salem district, weaves these eye catching Vanavasi sarees. People from all over the world are attracted towards it, especially for its durability and softness. It leaves many awestruck and wanting to buy one to add to their collection.
Vanavasi sarees can be worn daily and for various special occasions as well.
The closet of a woman offers her endless possibilities to choose from- different colours, motifs, textures and patterns. All of these sarees represent a different aura of the woman and allow her to establish her sense of identity and positionality in society. One day she may choose to look as gracious as Lord Sita and on the other, she may choose to look as bold as Devi. These Vanavasi sarees compliment and accentuate a woman and her inner beauty.
Temple festivals form the foundation of South Indian culture. On various temple festivals that are specific to this region, women adorn themselves in beautiful cotton and silk sarees, attach flower garlands in their hair, and wear heavy jewellery. Other festivals like Pongal and Onam that are celebrated all over India, especially in the South, also show women wearing these sarees.
The colours and patterns for the sarees worn on special occasions are extremely bright and include heavy zari work. Semi-formal occasions such as housewarming parties also present the opportunity for women to wear these sarees. These include slightly toned down motifs and zari work alongside contrasting colours to create a moderate yet fancy look.
Dark colours are found on these Vanavasi sarees that are used for daily wear. This is mainly because darker colours do not get dirty easily and can withstand everyday wear and tear. Thus, sarees often combine simplicity and beauty to create garments that can be worn by women for their everyday work. They not only ensure the mobility of women but also add grace to their appearance.
Every region of the country has its own styles of saree and the way they are draped. These signify the culture, tradition and religion of that place as well as of the person wearing it.
The Vanavasi weaving cluster or the people who design these beautiful sarees are lesser known by the people. To counter this problem, cooperative societies like Co-optex are trying to bridge this gap by creating saree labels that show the origin of the weave. Another factor is that these sarees are yet to be given a Geographical Indication (GI) tag which explains their comparatively lesser popularity as compared to other sarees. However, this also helps in creating a sense of mystery and enhanced uniqueness around the sarees by making them more exclusive and special. Therefore, a lack of popularity further contributes to their sale and promotion since they appear to be different from all other Indian sarees.
This Vanavasi cluster is gaining more acclaim and appreciation over the years and is becoming increasingly popular in Tamil Nadu. With the significant strides that are being taken by the government and the weavers, these sarees, with their different colour shades and patterns, hold the potential to become as popular as the Kanchipuram saree. Therefore, the Vanavasi sarees offer a promising future market and sales.
Myths & Legends:
The way a saree was worn/draped in the ancient Indian times also depicted the ideal perception and beauty of Indian women. This was small waist, large bust and flaring hips. It can be seen in various sculptures and paintings of those times, that the pleated fabric of the saree flattered the female body by emphasizing the waist, accentuating the bust and the hips.
A stitched piece of clothing was considered impure in the ancient times by the Hindus, this made sarees auspicious as they were made from a single piece of cloth. They were worn during auspicious occasions and ceremonies. This tradition continues till today. Tamil works like ‘Silappadikaram’ from the Sangam period also show this, as they indicate women wearing a single piece of clothing to cover their lower body and head while the midriff was left entirely bare. Similar saree styles can be found in the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala.
Women often wore sarees that bared the midriff in ancient India. Since the navel was considered the source of life and creativity, as a result, it must be left bare while wearing a saree. This was stated in the Natya Shastra, a south Indian text from around 200BC. The texts from the Dharma Shastra opposed this and state that women should be dressed in a modest way wherein their naval and midriff are covered.
The goddesses in the Hindu temple and shrines have always been adorned with beautiful sarees. This is an important part of the Hindu culture. Sarees worn by these deities are changed daily and especially during special occasions and festivals sarees ornamented with beautiful motifs and zari work are worn. Women also started following the same tradition of wearing highly embellished sarees for festivals and other celebrations. Thus Hindu mythology and saree garment are very deeply entwined.
Women wearing saree in the south of India can be seen in the paintings of an itinerant English painter. This was in the middle of the 19th Since then the styles and designs of the saree have undergone a few changes though maintaining the same authenticity.
The earliest designs of sarees from the Vanavasi cluster had the designs of plain red and white checks with a small Resham(zari) line and a small Pallu. Those sarees are now known as Kurai sarees and have major significance in the life of Kannada Chettiars and Variyars caste people residing there. Earlier this saree was also worn by the bride on the day of her marriage.
Private handloom weaving, started thriving in this region along with the large scale cooperative sector handloom weaving and marketing units. Small scale hand-dying units were started around the region of the industry.
Around the 1980s the textile industry grew significantly. Many major spinning mills and waste spinning units came up into existence. Various Handloom societies and dying houses were also established. A new and increased number of Power Loom units mushroomed in the places like Gugai, Ammapet, Attayampatti, Mallasamudram, Vennanthur, Magudanchavadi, Rasipuram, Komarapalayam, Pallipalayam, Jalakandapuram and Elampillai.
The history of the weaver community of Vanavasi, mainly that of theDevangaChettiars, is also considered an important aspect in the history of the region. The early origins of the Chettiars are shrouded in mystery, given the scarcity of historical records. However, the Chettiar community claims to have originated from the ancient Chola kingdom that existed between the 10th-12th centuries.
Present-day Chettiars can trace their roots to the 96 villages that originally made up Chettinad in Tamil Nadu. These villages were organised under nine main temples. These temples served as the clan centres, which were the main social and cultural spaces in the lives of the Chettiars. Each of these nine temples may have overseen several smaller temples established in the Chettiar villages.
The term ‘Chettiar’ itself is a caste label. Historically, the Chettiars were marked by their distinctive clothes, jewellery as well as their profession. The Chettiars were traditionally merchants and traders in precious stones but later became involved in banking and money lending activities. Their role in finance expanded with the growth of British colonial rule in Southeast Asia. Many Chettiars emigrated from India to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar) and Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore) as the British expanded their presence in the region.
The weavers of Vanavasi have truly expanded their boundaries when it comes to designs and aesthetics of the saree to cater the needs of the wearer. These are known to have a distinctive colour palate, various striped patterns and zari work. On the basis of these, the sarees woven in Vanavasi can be categorised in the following three weaves:
Plain weave saree– These have a plain cotton field with zari border wherein the most interesting parts are the contrasting pallu and the stripped pallu with zari. Weavers also use checks as the whole layout of the saree. The most special identity of this is China-checks (small-checks) colored in red and white.
Dobby weavesaree– These cotton and silk-cotton sarees have their own beauty. When the dobby weave is used, the pallu is plain and field is filled by China-buttas (small-motifs)
Jacquard weave saree– Here, the pallu will be filled by Buttas (big-motifs) sized as 2” by 2.5”. Jacquard sarees can be identified by the border which has Karai-buttas (motif inside border) and Karai-male butta (motif outside border) with elaborate pallu motifs.
Every year different societies and design institutes collaborate with the weavers here to introduce new designs according to the demands of the market. Many of these motifs are taken from other famous clusters of design bank by the Textile Ministry.
The most commonly visible motifs are,
Mangai motif: a mango motif
Mangai with meena filling of mango motif
Vairam motif: a diamond motif
Mayil motif: a peacock motif
Pu motif: a flower motif
Paravai: a bird motif
Yali motif: a motif of a god with lion body and elephant trunk
Kai-korvai motif: a temple motif
Anna-pakshi: a swan motif
There are a large number of challenges that are faced by both the weavers of Vanavasi sarees and also the overall handloom industry.
Government spending is mainly directed towards the agricultural sector and other prominent sectors due to which the hand loom industry is often ignored. In particular, the handloom industry of Tamil Nadu faces a problem with a lack of financial facilities.
Various commercial banks have failed to provide the cooperative societies with resources and this has directly resulted in the failure of the cooperative movement in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, there has been an unexpected sprout in the power looms which has led to a scarcity of yarn. Therefore, the main challenge is the lack of yarns. This points out the need for the government to supply yarn to the handloom industry.
There has also been a sharp increase in the cost of production of these textiles due to which there has been a challenge in the process of selling. This is further worsened by the problem faced by this industry in the marketing of its products and the pressures of globalization.
It has been suggested that the government must take more initiatives to modernize the power loom sector to make it more competitive domestically and internationally. Thereby, highlighting the need to improve the infrastructure in the industry.
The weaving of Vanavasi Sarees requires great skills, as the weaver has to constantly keep pedaling to operate the jacquard machine. At the same time, he has to pull the string that controls the shuttle, which flies over the wooden sill of the loom, taking the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp.
The following raw materials are used in the process of making the Vanavasi sarees:
For the Cotton Sarees – Cotton 80 yarn for both warp & weft
For a combination of the cotton and silk sarees – Cotton 80 warp & weft 16/18 silk
Zari – Half-point-fine (artificial) Zari
Dye – Salem dyers use wet and naphthol dyes to dye a yarn. After finalizing the design, the society or master weavers take care of dying process. After purchasing the yarn from NHDC or direct from mills, dyeing takes about 10-12 days.
There is a general problem of solid waste disposal into the irrigation channels. Even though large quantities of solid wastes are dumped into the compost yard through the initiative of local bodies, several people who live by the banks of the river dispose their waste into these irrigation channels. This not only creates an environmental hazard but also unsanitary living conditions for the flora, fauna and animal life residing by the river banks.
When we look at the waste generated from the saree weaving and production, we come across two noteworthy points, these are-
cotton waste from pre and post customer usage
water after dyeing.
Cotton can be recycled from pre-consumer (post-industrial) and post-consumer cotton waste.
Pre-consumer waste comes from any excess material produced during the production of yarn, fabrics and textile products. For example, selvage from weaving and fabric remnants from factory cutting rooms. On the other hand, post-consumer waste comes from discarded textile products. For example, used apparel and home textiles.
During the recycling process,
The cotton waste is first sorted by type and colour.
Then it is processed through stripping machines that break the yarns and fabric into smaller pieces before pulling them apart into the fibre.
The mix is carded several times in order to clean and mix the fibres before they are spun into new yarns.
The resulting staple fibre is shorter than the original fibre length, meaning, it is more difficult to spin.
Recycled cotton is, therefore, often blended with virgin cotton fibres to improve the yarn strengths.
Commonly, not more than 30% recycled cotton content is used in the finished yarn or fabric. Since waste cotton is often already dyed, re-dyeing may not be necessary.
Cotton is an extremely resource intense crop in terms of water, pesticides and insecticides. This means that using recycled cotton can lead to significant savings of natural resources and reduce pollution from agriculture.
Recycling one tonne of cotton can save 765 cubic metres of water. This ensures that the wastage is curbed and environment-friendly methods are adopted.
Another form of wastage that takes place during the production of cotton sarees is that of the water left after the dyeing of the yarn. Most of the time, chemical dyes are used for dyeing the yarn, the water then left is polluted and harmful since it contains chemicals A lack of proper waste disposal techniques makes it worst and contributes to environmental pollution and water wastage.
Tools & Tech:
The following tools and technology are used in the cotton sarees of Vanavasi-
Looms– There are 3 types of looms found in the Vanavasi cluster, these are-
Simple Pit loom for 80×80 cotton sarees
B. Dobby looms
C. Jacquard loom 120/240 hooks 3-4 shuttles, with 2 to 4 paddles.
Paddle– Every loom setup has about 4 paddles attached to it.
Shuttle– Every loom setup has about 3-4 shuttles attached to it.
Warping Machines– These machines are huge in size and used while preparing the warp. The prepared warp is loaded into its beam before the weaving process.
Huge containers– These are used for dyeing and boiling water.
Reel and Charkha – Reeling is done using a charkha machine. The women of the household usually take up this task.
Computer-generated punch cards– These punch cards are loaded in the jacquard machines to create the motif patterns for the sari, border, and pallu. In the present day, the local designer makes these designs on the computer and transfers them into the punch cards using simple machines. These punch cards are made out of thick paper boards.
The process of making Vanavasi sarees is a ritual in itself. Since it is believed that hand-loom weaving is a form of sadhana or meditation, one requires an almost meditative state of mind to achieve the rhythm and become one with the loom. This is why hand-looms are a precious part of India textile heritage.
Chandan or sandalwood has a prime significance in this weaving process. Owing to its auspicious properties, Chandan is smeared onto the looms of the weavers since in Tamil Nadu, Chandan is known to bring abundance, wealth and prosperity. Therefore, all looms of these weavers feature marks of Chandan.
Sometimes even photographs of deities or popular political leaders are found on the looms. The weavers seek the blessings of these individuals, touch the Chandan and only then begin their weaving process.
These rituals attach an element of sacredness to the entire weaving process.
The weaving process starts from choosing the design, which may be a traditional one or one supplied by buyers.
The design is developed on computer by local person according to the dimensions desired. This person is also responsible of converting design in to card board punch card. These cards, linked in a chain as per the design, are then used by the jacquard machine to provide the exact sequence of the different colours of the threads that are required for the design.
The warp is usually set by someone from the society and the process of sizing is carried out on the streets – ‘Pavdi’ applying starch on the stretched yarns and finally rolling them on bamboo bars, to be put on the loom.
The yarn for the weft is loaded on the Chakra and from it, transferred to small metal drums called the Dabbas. From these Dabbas it is again transferred to small Bobbins (Parn), to be fitted in the shuttle called Nada.
For weaving, artisans use pit loom called ‘tarai.’ They sit on the ground floor, warp threads stretched 4-5 inch from the ground floor.
For the jacquard design, they use 2 jacquards- one for the border and one for the body.
Both men and women weave at home, therefore, in many houses 2 looms can be spotted, one for each.
The weaving process requires great skill as the weaver has to constantly keep pedaling to operate the jacquard machine. At the same time, he has to pull the string that controls the shuttle, which flies over the wooden sill of the loom, taking the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp.
Along with cotton and silk sarees, synthetic sarees are also produced on these looms. It can take minimum two days to make a saree depending on the intricacy of the design.
Vanavasi is small town in the Mettur taluk, Salem district, Tamil Nadu. It is said that it was an abode of the Pandavas. In some of the ancient inscriptions, the entire area in the region has been referred to as "Shelall” or “Shylal”. It is believed that the name Salem would have originated from any one of these terms. In course of time, according to the Malaiyali tradition, Sela Nad is a corruption of Sera or Chera Nad. There is another group of people who believe that previously the place was known as “isylami” since it was surrounded by many hills and that it later it became Salem. The breath-taking and refreshing beauty, greenery and mystique of this small town captures the eyes, heart and soul of plenty.
Tamil, English, Kannada
October to March
Nearest railway station is in Mettur and airport is in Salem, both of these are connected to all the major cities.
The Pandavas resided in here during the time of their exile. During that time the village was inside a forest i.e. a ‘van’ and they were known as Vanavasi, someone who resides in a ‘van’ or a forest. This later became the name of the village.
According to a lore, this village is also the birthplace of the Vanavasi who was immortalized in a classic Tamil poem, ‘Prabhulinga Leelai’, written by ‘Sivaprakasaswamigal’. Thus the village was named Vanavasi village after him.
The human civilisation in Salem region has been traced to a period even before the stone ages through the discovery of Paleolithic and Neolithic stone implements and dung ash heaps.
The earliest known chieftain who ruled this region was Adigaman Neduman Anji.
During the 8th century this region was ruled by Pallava kings.
Subsequently the Cholas, Chalukyas, Hoysalyas and the Pandiyas were keen in establishing their rule in this region.
In the 14th century the Vijayanagara kings established their ascendency in this area. After the down fall of the Vijayanagara empire, Salem appears to have become the capital of Poligars, subordinate to Madurai Kingdom.
After Thirumala Nayaka, the power of Madurai declined and that of the Mysore grew.
In 1659, Dodda Devaraja, a Mysore king, captured some of the areas from Gattimudaliars. Subsequently, the aggression of Marattas checked the power of Mysore kings and they captured many areas in Salem region. But in 1688-89, Chickka Deva Rajaof Mysore become strong enough once again to invade the Marathas and recaptured those areas under them.
After the death of Chika Devaraja in 1704, Abdul Nabi Khan Nawab of Cuddapah, recaptured many areas in this region and established his throne. In the middle of the 18th century his Hyder Ali was in power in Mysore.
By about 1760, he established his ascendency in Salem region. In 1792, the British company's troops were garrisoned in Salem in order to check Tipu's power.
For a long time, Salem remained as a military station and administrative centre.
After the transformation of administration of the country from the hands of the East India company in 1857, the civic administration of the towns of the presidency was vested with the one for each town. The first of that kind was formed in Salem in 1857.
At an average elevation of 340 meters, above the sea level, the co-ordinates of this region are 11° 45′ 8.65″ N Latitude and 77° 52′ 43.57″ E Longitude.
It is surrounded by a large number of hills the Shervaroys and the Nagara malai on the north, the Jerugumalai on the south and the Kanjamalai, on the west and the Godumalai on the east.
Places near Vanavasi are Mettur at a distance of almost 19.8 km, Tharamangalam 11 km away and Jalakandapuram 6 km away. Salem is located almost 36 km away and Nangavalli 1 km away from this town.
It is located at a distance of around 345 km from Chennai, the state capital.
By rail: Mecheri Road Rail Way Station, Mettur Dam Rail Way Station are the very nearby railway stations to Vanavasi. From here Bangalore and Chennai are just a few hours away.
By air: There is an airport at Kaamalapuram, Salem, which is a 35-minute drive from the town. It is located by the Salem-Bangalore Highway via National Highway 7 or NH-7. The other near major airports are at Trichy, 162 km away and Coimbatore, 165 km away.
The infrastructure of this town is quite developed.
It is well connected by road and rail.
Moreover, basic sanitation and healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics have also been established.
Water and electricity are also available to the residents of this town.
Vernacular houses in this region have their origins in humble single spaced rural huts, built by locals with the available knowledge of materials and techniques.
The most primitive form of rural dwelling which forms the origin of the vernacular architecture of Tamil Nadu is a single space multi functional unit. These essentially simplistic plans however have also led to elaborately embellished houses built over a period of time by the more affluent segments of the society.
Trade played an important role in history to fuel the imagination and combined with local craftsmanship, marvels of Chettinad houses were created.
The space has essentially a tripartite division, viz., Tinnai (the raised verandah), Koodam (the inner living hall) and the Samayal (Kitchen). The outside verandah is the male zone and inside, the female zone.
A woven Durry or mat to sit on, chit chat for hours, lie down or make strings of flowers, receive guests and perform other recreational activities like playing board games, is the only piece of furniture required here.
A study box for the house accountant and an array of kitchen accessories to prepare Vethalai-pakku (digestive made of betel leaves, lime and areca nut) are also found here. Wooden pillars are an integral part of these houses. They may be heavy and intricately carved.
The middle part, which includes the inner verandah is where most of the weaver community has installed their looms today.
The doors are small and usually have photo frames of Goddess Laxmi or family members hung on top. Rear of the house remains the female zone, thus segregating the public, semiprivate and private activities in a dwelling. These structures were constructed using locally available permanent materials such as stone, Laterite stone, mud mortar, country wood, bamboo and tiles.
The roof is pitched with a two sided slope
Today, most of the houses are constructed with cement, but in village area roofs are still made using clay tiles.
A single large water body or number of water ponds form an essential part of the settlement and were perhaps the reason for its growth and have a great impact on its micro climatic conditions.
In towns a strict row housing pattern is adopted, narrow lanes connect neighbourhoods.
As we speed across towns towards villages, the roads get narrower but also lighter and greener. We breathe air that nourishes our senses. Sparsely sprinkled over the red soil on fields ready for harvest, lush green draped are thatched roof hutments, some replaced by mud roof tiles and many by concrete buildings.
Temple architecture of South, based on laws of Vastushastra is the seat of high craftsmanship of ancient value. The style of architecture is known as Dravidian architecture and is marked by highly sculptural pyramidal structures, grandeur of which has a humbling effect on people.
Every temple is surrounded by beautiful streets, where even now, we can find Sthapathis, the metal and stone sculptors of Chola style living. These marvels of mankind are apart from being places of religious importance, great repositories of scriptures and rare manuscripts, sculptures based on perfected knowledge of human anatomy known as Shilpa Shastra, motifs and patterns textile has taken lead from and remarkable line of forms life can exist in, and still be worthy of worship. Among many Gods, Goddesses, Demigods and creatures, these temple premises also house Rakshashas. The order within a temple is much like that of a world in harmony with its good and evil forces together.
Women generally wear a fabric drape around them, 6 to 8 yards of length. First tied round the waist with pleats gathered in front and then brought over the right shoulder, covering their breasts. A part of the drape is either let free hanging from the shoulder or brought in front along the waist. This part is called the Pallu and is commonly the most elaborately designed and embellished part of this drape called the Sari.
Tucking the Pallu on your left waist in front is a very common style of wearing a sari in this region. You can also see old women wearing saree in kosuvam style, which is a different draping style without blouse.
Apart from sari, younger and unmarried women can also be seen wearing stitched salwars and Kurtas.
Ornaments like “Pambadam” ear rings and ‘Thandgai’ sailver bangles are common to this place.
Some common designs of nose pins may have a circular metal ring.
Traditionally, Veshti (White fabric with simple line border) is the most common bottom-wear for men in Tamil Nadu. It is wrapped around the waist and legs. It is the traditional dress worn by men in marriages too… however, the material may be silk for special occasions. This rectangular shaped cloth is generally made with cotton for daily usage. It is mostly worn with a shirt or Angavastram.
This region is a good mix or Agriculture and Industry.
Due to the yield of tapioca in and around Salem there are so many sago industries functioning in Salem Districts.
Salem is also famous for its tasty mangoes which are exported to many foreign countries. Apart from agriculture, Salem has abundant mineral resources, it is also famous for its steel plant.
The Salem handloom industry is one of the most ancient cottage industries and producing quality sari, dhoti and angavasthram out of Occupation silk yarn and cotton yarn.
In the recent past, home furnishing items are also woven, mainly for export purposes. More than 75,000 handlooms are working and the total value of cloth produced per annum is estimated at Rs. 5,000 crores.
With more than 125 spinning mills, with modern weaving units and garment units Salem established itself as one of the major textile center in Tamil Nadu.
The history of handloom and spinning mills dates back to pre-independence period in Salem. But till 1960s there were fewer than 5 spinning mills.
Growing paddy, banana, coconut, sugarcane, cultivating fish in tributaries of Cauvery and along the coast line of Bay of Bengal is the main occupation of the people here.
Tamarind, Neem, Palm, Banyan and Gulmohar trees form a vault way for people to walk through. Amidst such proximity to mother earth one finds nourishment for all senses merely by being.
Blessed with bounty, the land supplies food and supplements to its children living in towns and cities.
A typical Tamil fully laid meal comprises of all the six Rasas of Ayurveda, namely; Sweet, sour, bitter, salty, astringent and pungent. A balance of these in diet ensures not just a tasty meal but also the essence of one’s being eventually. Spread on a banana leaf, freshly cut and cleaned are vegetables, rice, lentils, pickles and Chutnis (spices, fruits, vegetable pureed) in various proportions. While a poppadum made out of lentil, Coconut Chutni, onion tamato Chutni, Sambar dal, rasam, buttermilk and rice flavoured with lemon or tamarind are a must, vegetables like ladyfinger, bottle gourd, peas, cabbage, potato, fish etc. cooked in coconut oil, with or without gravy may vary.
Pudding made of sweetened rice and milk, Ravasheera, Badam halwa and many more options for desserts are made depending on season and choice. This elaborate meal gets even grander during weddings and can be brought down to only a few dishes on everyday basis.
The green leafy plate with all these colorful and multi textural elements placed on it in an array is called Sapad and is quite a visual delight.
With their practices still rooted in their strong traditional values, people eat with their hands and mixing the food well on the thali itself before taking the morsel to mouth is a common practice. This is believed to be important to break down the elements of the food to a level, where all the Rasas mix well, the food tastes better and is light on digestive system.
Sapad is usually the midday meal. In contrast to this, dinner before sunset, usually with fruits or freshly made wheat bread with lentils or milk is the lightest meal of the day.
Festivals are also an important part of the culture of Vanavasi. Once every five years it celebrates the Draupathiyamman Festival.
In the Tamil month of 'Aippasi' the town organises the Mariyamman Festival.
After every five years the Sowdeswari Amman is also celebrated on a grand scale.
The population of the town includes 4800 males i.e. 51.15%, 4584 females i.e. 48.85% and 702 children. This also consists of 14.06% of the Scheduled Tribes and 19.82% of the Scheduled Caste.
The literacy rate of Vanavasi is 54.24%, out of which the male literacy rate is 61.85% and the female literacy rate is 46.27%.
Tamil is the widely spoken language, the standard dialect being Central Tamil dialect. Kannada, English and Hindi are other languages spoken here.
The bulk of the population is Hindus. The next largest religious group is the Muslims and then Christians. The rest of the population consists of a few Zoroastrians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and others.
The Hindu social organization is composed of several castes. Each caste consists of several sub castes. The sub caste itself is divided into a number of smaller exogamous groups. Some important castes to which people of Salem district belong are the Brahmins: There are many sects and sub-sects among them, such as Telugu Brahmins, Kannada Brahmins and Tulu Brahmins. The major non Brahmins communities Velars, Vanniyars, Agamudayars, Udaiyars and many more. With the spread of literacy and social awakening among the masses, the rigidity of caste barriers is gradually disappearing.
Lord Murugan, Lakshmi Narasimhar and Shiva are the most widely prayed deities. Pongal and Mariamman are festivals celebrated with great pomp and show.
People gather, decorate their houses and celebrate these festivals together. Men and women both put earthen pot on their head and then dance together. They also walk on the burning coal as a ritual to celebrate the Mariamman festival. The celebration goes on a week and every day Men wear Dhoti and shirts and women their six yard saris, with their hair neatly tied behind in a bun or pleat, decorated with strings of jasmine, rose, lily (as per the season).
The welcoming nature of people there makes them more respectable and gentle. It is a heart-warming feeling when one sees how simple and far from this world’s chaos is the lives of all these people. It is not just their simplicity, it is the work they do has and how this work has its own importance in this world.
Vanavasi is an important pilgrimage center along with the producer of the beautiful Vanavasi sarees.
It is visited by devotees from all over the country.
Some of the significant temples located here are:
Chinna Mariyamman Temple
Sowdeswari Amman Temple
Apart from this, the state of Tamil Nadu is also famous for paintings, musical instruments, jewelry, metal ware, pottery, woodcraft, stone carving and other textiles including cotton and silk sarees from different districts.