Monday, May 3, 2010


Last month, there was a minor furore when the Emirate of Sharjah banned lungis in public places. The lungi is a comfortable garment, one that is still worn daily by millions, even though its popularity has fallen a bit in recent times. In its heydey, the lungi was not mere casual, lolling-around-the-house-wear. Though in the land of its birth, the lungi remained at the bottom of the sartorial scale, it was a prized posession in the countries it was exported to. With its strong, check-patterns in bold colours, it provided that extra spiff to the starched white shirts worn over it. Malaya, Ceylon, Siam - places where the lungi morphed into the sarong, were countries that the garment was introduced by the Dutch or the Portugese.

Many of these countries referred to the lungi as 'Palayakat'. One school of thought is that the word is a corruption of Pazhaverkadu (now called Pulicat), north of Chennai, where the Dutch had their fortress before the British presence on the Coromandel coast. These simple rectangles of cloth were probably the central players of a brand-building (okay, category-building) exercise a couple of centuries ago. The British varied the dimensions of these rectangles, or converted them into running lengths, and popularised them as 'Madras Checks' in its colonies, including the ones in America. Palayakat is a forgotten term now - certainly in Chennai, where lungi still holds sway, but companies behind the popular old brands still use the term: like Sangu-mark lungi-gal, which is a brand of The Madras Palayakat Company.

There could be another story of origin for the word, however. It could have originated from 'palasar-e-kattu', 'palasar' being the manner of tying the veshti, urging the users of the humble lungi to wear it like its more formal counterpart!


Anonymous said...

Please share the address of sangu mark lungi shop in chennai. Thanks


Shantaram said...

@Nath: There is one on Thambu Chetty Street, as well as at 60, Armenian Street - which is where this picture was taken. There are a couple of phone numbers, which you can see if you click on the picture to enlarge it!