Thursday, October 27, 2016

The handcrafted Athangudi tiles

Athangudi tiles are handcrafted tiles with earthy base colors. They come in exquisite designs and  are the highlight of chettinad culture. These tiles are one of a kind and are named after this small village Athangudi  where they are made. 

Made on  a square of glass as base( which is removed later), with colored oxide solution, these tiles are a work of art. It had been on my bucket list in recent times, ever since i saw a video on social media talking about the crafts extinction due to its low production and high pricing (40 rs/ tile when bought in bulk)  compared to the tiles that were mass produced. 

 So, My next stop after the Athangudi mansion was the cottage industry where these tiles were made.

After a brief stop over at the carpenters antique warehouse, we drove on the same lane to Ganapathy tile house which  was recommended by a person near the mansion. It was noon by now and the sun was scorching over head. when we entered into Ganpathy tile cottage industry. On one side was the asbestos sheeted storehouse of tiles & office and the other side was the tile making workshop with its raw materials stored. 

The moment we were close to the workshop, we were welcomed by a smiling couple. Without any prompting or asking for, he started demonstrating the making of tile,one design after the other and patiently answered all our questions. He even asked my daughter and son to make a tile. 

 The dexterity and agility with which his hands moved showed his expertise in the craft. That was Muthuraman who has been involved in the making for more than 35 years. Having started as a helper, between him and his wife, they churn out 200 tiles per day all handcrafted with no machines whatsoever involved. When asked if working with  bare hands on materials like Cement and oxides  did not affect his hands , he said during rainy season they do get blisters but they go on with their work.

A few years back this was a dying industry but now Muthuraman tells there are more than 120 tile making units in Athangudi now and there is more demand for this tiles than before.  They even export these to foreign countries now. A stack of packaged tiles were stored in the godown to be shipped to  Iran.

These tiles are durable and  it gains more sheen with passage of time and maintenance is also low in that,  all one needs is to rub the floor maybe couple of times in a year with coconut oil. Muthuraman suggested tying   coconut gratings in a muslin cloth  and rubbing over the tiles. More  about the tiles  through the pictures and video

                                                  The raw materials used cement

The raw materials used in the making Cement, sand and the solution of red oxide, blue oxide etc.,. These solutions are a mixture of the colored oxides, kola maavu( rangoli powder), white cement and water The base colors are 6, the above 4 colors, green and black. And from these 6 colors another 6 colors are built. So totally  athangudi tiles can have 12 colors.

                             The tools are designed metal stencils, frames and a glass sheet of tile size

Muthuraman at work

The tiles curing in water for 8-10 days with the glass, after which the glass finally slips out leaving the glossy tile alone. These tiles are not baked so do not require any fire, power or fuel. 


The cured tiles are then laid out in a room over a layer of husk where the husk absorbs the moisture and the tiles shine when the husk releases its oil.Each of them have a name based on the design or where it is much in demand. for instance the above black and white is called Lanka and a blue tile with white pattern in corner is called "Bangalore" since it is more in demand in Bangalore.

Below a video of the Athangudi tile  making.


  1. Yes, I had heard about the renaissance of these tiles and how demand is soaring. Great for them.

    Yes prices are a bit high, but they are not outrageous. Its affordable by many.

    Another excellent and informative post. Loving this trip of yours.

  2. These are so beautiful to look at. Thanks for the detailed description.

  3. Handcrafted tiles! Was not aware of this cottage industry. Watching the workers at work must be a fascinating experience. I liked the black and white tile design the most!

  4. black and white is called lanka...i liked plain red (not in pic) with that green diamond border tiles....would add an old world charm to the home....Shilpa, these are mainly used for the ethnic styled homes than contemporary homes.