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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Everything You Want to Know About Athangudi Tiles (Chettinad Tiles)

Athangudi tiles are ecofriendly handmade floor tiles , named after Athangudi, the village where they originated and are made. Athangudi is a manufacturing place located in the Chettinad Area of Tamil Nadu. Athangudi tiles also known by the names such as ‘Chettinad tiles’, Karaikudi tiles’, portrays an incredible and classic expression of the legacy Of Chettinad. These tiles are used in the Chettinad area for more than 100 years. Many families in the village are involved in the tile making and they depend on this craft for their livelihood. This traditional craft has been passed over generation from older to younger hands.

Table of Contents

  1. The History

  2. Raw Materials for Athangudi Tile

  3. Moulds Involved in the Manufacture of Athangudi Tile

  4. Athangudi Tile Making Process

  5. Tile Laying Process

  6. Athangudi Tile Designs

  7. Colour Availability

  8. Are Athangudi Tiles Expensive?

  9. Athangudi Tiles Advantages And Uses

  10. Athangudi Tiles Disadvantages

  11. Maintenance and Cleaning of Athangudi Tiles

  12. Location & Availability

  13. The Chettinad Tile Industry and Its Contribution to Sustainability: A Case Study

  14. Athangudi Tiles in our Projects

Patterned Athangudi Tiles in Verandah
Patterned Athangudi Tiles in Verandah

The History

Most of the designs are inspired from the Victorian tiles in United Kingdom. S. Gomathy of Kipling & Co. Arts recalled how the tiles were first attempted in Chettinad. “Originally tiles from Germany, England and Italy made their way into affluent homes, but when the tiles aged with wear and tear, fixing them again was cumbersome. That was when the enterprising people of the area learnt the art of tile-making and having a trademark of their own in Athangudi.” (Taken from the “Aura of Athangudi tiles” Article in Hindu Newspaper). The tile processed was actually a blend of east and west. During the earlier days of their production, these tiles were preferred more by the rich since it was a newer technology in those days and was a bit expensive to afford.

Raw Materials for Athangudi Tiles

Athangudi Tiles are manufactured from locally available materials such as river sand, cement and naturally occurring oxides, hence very sustainable. Originally, lime was used for making Athangudi Tiles. The following are the ingredients used for the making of Athangudi Tiles:

  1. White Cement

  2. Grey Cement ( around 175 tiles can be made with one bag of cement)

  3. Sand (around 300 sq. ft. of tiles can be made out of 1 tractor load of sand)

  4. Colouring Oxide

  5. Tank Water

Image of Plain Athangudi Tiles
Image of Plain Athangudi Tiles

Different colours are available in the market and generally the brand used is Nerolac Oxide. Nowadays, the imported colour oxides are also used. The colours which are usually bought are,

  • blue oxide at Rs. 50 / kg

  • light green oxide at Rs. 50 / kg

  • red oxide at Rs. 40 / kg

  • black oxide at Rs 35 / kg

  • yellow oxide at Rs 35 / kg

  • white cement at Rs 10 / kg

Athangudi Tile Colour Oxides
Athangudi Tile Colour Oxides

Moulds Involved in the Manufacture of Athangudi Tiles

Tools involved in the manufacture are:

  1. Plain glass sheet of 3mm thickness cut to required size. Traditional tile size is 8”x 8” in dimension.

  2. Die made of bronze (pithalai) to required design. These dies are made at a place called as Konapattu.

  3. Framework to hold the cement filling which forms into a tile. This frame is made of square sections and has 2 handles on opposite sides.

Framework to hold cement filling in Chettinad tile  making process.
Framework to hold cement filling in Chettinad tile making process.

Athangudi Tile Making Process

These tiles are hand-made, and there is no firing or use of electricity. It is made by a distinctive traditional process even though it can be produced through several mechanical processes and the mode of production is very interesting.

The proportion is very important in the tile making process since the wrong proportion can create cracks in the tiles. The experienced craftsman in the Chettinad region are well versed in the proportion for mixing different components to make perfect tiles. The different composition involved in the making process are as follows:

Proportion to obtain light colours is,

Proportion to obtain dark colours is,

Here is the step by step procedure involved in the Athangudi or Chettinad Tile Manufacture:

1. The above ingredients in required proportion are mixed and rubbed dried (20 times).

 The Mixing Of Ingedients In Athangudi Tile Manufacturing Process
The Mixing Of Ingredients In Athangudi Tile Manufacturing Process

2. The mixing is done only by hand and then is sieved and packed. Pure oxides are used for better results. To obtain darker shade of the colours, the mixture is used after 2 days.

3. Water is added to the mix and then stirred to obtain the required consistency.

4. The frame is dipped in water and is placed on the clean glass.

5. The die is also placed on the glass and care is taken so that fits well within the framework.

Die placed on glass surface in the framework.
Die placed on glass surface in the framework.

6. The above mixture of colour oxide is then poured into different compartments which takes the shape of the design of the die.

Mixture of colour oxide is poured into different compartments to take the shape of design of die.
Mixture of colour oxide is poured into different compartments to take the shape of design of die.

7. The die is carefully removed by a jerk without disturbing the wet oxides and dry cement and mud mixture in 1:3 ratio is sprinkled over it.

The colour oxides taken the design of die.
The colour oxides taken the design of die.

8. The frame is then packed with filling mixture of cement and sand in 1:3 ratio (water added).

Packing of frame with cement and sand in Chettinad Tile  making process.
Packing of frame with cement and sand in Chettinad Tile making process.

9. The frame is removed carefully leaving the mixture on the glass, which later forms the tile and kept to dry at room temperature.

10. Then the tile and the glass together are immersed in the water.

11. The curing is done in water for 24 hours. If the curing is done perfectly, the cracks developed will be minimal. Then they do the curing by keeping it in the shade and pouring water. The longer the curing the better it is.

The curing process of Athangudi Tiles.
The curing process of Athangudi Tiles.

12. After curing, the edges of the tiles are evened using broken Athangudi tiles.

13. The tiles are then dried for 7 days. Only 3 mm glass is preferred as thicker glasses do not allow the tile to dry evenly.

14. The tiles are removed from the glass and are stacked like sandwiches with the newspaper in between the glossy surfaces.

Chettinad Tiles arranged in stacks
Chettinad Tiles arranged in stacks

15. It takes 9 days to make a batch of tiles.

While estimating the number of tiles to be ordered, for every 100 sq. ft., 5-15% wastage is calculated. But these tiles can be cut and can be used as broken tiles. These broken tiles could be used to form different pattern according to one’s imagination.

Tile Laying Process

The Chettinad tile laying process is also unique and different from the normal procedure. Since the edges are not polished like the contemporaries, the imperfection in the art of laying will be bare, only the trained masons can get the level right , Masons from the Karaikudi masters these techniques to produce a perfect tile layout. About 100 sq.ft. can be laid in one day and after that it takes 2-3 days for polishing. There is no need for machine polishing. The polishing is done with the help of rice husk. The polished Athangudi tiles can reflect light like a mirror.

It is always better to use the masons from the Athangudi tiles supplier for the laying process instead of normal tile layers. since the tiles are handmade and uneven, inexperienced persons can sometimes mess up the work.

Athangudi Tile Designs

Various designs are possible and it is left to the imagination of the designer. Many of the designs are very similar to the Victorian Tiles used during the late 19th Century. The design can be plain as well as exotic with floral patterns or free styles as per the style we need. The patterns are tailor made as per the requirements and desire of the client. Since each tile is handmade individually, the slight variation in the design becomes the signature feature of these tiles.

Various Chettinad Tile Designs & Colours
Various Chettinad Tile Designs & Colours

Colour Availability

Since the Chettinad tiles are custom-made, it comes in multiple colours and pattern. Dark earthly hues and black and white assemblage for borders are the Chettinad tile specialties. Standard colours used in flooring are red, light green, blue, mustard or yellow and grey. When laid, these tiles offer a burst of colours with an aura of tradition.

Athangudi Tile Pattern
Athangudi Tile Pattern

Are Athangudi Tiles Expensive?

The Karaikudi tiles are economical since the materials for its manufacture are locally available and natural materials. Moreover they are casted by hand , without any expensive machines or mechanical process and without the usage of fuel, electricity etc. The Athangudi tile price range is around Rs. 60 - 65 per sq.ft. including the labour cost for laying. They are easy to install and these tiles are also very durable for decades. The maintenance and cleaning are inexpensive since it involves the usage of materials available in our house.

Athangudi Tiles Advantages and Uses

The Athangudi tiles are ready made tiles brought directly for laying and easy to install. They are ecofriendly, durable over decades and financially affordable. In designs and finish, quality Athangudi tiles can match any of the modern available tiles. The Athangudi tile-making process does not involve any firing and there is no use of electricity, so when compared with its alternatives like ceramic tiles it comes out to be more sustainable. These tiles are both sustainable and the epitome of tradition and modernity.

These tiles are best suited in living rooms, dining rooms, verandah, courtyard etc. where they increase the visual appeal.

Athangudi Tiles Disadvantages

These tiles are not suitable for the use in bathrooms or wet areas. These tiles are not preferred for the areas which are likely to get wet very frequently and for kitchen, because the tiles will become very smooth and if there is water spill in the kitchen, then it can be dangerous. Also these are not suitable for wall tiles. Since it is mainly manufactured in the Chettinad region, using these heavy tiles in other areas can add up to a higher transportation charges since there is a need of proper packaging and care while transporting.

Maintenance and Cleaning of Athangudi Tiles

Regular cleaning can be done on the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil to keep the shine intact. Also the non usage of these tiles can decrease their shine. The more you walk on it, the more sheen it gets. These tiles age beautifully and the fixtures that develop with time, add textures and balance to the tiles.

Yellow Athangudi Tile
Yellow Athangudi Tile

Location & Availability

These tiles are made and are available in Athangudi village in Chettinad Region. It is one of the most thriving industry in the Chettinad Region. Now, there are many manufacturers at the local level. These tiles are heavy so proper packaging is necessary to reduce the breaking of tiles during transportation. It takes some amount for the transportation but when compared to other vitrified tiles the overall cost inclusive of laying is lesser. Now, Athangudi Tile are available in Pondicherry, Bangalore, Coimbatore etc.

The Chettinad Tile Industry and Its Contribution to Sustainability: A Case Study

Surya’s and Natrajan’s Business.

Surya and Natrajan are partners who have been in the business of manufacturing Athangudi tiles for the past 25 years. They had invested a considerable amount in the dies and the sheds. For every 100 sqft of tiles manufactured, there is a flawless amount of profit they make. For each tile, there is a coolie amount too.

Surya has a variety of 80 dies, out of which 15 are border designs. He does not charge extra for a new die if it’s a bulk order ranging from 2000-3000 sqft of tiles.

Traditionally only 8”x 8” tiles were made, but now by popular demand 10”x10” tiles are also being made. They send a mason (kothanar) and a helper. The customer pays for their conveyance, food and stay at the site during the fixing of the tiles. Locally, they sell for a lower price.

Natarajan says that the big manufacturers have continuous work from the bulk orders from Chennai. Whereas the small ones have to wait for orders. There are around 25 factories in the region and more than 100 manufacturers are involved in the Athangudi Tile business. All of them initiate the booming of a sustainable enterprise that can change the face of modern architecture.

Athangudi Tiles in Our Projects

When I used these tiles for the first time, about 20 years ago, they were not popular. I have used these tiles extensively in my projects because they are very sustainable and beautiful. Vishram by the Sea, Asikkad House, Pedanandipadu House, Thanikachalam House, The Pyramid are some of the projects where vivid variety of Athangudi tiles are being used, which not only magnified the grandeur of these houses but also aided in resonating an authentic traditional charm to these homes.

The custom- built Athangudi tiles exhibit how a classic vernacular craft has cherished in modern times. The greatness lies in the fact that it is purely natural, earthly and rustic with a blend of freshness and uniqueness of modernity. The Athangudi tiles showcase cultural heritage with a burst of colours that can easily be brought and can change the ambience of our homes. They breathe a legacy of preserved art, craft and culture of Tamil Nadu beyond borders.

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