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Article: Varna Sutra : Healing Foods (Part 2)

Varna Sutra : Healing Foods (Part 2)

Within the kanjivaram drape, you can traverse a world of colour, and you might find yourself immersed in the hues of a South Indian kitchen.

Continuing our journey into the healing foods of India through the colours of the kanjivaram, we bring you six more ingredients this week.

Every colour in the kanjivaram’s traditional palette weaves a story. The specificity and beauty of the Tamil names for the hues root the craft in its geographical and cultural landscape. This rich and evocative vocabulary is visible in the colours drawn from the kitchen—the vibrant glow of milagai pazham (chilli red) or the gorgeous crimson-tinged violet of naval pazham (jamun).

In India, we have always used spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits to treat everything from indigestion to insomnia. In addition to these cures, our daily food and drink also incorporate natural immunity boosters, such as turmeric and ginger. Inspired by the incredible simplicity and effectiveness of these homemade remedies, we have drawn on the kanjivaram’s colours to select ingredients and bring you this series of recipes.

Food stylist, blogger and photographer Nandi Shah brings these ingredients to life in a series of stunning photographs that capture the recipes, ingredients and colours in her signature style.

The remedies passed down from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers help build immunity, and restore the balance and well-being of body and mind—something all of us need now more than ever.

As many of us spend more time at home, and in the kitchen too, we hope you have a chance to try these recipes. Perhaps this experience will take you back in time, help you reconnect with your loved ones, and keep you healthy in the midst of this turbulence.

Look out for the accompanying curation of Kanakavalli kanjivarams in the gorgeous hues of each ingredient.



The delicate citrus yellow of lemon or elumichai is elegant and lovely on the kanjivaram silk. The colour of the sun, yellow is considered auspicious in spiritual traditions of South India, and is a joyful, vibrant hue on the sari. The tart, acidic flavour of lime comes to life in a variety of pickles, rasams and juices.

Like other citrus fruit, it is known to be a rich source of vitamins and antioxidants. Lime juice is excellent for a healthy scalp, and can be used to control blood pressure.

Recipe : Lime Twisters 

- Mix a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lime juice with two tablespoons of coconut oil. Apply to the scalp for fifteen minutes before washing the hair. This treats heat rashes and keeps dandruff away.


- On a hot day, drink a glass of diluted buttermilk with a squeeze of lime juice in it to keep your blood pressure in check.



The gorgeous, glowing red of milagai pazham (chilli red) on the kanjivaram is a bridal favourite and a classic trousseau choice. Adorned with traditional motifs and fine zari, the richness of the colour is unparalleled. The bright red of chillies adds flavour, spice and colour to South Indian cooking. Red, the colour of the goddess, is a colour steeped in tradition, considered auspicious and an important part of ritual ceremony, including weddings. This flavourful chutney with red chillies works wonders for the digestive system.

Recipe : Red Chilli Dip 

Roast a bunch of vallarai keerai. Add a little asafoetida powder (hing), tamarind, rock salt, a few whole peppercorns, a few fenugreek seeds (vendhayam), and two red chillies. Once roasted and cooled, grind into a chutney.



Few recipes in South Indian cooking are complete without a sprinkle of turmeric, used for its flavour, colour and its role as a natural immunity booster. It is also the key ingredient in Pongal, made to celebrate the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu. Closely associated with ritual and prayer, turmeric is believed to bring luck and blessings. The bright, golden yellow of pasu manjal is an exquisite shade on the kanjivaram silk. The golden spice, which we know better as manjal or haldi, has powerful medicinal properties.

Recipe : Turmeric Tonic

- To treat a cold, drink a glass of warm cow’s milk with half a spoon of turmeric and half a spoon of sugar.

- For a dry cough, take a mixture of turmeric and honey in the morning as soon as you wake up, and in the evening before bed.




Drawing on a range of ingredients and elements, the kanjivaram palette is deeply rooted in South Indian tradition and culture. Sambrani is associated with a state of peaceful tranquillity and is used in spiritual and meditative practice. A type of resin sourced from the bark of certain trees, sambrani is burned on pieces of coal to release its fragrance and medicinal qualities. On the kanjivaram, the colour is a soft, silver grey with hints of black. The fragrant sambrani that we use as incense also has healing properties.

Recipe: Sambrani Inhaler

Place sambrani and some omam (caraway seeds/ ajwain) over a few pieces of burning coal. Inhale this smoke for relief from a severe cold.



Honey—then in Tamil—is known as the oldest sweetener in the world. Considered the food of the gods, honey has been harvested from forests for centuries. A rare hue on the kanjivaram drape, it is interpreted by the weavers of Kanchipuram as a beautiful shade of dark liquid amber that infuses the silk with a rich depth. The honeycomb motif, known as then koodu, also occasionally adorns the queen of silks. Honey has medicinal properties and can be used in the following simple ways.

Recipe: Honey Helpers

- Make a paste of honey and cinnamon powder. Have a teaspoon of this mixture regularly to reduce cholesterol.

- Mix together a teaspoon each of honey, ginger juice and lime juice, to drink when you feel faint.



The naval pazham or jamun tree is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, yielding delicious, juicy berries in deep purple and crimson, known as the Malabar plum. The striking shade of the tropical fruit comes to life in regal splendour on the kanjivaram sari as violet shot with crimson. The jamun tree is also considered auspicious in South India, and is the sacred tree of the famous Thiruvanaikovil temple of Trichy. There’s nothing like jamun to lower the blood pressure.

Recipe: Malabar Plum Mixer

When it’s in season, savour the fresh fruit. Off season, dry the seeds and powder along with fenugreek seeds. A teaspoon of this mixture can be taken with a glass of water every evening before bed.


And that's a wrap on our two part "Healing Foods" articles! We hope you enjoyed these and try some of them out. Have you read Part 1 of this series? Click here to access it. 

Don't miss the accompanying curation of Kanakavalli kanjivarams that draws on this lexicon of colours - click here to view.


Food styling, props and photography - Nandi Shah 

Recipes and reference - Kalamkriya

About the photographer: Nandi Shah studied fine art and has always been intrigued by art and design. She picked up the camera recently for her blog, that brings together her Gujarati heritage and her Tamil Nadu upbringing with her love for food—fine ingredients, unique flavours and healthy recipes. A passionate self-taught photographer, Nandi loves to experiment with creative angles, colour and lighting. Drawing inspiration from the Dutch masters, her exquisitely styled still life images have a painterly quality, set against bare, dark backdrops. Nandi’s work was recently showcased at the India Design ID show in New Delhi


Varna Sutra : Healing Foods (Part 1)
Healing Foods

Varna Sutra : Healing Foods (Part 1)

Unfolding in a beautiful lexicon, the kanjivaram’s colours are rich in local flavour, indigenous and evocative. They are rooted in culture and the natural world, and include references to ingredie...

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Varna Sutra : Patra, Pushpam - Kanjivaram's Flora
Varna Sutra : Motifs

Varna Sutra : Patra, Pushpam - Kanjivaram's Flora

Motifs offer a new dimension to the visual appeal of a traditional sari, upholding a unique form of creative expression within the craft. Plant and floral motifs have held a place of importance in...

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