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Temple Umbrellas in Chennai. Image courtesy: templeumbrellas.co
  • BR Ram Kumar is a filmmaker who is mainly interested in creating documentaries that capture emotions and tradition
  • His recent documentary, Kovil Kodai, captured the traditional hand-made woven umbrella culture in Chennai
  • These umbrellas form a very important part of Chennai’s culture

The founder of Madras Documenting Company, who is 62 years old today, acquired a bachelor’s degree in Physics, and a Master’s Degree from CalArts in the USA. BR Ram Kumar used to work as an ad filmmaker before he shifted to filming documentaries on topics of his interest. Having spent his childhood in an environment of film makers, he had always been very comfortable with all the film jargon. Kumar has worked on around 400 documentaries till date, including industrial films and a feature film as well.

His recent documentary, Kovil Kodai – The Umbrella Of The Gods, is a huge success and has attracted a lot of attention. In Chennai, woven umbrellas of vibrant colors are an important part of the religious traditions. Kovil Kodai is the act of carrying umbrellas by devotees to protect the deity from sunshine and rainfall. It is also considered as a symbolic way to pay respect to the Gods.


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“These umbrellas are made by about 12 Saurashtrian families who live in Chintadripet,” Kumar told Times of India, who uses his own funds to make the films that range from a few minutes to half an hour. “The name of the area is derived from “Chinatari pettai”, when the British East India Company decided to create a facility to supply England with woven cloth at a controlled price. The weavers were settled in the area,” he says.

These families are descendants of the migrants from Saurashtra. Even though each family owns different companies, they all work together in unity to create around 3,000 umbrellas every year. Each umbrella is around 4.5 feet to 18 feet, and ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 INR, depending on the requirements. These umbrellas have assumed such an important role in performing rituals, that no deity is taken out of the temple without their shade. Each god is believed to be suited a particular color palette. For example, the umbrellas for Vishnua are only white and brown, while the ones used for Shiva are multicolored.

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Ram Kumar enjoys capturing these emotions and candid moments to help portray Chennai’s culture. The documentary was shot over a period of 24 hours with the willingness of the families, which made Kumar’s work easier. Kovil Kodai – the Umbrella of the Gods will be screened followed by a talk on temple umbrellas by C N Magesh at Apparao Galleries, Nungambakkam on 18th June.

-written by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter Handle: @saurabhbodas96

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