May 2018


Paduru: Sri Lanka's Magic Carpet
May 2018




Intricate designs on a padura reflect the traditional art carried on for generations

It's the all purpose movable fixture found in almost every home in Sri Lanka. It's the tuck away bed. It's the dining table. It's the religious devotees' seat to hear monks preach their Buddhist sermons. Its also the stage of musical performances, called ‘paduru' parties. Meet the Sri Lankan mat, the island's ‘paduru' of a thousand and one uses: The roll up, take it anywhere magic carpet of Sri Lanka where the nation's forefathers dreamt their dreams upon.


Words: Manu Gunasena
Photography: Rasika Surasena


Its in the rivers and in the marshes of Sri Lanka that the raw material to weave mats fit for a king to sleep on are found. And often it's the womenfolk who will search river banks and wade the marshes to find that special reed named pan to produce the perfect mat.


There is a whole family of pan reeds to choose from. From the havan pan, and the gal laha pan, to gatapan, wetakeyya, thunhiriya and pothukola. All are ideal fabrics to weave a mat. But first, after it has been scythed and brought home, the crop of the day must be boiled. To add value to this simple reed, it is boiled with dye to give it the flamboyancy of colour.


The natural dye to give it colour comes from plants. For the colour red, patangi; for yellow the veniwel; for purple, katarolu and for black, bulu. After the reeds have undergone the boiling process, it's then left in the shade to dry. Then only does the art start.

In the valleys of Dumbara, in the Kandy district, the mats are generally not handwoven but are produced on looms. It enables them to thread an assortment of colour into the mats.


The pain of artistic labour begins when two reeds of the same length are vertically placed together, running parallel to each other in the manner of a rail track. A third is brought into the frame and placed horizontally to tie up the two. The process of interlacing continues until a complete mat is born. But throughout the delivery process, the artistry is often accompanied by recitation of Sinhala poetry.


The pan padura is hand crafted. And the mental discipline needed to weave from raw river bank reeds to a tapestry of functional art in a kaleidoscope of colour calls for inspirational impulse. Fortunately, there is a whole segment of Sinhala kavi devoted to it. Its called the paduru mala kavi, the four line mat chain in praise of their artistic craft and their tedious labour to effect the birth of a single designer mat.

In the northern parts of the island, where mats are woven with palmyrahs leaves, the strips are coloured by being soaked in boiling dyed water and thereafter in cold water to ensure the colour holds.


Its not only colour that has given added value to the mat. Its also the design, the art work, the motifs used. The price of the padura depends on the patterns made on it.


Amongst the most popular are the lotus motif followed by the Na flower. Swans intertwined in passionate embrace, the lofty mountains, the knotted rope and the plaited cord and the blooms of a flowering bush or tree are the others in rage and fashion at present times to adorn the braided reeds of the Sri Lankan mat. However, its not only pan reeds that are used as the padura's warp and woof. There's also thal (palmyrah). The leaf of the island's north. The leaf of the palmyrah tree. In the dry zones of the island's north and east, these hardy trees stand as sentinels. Its longevity is legendary and so is its leaf. Palmyrah is also known for its cooling properties. These thal paduru are hand woven with beautiful traditional designs.


The paduru of Sri Lanka maintain its rich cultural and artistic heritage while also continuing to be an important element in every island home.

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    Rolls of vibrant paduru – ready to take home

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    Lush green hardy plants found in abundance near the island's dry zones

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    Selecting the correct type of reed requires practice

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    A bundle of dried reed are handpicked by a skilled craftsman

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    Bundles of vibrantly dyed reeds

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