Know the Etymology: 51
Place Name of the Day: Friday, 10 August 2007
The place of fuller's earth
|Vazhalai||Fuller’s earth or washerman’s earth, soap; Vazhalai-uppu: a kind of salt, washing soda (called ooththaich-choadaa in contemporary Tamil); Poo-vazhalai also Poo-nee’ru: Fuller’s earth or washerman’s earth. Also called Uvar Ma'n: the salty earth. |
Vazhalaay means the place having Vazhalai
earth. Vazhalai is an equivalent of fuller's earth, which was used in the past to wash clothes. It was also known as Uvar Ma'n (the salty earth)
Sample of a lump of Fullers Earth. [Courtesy: www.dep.state.fl.us/geology]
It removes dirt, vegetable colour, oil stain etc., and thickens clothes.
The traditional washerperson used to bring this earth, even from far away places, to make Ve'l'laavi
, which was the old method of laundaring.
The clothes for washing were smeared with this earth, and were steamed by keeping the bundle of clothes on the mouth of a pot. Another method was to boil the clothes stacked inside the vessel with little water at the bottom. This process was called Va'l'laavi Kaddal
. The clothes were washed, starched and brightened with the application of Blue later.
The wide mouthed pot was known either as Ve'l'laavip-paanai
The term Ve'l'laavi
probably originated from the creamy white colour of the Vazhalai earth, which turned the washing water whitish. Ve'l'laavi
), literally means the white vapour or the white-water tank. (See, Paalaavi
Those who have read Periya Puraa'nam
may remember one of its stories in which the Uvar Ma'n
or the fuller's earth played a role. A saint-king, who was riding an elephant, descended and prostrated before a washerman who reminded him of a devotee of Siva. The washerman in the story was on his way, after getting drenched in rain with a load of fuller's earth on his head, which made him to look like a devotee of Siva, smeared with the Holy Ash all over the body.
The use of earth for washing clothes disappeared with the introduction of commercial chemicals such as washing soda or Ooththaich-choadaa
(sodium carbonate). Even after the replacement of Vazhalai
by washing soda, the process of Ve'l'laavi
continued. It became obsolete some decades ago.
earth was also an essential item in the dyeing industry of Jaffna in the past.
The dyes extracted from the indigo species of plants will not dissolve in water. The Uvar Ma'n
was needed for the process of dyeing cloths with indigo-based dyes. The vat for the preparation of dye was called Chaayach-chaal
One of the species of indigo plants [Courtesy: www.thecoloursofnature.com]
A species of Chaaya Vear (indigo plant), photographed in Aanaivizhunththaan, I'lavaalai, a locality near Vearkkuththik Kadavai (the root-diggers pass)
Jaffna was once known for the produce of indigo and for the dyeing industry. There were varieties of plants, producing dyes in Jaffna, known by names such as Chaaya-vear, Avuri, Avari, Amari, Sivanaar–veampu, Neeli, Neelip-poo'ndu, Kaay-vi'laa
It is said that the king of Jaffna himself was called Xaya Raja
by the Portuguese because of the popularity of the Chaya
(dyeing) industry in Jaffna.
The Portuguese and the Dutch were profited by taxing Chaya
root. The Dutch introduced a new variety of plant. Dyeing was such a flourishing industry under the Dutch that textiles were brought from outside, dyed in Jaffna and were re-exported.
The Chaya industry disappeared with the advent of chemical dyes in the 19th century. Communities involved with the industry, like Chaayakkaarar
(dyers) and Vearkkuththi
(root-diggers) have either became obscure or merged with other communities.
The use of fuller's earth and its Tamil term Vazhalai
are a long forgotten heritage to the present generation.
This earth came to be known by the term Vazhalai
, probably because of its capacity to remove grease or because of its greasy or slippery nature. Vazhumpu
in the Changkam
diction mean fat and slipping respectively. Vazhukku
is fat in Changkam
Tamil and slippery in later Tamil. Vazhalai
is also the name of a black, greasy looking snake.
Vazhalaay is a GS area in the Valikaamam East division of Jaffna district.
The place is in a locality of limestone outcrops and marsh along the Tho'ndaimaan-aa'ru
lagoon. The fine lime, dissolved from the outcrops and deposited in the marsh, mixed with alkaline clay is probably the source for the fuller's earth at Vazhalaay.
First published: Friday, 10 August 2007, 01:00
The location of Vazhalaai [Image courtesy: Google Earth]