It is entirely justified to think that an unusual charitable venture would run out of steam 15 years after it was launched. The passage of time, however, has done little to discourage the quietly toiling members of the Trichy Innovative Ladies Union Needlework Association.
'We are just homemakers,' begins TILUNA President Usha Sridhar a tad apologetically, 'But we have tried our best to balance our household duties with our charitable work.'
Never heard of TILUNA before? Then you missed the waves that their marathon project to reproduce the Rajagopuram of the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam as tapestry pictures has been making over the past 15 years. The most recent honour for this gathering of ladies’ achievement has been from the India Book of Records which declared it among last year’s top 120 record-holders. The Limca Book of Records (linear display of 1,170 art pieces by students of a Tiruchi College in December 2007) and the Alternative Book of Records have also recognised the effort.
Each Rajagopuram tapestry measures an area of 86cm by 63cm, with as many as 82,875 stitches (half cross-stitch), using almost 720 metres of threads of almost 10 different colours.
Her original idea, says Mrs Usha, was to try to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
A friend encouraged her to think of using her cross stitch skills to create a detailed picture of an historic landmark that would put Tiruchi on the world map. Soon the idea developed into a group venture, and the TILUNA project was born in 1998.
As the idea took wing, the nascent association zeroed in on the Rajagopuram, the world’s tallest temple tower. Detailed blueprints drawn by the chief Sthapathi (sculptor) of the temple, Mr Sivaprakasam, were used as a base to create the colour-coded half cross-stitch canvas by Coats India, Bangalore. Pony Needle Industries of Udhagamandalam donated around 60,000 needles for the venture.
But initially, the name seemed to be a misnomer. 'Few people are interested in embroidery in Tiruchi,' says Mrs Usha. 'In the beginning we even turned away potential members because they weren’t based locally. But as days went by, we realised we had to look elsewhere for membership.'
With the help of advertising in a needlework magazine and exposure through the local media, over 600 members from India and abroad enlisted in the effort, with TILUNA sending stitchery kits to all those met their criteria. Specially created tapestry embroidery frames were also part of the kit.
The result is what may truly be called a ‘towering achievement’: over 1,500 matte canvas pictures of astonishing 3-D depth and an almost photographic quality.
Of this, 200 have been sold so far for the same price (Rs. 8,000) fixed 15 years ago. Members get a concession of Rs. 1,000 per canvas. Framed pieces cost Rs. 10,500.
The TILUNA core committee, a group of eight members that shares the camaraderie only the devotion of many years to the same cause can bring, has been busy scouting for deserving candidates for its donations.
TILUNA has spent Rs. 6 lakh so far, giving priority to institutions that work for children with special needs. 'It’s not enough to give them education. You have to train children with special needs to earn a livelihood, so that they can be independent at a later stage,' says Mrs Krishnaveni, the Secretary.
Among the more recent beneficiaries are the St. Antony’s Training and Rehabilitation Centre for Mentally Retarded at Manavadi village in Karur district, where TILUNA donated Rs.85,000 for paper packet and file-making machines.
At the Spastics School in Tiruchi, TILUNA financed a workshop/hall to pack spices worth Rs.1,53,000.
The group also helps individuals in need, with its last donation (in September 2012) being a year’s fees (Rs. 31,500) for blind student Selvan Chandrasekharan, from Puthanampatty village, to study B.Ed after he finished MA English.
There’s no particular need or deadline to sell the tapestry pictures, feel the members, as they have been relying on word of mouth to do the trick. To safeguard their investment, the group does a field study of the proposed beneficiary before and after the finance is handed over. 'We haven’t faced fraud so far,' assures Mrs. Krishnaveni. 'In fact, even if we forget, many of our beneficiaries keep in touch with us.'
But they do agree that TILUNA is not like other women’s clubs in Tiruchi. 'We don’t have tie-ups with any ‘fashionable’ clubs of women. We are not running a recreation club,' emphasises Mrs Krishnaveni. 'Most women’s clubs are geared towards kitty parties or direct-to-home marketing. We are focused on charity.'
Interested persons are encouraged to get in touch through their website www.tiluna.org.
'The spiritual aspect that this project took on for the people who joined the embroidery group really touched us. Many people actively believed that working on the picture was strengthening their faith in God,' concludes Mrs Usha.