Just as the national bird of Kerala is Mosquito, her national dress is 'Lungi'. Pronounced as 'Lu' as in loo and 'ngi ' as in 'mongey', a lungi can be identified by its floral or window-curtain pattern. 'Mundu' is the white variation of lungi and is worn on special occasions like hartal or bandh days, weddings and Onam.
Lungi is simple and 'down to earth' like the mallu wearing it. Lungi is the beginning and the end of evolution in its category. Wearing something on the top half of your body is optional when you are wearing a lungi. Lungi is a strategic dress. It's like one-size-fits-all bottoms for Keralites.
The technique of wearing a lungi/mundu is passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth like the British Constitution. If you think it is an easy task wearing it, just try it once! It requires techniques like breath control and yoga that is a notch higher than sudarshan kriya of AOL. A lungi/mundu when perfectly worn won't come off even in a quake of 8 on the Richter scale. A lungi is not attached to the waist using duct tape, staple, rope or Velcro. It's a bit of mallu magic whose formula is a closely guarded secret like the Coca Cola concoction.
A lungi can be worn 'Full Mast' or 'Half Mast' like a national flag. A ’Full Mast' lungi is when you are showing respect to an elderly or the dead. Wearing it at full mast has lots of disadvantages. A major disadvantage is when a dog runs after you. When you are wearing a lungi/mundu at full mast, the advantage is mainly for the female onlookers who are spared the ordeal of swooning at the sight of hairy and also skinny legs.
Wearing a lungi 'Half Mast' is when you wear it exposing yourself like those C grade movie starlets. A mallu can play cricket, football or simply run when the lungi is worn at half mast. A mallu can even climb a coconut tree wearing lungi in half mast. "It's not good manners, especially for ladies from decent families, to look up at a mallu climbing a coconut tree"- Confucius (or is it Abdul Kalam?)
Most mallus do the traditional dance,Kudiyattam. Kudi means drinking alcohol and yattam, spelled as aattam, means random movement of the male body. Note that 'y' is silent. When you are drinking, you drink, there is no 'y'. Any alcohol related "festival" can be enjoyed to the maximum when you are topless with lungi and a towel tied around the head. "Half mast lungi makes it easy to dance and shake legs" says Candelaria Amaranto, a Salsa teacher from Spain after watching 'kudiyaattam' .
The 'Lungi Wearing Mallu Union' [LUWMU, pronounced LOVE MU], an NGO which works towards the 'upliftment' of the lungi, strongly disapprove of the Gen -Next tendency of wearing bermudas under the lungi. Bermudas under the lungi are a conspiracy by the CIA. It's a disgrace to see a person wearing bermuda with corporate logos under his lungi. What they don’t know is how much these Corporations are limiting their freedom of movement and expression.
A mallu wears lungi round the year, all weather, all season. A mallu celebrates winter by wearing a colourful lungi with a floral pattern.
Lungi provides good ventilation and brings down the heat between legs. A mallu is genuinely worried of global warming more than anyone else in the world.
A lungi can be worn any time of the day/night. It doubles as blanket at night. It also doubles up as a swing, swimwear, sleeping bag, parachute, facemask while entering/exiting toddy shops, shopping basket and water filter while fishing in ponds and rivers. It also has recreational uses like in 'Lungi/mundu pulling',very much like tugging the rope events, a pastime in households having more than one male member. Lungi pulling competitions are held outside toddy shops all over Kerala during Onam and Vishu. When these lungis are decommissioned from service, they become table cloths. Thus the humble lungi is a cradle to grave appendage.
Courtesy Abdul Wahab