Lores of the loom: Odisha’s saree heritage

Published on Aug 02, 2022 06:13 PM IST

As President Murmu’s traditional Odisha saree from her swearing-in gets the country talking about handloom weaves, we dive deep into the state’s textiles

India’s 15th President Droupadi Murmu
India’s 15th President Droupadi Murmu
ByShruti Shende

The recent swearing-in ceremony of India’s 15th President, Droupadi Murmu, was historic for many reasons. And, one of the highlights of the event was her six-yards white saree from Odisha, her native state, that was complemented by a red stripe on the upper border and a broad green stripe with triangular spikes on the lower side. While many claimed it to be a santhali weave, it was, in fact, a baadhi kumbha silk saree with Ganga Jamuna border from the district of Sonepur, Odisha.

“The saree that our President wore to the ceremony was Odisha Sonepuri Ganga Jamuna. It’s very beautiful and is quite a famous weave of the state,” clarifies designer Anju Modi. Anindita Sardar, head of design and curation at Taneira adds, “The temple motifs at the border are ikat with thread weaves of bomkai pattern.” Designer Gaurang Shah informs that it is known as the phoda kumbha saree locally. He says, “This 3x3 ply mulberry silk garment has weft lines. A few years ago, we sold these for about 16,000 to 20,000.”

Handloom weaves of Odisha

One of the oldest and largest handicraft industries in India, the weaving techniques of Odisha take inspiration from Nature and temple architectures. “White, black, red and yellow are the most commonly used colours while geometric temple patterns, plants, birds and elephants are the most common design elements in tribal drapes,” says Abhishek Pathak, founder of Greenwear, a sustainable fashion enterprise, adding, “There are four tribal communities — Bonda, Gadaba, Kandha and Kulis — involved in weaving. The Kandha tribe undertakes value-addition by doing embroidery on the cloths.”

Talking about the Sonepuri saree, stylist Dolly Jain says, “Often regarded as the quintessential tribal weave of the state, the bomkai or Sonepuri saree adorned with threadwork encapsulates a world of meaning on its borders, usually symbolic of success and wealth. The ikat (bandha) saree crafted using tie-dye is another masterpiece that puts weaves of Odisha at the centre stage.”

Another famous weave of the state is kotpad sarees from the Koraput district. “These have unique motifs such as fish, turtles, birds, etc. They’re geometric in structure, yet simple. Aal dye is usually used to give them a unique shade of iron red. The borders generally have temple motifs, which are done by interlocking weaves using three shuttles,” shares Sardar.

Varied drapes

Every indigenous tribe has its own style of draping. “Odisha is rather creative. The famous santhal drape is worth discussing, owing to its off-beat treatment of the pallu. It’s brought to the front of the waist and neatly tucked in. Whereas, the kaccha drape is unique with its dhoti-esque illusion,” says Jain.

Significance of the weaves

“Tribal weaves are consciously formed to prominently reflect their distinct identity through the attires. Each tribal region has its unique design, form and colour(s) derived either from Nature or their mythology,” says Pathak.

What’s also noteworthy is how every motif has a subtext to it, feels Jain. “A striking characteristic of tribal weaves is its affinity to its roots. From using natural dyes to employing artisans for hand block printing, it can be safely vouched as a weave of the people, for the people and by the people,” she says.

These weaves can be found in emporium stores and local markets organised by the tribal communities. They cost anywhere between 1,000 to a lakh depending on the fabric, print and intricacy of weaving.

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