An Overview

The tradition of weaving is age-old in India. Pieces of evidence, in the form of woven cotton, bone needles and supposed weaving workshops have been and still are being unearthed from the times of the Indus valley civilisation, i.e. from more than 5000 years ago from different parts of India. Next in the Rigveda and then in the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana too, the craft of weaving has been described in detail. The tradition goes on and Indian fabrics become some of the most favourite ones in the world. They were being exported to the Roman elites, who fancied them immensely, in large quantities. In fact, the husbands used to get concerned because of their wives’ demands for these fine fabrics and exotic designs. Besides Rome, Egypt and China also did not want to stay deprived of this luxury. Trade was flourishing between different states of India and far away countries. Then came the British who exploited Indian handloom industry inestimably for their country’s commercial purposes. Their introduction of cheap, machine-made clothes was the beginning of the declining popularity of the Indian hand-woven textiles.

India has the largest handloom industry in the world. Almost every region of the country has a unique style of weaving drawing different patterns on clothes. They do it with many different kinds of fabrics too like pure cotton, mixed cotton, fine silk, raw silk, etc. The finesse of work can be seen in the delicate and varied works be it embroidery, tie and dye or just plain weaving.

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Moreover, they are very long-lasting since the quality of the threads used is high. Even now the global demand for Indian handloom collectively is nowhere near insignificant. They contribute a major portion to the GDP of the country. Besides the weaving style, the weavers and their workshops also attract tourists both from inside and outside India. The tourism industry is also benefited thus.

In Odisha :

In those weaving villages of Odisha a constant, rhythmic picking sound can be heard amidst the quietude of the fields, the sound of the Khatkhati. This basic machine gives employment to lakhs of people, directly or indirectly. Starting from the cotton and silkworm farmers to the thread makers to the weavers and the sellers of these textiles, all of them have full time, family businesses because of this handloom tradition. The varieties in the styles of weaving and in the artists’ visions have given rise to many types of handloom patterns in Odisha. Some of the main ones are “Khandua” of Cuttack, “Habaspur” and “Bomkai” of Kalahandi, “Kotpad” of Koraput, “Parda” of Khurda, “Kusumi” of Nayagarh, “Saktapar” and “Bichitrapar” of Bargarh and  Sambalpur, etc. In the mediaeval times, merchants used to buy them and sell them to many other parts of the world like Burma, Indonesia, Bali, Sumatra, Sri Lanka and the Malay. The handlooms of these regions still match those of Odisha, especially the very popular ikat weaving.

Silk and Cotton Weaving : 

It is one of the most notable cottage industries of Sambalpur district. In 1864 Deputy Commissioner Major Cumber Jeage reported that only one-third of the total tusser silk cloth produced used to stay in the district, the rest being exported to important places like Cuttack and Berhampur of modern Orissa and Raipur and Bilaspur of modern Madhya Pradesh.

The Ganda, a scheduled caste, do the supposedly unholy work of rearing and then killing the worms to acquire their cocoons. From the cocoons, threads are made by the Koshtha community. The weaving is done by The Koshtha and the Bhulia communities. The Gandas usually weave a cheaper and coarse cloth for the economically weaker section of the society.

After our country’s independence, co-operative societies were formed for the weavers which provided them with technical and other aids. The government grants loans to these co-operative societies and also promotes the handloom products through government emporia and depots. It also controls quality through strict rules over the production.

Various kinds of textiles besides the most famous sarees, dress materials, scarves, dhotis, towels, handkerchiefs, kurtas and shirts for men are also produced. It ranges from these things of daily use to highly intricately designed wall hangings with ancient texts or mythological episodes depicted on them.

There are basically two kinds of weaving patterns in Odisha, Ikat and Bomkai.

  1. Ikat :

It comes from a Malay word Mengikat meaning ‘tie’ or ‘bind’. In Odisha, this style is called ‘Bandha’ which means the same. Before weaving, the warp or the weft threads or both are tied with a thread or rubber band and dyed again and again to create the desired patterns. Ikat is of 3 kinds:

  • Single Ikat: Either warp or weft yarns are tied and dyed
  • Combined Ikat: Both the yarns are dyed at different parts of the cloth
  • Double Ikat: Both warp and weft yarns are dyed thus that they meet at certain points on the cloth to make the exact motif intended

In Odisha the Bandha art is practised almost completely by two weaver lineages viz. the Mehers of Sonepur and Bargarh (western Odisha), and the Patras of Nuapatna and Cuttack (eastern Odisha).

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      2.Bomkai :

This weaving style is named after a village of the same name in the Chikiti tehsil of the district of Ganjam. In simple terms, it can be explained as a combination of Ikat and embroidery, these two interwoven into each other. Here both the warp and weft yarns are dyed according to the part of the textile. For borders only warp yarn is dyed and for the aanchal only the weft yarn. But for the whole body, both are coloured. It is two steps ahead of the tie and dye technique. The yarns are not tied and coloured to get a particular pattern, rather they are dyed in colours contrast to that of the saree. And for ornamentation, an extra weft is used which makes it appear like tapestry art.

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This is just to give a small introduction to the handloom market scenario and their manufacturing details. In the next posts much more details about these textiles will be written.

References

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/15122/12/12_chapter%206.pdf

http://odisha.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/2014/Feb-March/engpdf/131-137.pdf

http://tantuvi.com/history.htm

http://handicraftsindia.org/handlooms/history-handlooms-india/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maritime_history_of_Odisha

https://kddfonline.com/2012/06/24/bomkai-saree-of-subarnapur-district-western-odisha/

http://www.craftmark.org/sites/default/files/P028%20Ikat_Sambhalpuri%20and%20Bomkai%20Weave.pdf

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Introducing OdishArtisans

Prior to stating why I created this space and many such others on various social networking websites, it is only proper that I introduce myself. I am Arunima Pati and I belong to the State of Odisha. This state is situated in the Eastern part of the country. Quite often many Odias (people of Odisha) have experienced this depressing feeling of trying to explain where they hail from. If we think the world is shrinking and more people know more about more places now, it is true. But, despite the advancement of technology and globalisation, Odias still face this question regarding their identity time and again. Just the other day a hospital nurse could figure out Odisha’s location only when I told her that it was situated between West Bengal in the north and Andhra Pradesh in the south. Well, it hurts to know that they are aware of the states located in the north and south of our state but not the one in between.

Academically, I am an archaeologist. The fascination for antiques and ruins made me fix my goal at a very young age and I acquired my doctorate in archaeology. My work relates to ethnoarchaeology. Ethnoarchaeology etymologically means the archaeological study of races. To simplify the explanation, I can say it is very close to cultural anthropology. Ethnoarchaeologists study the present cultural scenario of an ethical group and try to trace the origin of their habits and customs. So, that was my pursuit. My Ph.D. work is about a card game which is still being played albeit very sparingly in but a few pockets.  But this card game used to be one of the most favourite games of the people of almost every age group just three to four centuries back. While working on the cards I went on to document the process of their manufacture. Due to the popularity of the game in the olden times, the making of these pictorial cards had come to be associated with the popular traditional painting styles of different regions. As my area of research was my state, Odisha, I went to Pattachitra artists who still make the cards, even if they are more of collective items now.

Pattachitra is the traditional painting style of Odisha. Its antiquity is closely associated with the start and spread of popularity of the Jagannath cult. The Chitrakaras (artists) who have been assigned the responsibility of painting these cards since the very beginning still live as a separate community and still earn their livelihood through this art. I visited the places where the Chitrakaras stay. In the course of my interaction and observation, I gradually realised how unfortunate are our artists! I saw family after family toiling through weeks and months; I saw youngsters eager and passionate to learn the art, but I also saw how desperate they were to get pieces of art sold. It takes several days to even months to complete one good painting and several months to complete one pack of cards which has a minimum of 96 cards. But, since the sale is low, I saw stacks of paintings and painted objects lying unsold in their cell-like small houses. The labour and effort of painting these with many different kinds of brushes, from the thickest to the finest ones, and the strain their eyes, backs and hands go through is not compensated by the measly amount they are able to earn from just a few sales.

This was an example of just one community and one type of art of the whole state. Hordes of such communities of artists are either starving or not getting what they actually deserve, and they deserve not just money but fame and respect too! I am a student of history and culture and it is my responsibility to take measures to keep our cultural heritage alive. This is a small attempt to bring about a little difference in the condition of the artists of Odisha. Culturally, Odisha is extraordinarily rich. It has its very own dance form, music, handloom textiles, handicrafts and painting styles. All that is needed is some promotion and publicity to make the world at large aware of the State’s bounties.

In the marketing world our artists suffer a lot. They are not able to reach the customers many a time. Also, people from outside Odisha are not aware of the value, even of the existence of these handloom and handicrafts. These art objects are a little high in cost like various others from different regions of India, or rather the world. One has to understand the cost of raw material, and more importantly, the hard work behind making even one piece of saree. At my space I will try to avail these art products at a cost at which it will be available at their hometowns. This will prove to be cheaper for you than to buy it from a store outside Odisha or an online portal or even travelling to Odisha to get them.

To start with, I have chosen to showcase the handloom textiles of Odisha. In the western part of the state the tradition of weaving hand-woven textiles is very old. It is broadly known as Sambalpuri handloom. The wooden, manual machine that is traditionally used to weave cloth in India is used here too. Locally it is known as ‘Khatkhati’, named after the sound it makes while working.

introduction

KHATKHATI

Vibrant colours and ever-evolving patterns without compromising on the traditional look of the designs are the characteristic features of these handloom textiles. At OdiArts you can choose from the designs and patterns on display or you can order a specific colour combination of your choice. I assure you I will try to my best to find it for you.