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.
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.
- 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).
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.
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.