Wednesday, February 6, 2008

An Ode to Orissa Saris

Orissa is known for its handlooms – rich colors, artistic designs, exquisite weaves – the saris of Orissa are all this and more.

Orissa saris have a close relation with the Jagannath culture. Originally, the four basic colors which are found on Jagannath—black, white, red and yellow—were extensively used in Oriya saris. Even motifs such as the temple border, lotus, conch and wheel, signify the affinity with the reigning deity. The traditional Orissa saris have undergone vast changes as weavers try to adapt the designs to popular taste.

The handloom saris of Orissa can be broadly classified into four groups: Ikkat, Bomkai, Bandha and Pasapalli.

Ikkat: Ikkat or tie and dye fabrics, known as "bandhas" in Orissa are recognized all over the country and abroad for their highly artistic designs, color combinations and durability. Ikkat is a type of weaving in general terms. The weft or the warp or both are tie-dyed before weaving to create designs on fabric in this method. With exquisite colors and beautiful motifs, Ikkat saris are considered as a magnum opus because each sari takes nearly seven months of craftsmanship. The traditional Ikkat saris of Orissa are also referred to as double Patan Patola.

Bomkai: Another variety of sari avaible in Orissa is the Bomkai sari, a recent adaptation from tribal saris. Produced in a small town called Bomkai in Orissa, these saris also have touches of ikat work, like the Sambalpuri saris.

Both cotton and silk fabric are used in making these saris. Some Bomkai saris have small fish woven onto the border that symbolize prosperity and good health. Bomkai saris feature threadwork ornament borders and pallu.

Sambalpuri Sari: Sambalpuri saris are famous for their unique designs and for their beautiful colors. Fish, conch shell and flower motifs are woven into the fabric and sometimes floral and animal motifs are also used to decorate the borders and pallu. Silk Sambalpuri saris from Orissa are also in single and double ikat.

Pasapalli Sari: The "pasapalli" sari with its distinctive black-and-white squares is a replica of the chessboard. Equally fascinating are the names—Vichitrapuri, Chandrika, Nabagunja, Asman Tara and Krishnapriya. The earlier yarns of coarse cotton have been replaced with fine cotton, silks, tussar and a cotton-silk mix called ‘bapta’. Gold thread and tissues are also used to enhance the patterns.

Bandha: Here, the yarn is first tied in portions, and each section is dyed in a different color according to the design. When woven, the designs emerge, and the special feature is that the design is prominent on both sides of the fabric. This is a very complicated process and it is rather amazing to find that the traditional weavers do not use any graphic designs on paper. The common motifs are borrowed from nature. Flowers, creepers, birds, animals are abundantly woven in myriad colors, all lending a distinct feature to the nine yards of woven wonder.

by Chandana Banerjee

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