Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 13 (Odisha Weaves)

Now, I have wanted to do this for a long time. Today’s blog post is dedicated to the gorgeous weaves of Odisha. It has been enriching discovering and learning so much about the textile heritage of this state.

Saree #121: An Odisha Pattachitra saree with a Vastraharan theme

I have been hunting for a Odisha Pattachitra saree of my choice since long. Pattachitra is a form of painting which is popular in Odisha and West Bengal. The painting styles are different in the two states. When this painting is done on scroll like cloth it is called Pattachitra. When it is done on walls like murals it is called Bhitti Chitra.

The colours used are derived from natural elements. For example, white is derived from conch shells, black from lamp black, vermilion from cinnabar, brick red from geru or red ochre, and yellow from hartala. The artist hand paints the entire sequence directly without initially sketching. Entire families get together to fill in the small details in the painting.

The chitrakaars, as the artists are called in Odisha, derive the themes from Vaishnava tradition or the mythology of Lord Jagannath. The popular themes are Radha-Krishna, Dashavatar, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. But Krishna episodes are very popular.

My saree has the vastraharan scene hand painted on it. Here Krishna has stolen the garments of the bathing gopis and has climbed up a tree. The gopis look embarrassed with their nudity. But the love in their eyes for Krishna makes them forget their condition. Everytime I see the intricate painting I’m enamoured by a little detail that I previously missed. The way the garments are folded and hung on the tree, the little birds flying across, the tassels at the edge of the garments, the colourful pots floating in the river, the peacock feathers painted at the edge of the saree and so many beautiful details. It was another trapeze act to stand on a chair and try to photograph the entire Pattachitra in one frame. But it was really worth buying this saree. Zoom in and tell me which details you spotted.

Saree #122: A royal blue Dongria

I picked this silk Dongria to wear on New Year’s Day. New year is about fresh new beginnings. About breaking archaic rules in your head. So who said you need to go to work soberly dressed. Felt like being a little crazy and stirring things up in a boring workplace. I knew I was overdressed. But I didn’t want to be late to work on day one and didn’t find anything less chunky immediately. So I let the tongues wag! 🙂

Dongria sarees are woven by a primitive tribe from south-west Odisha called the Dongria Kondh. Dongr means field on the mountains and that is where these talented weavers practice their craft. You can see the beautiful Niyamgiri hills represented by the red triangles woven all along the border. The geometric motifs initially were part of hand woven shawls. But these have now been adapted to make sarees with these gorgeous pallus. I am addicted to Dongrias now for their striking colour combinations. Who wouldn’t be?

Saree #123: A Sambalpuri ikat saree

A few days ago I wore this Sambalpuri black and olive cotton ikat saree. These sarees are handwoven by the weavers of Odisha and this art is traditionally called bandh kala.

The term ‘Sambalpuri’ is misleading because they are not just produced in Sambalpur, but also in its neighboring areas. These are produced in the following villages: Mankedia (Balasore or Mayurbhanj district); Barpali, Remunda, Jhiliminda, Mahalakata, Singhapali, Sonepur, Patabhadi, Sagarpali, Tarabha, Biramaharajpur, Subalaya, Kendupali, Jaganathpali, and Kamalapur (Bargarh district and Sonepur district); Badamba, Nuapatna, Maniabadha, Narashinpur, Tigiria (Cuttack district).

It is believed that this art migrated to Western Odisha along with the Bhulia community who fled Northern India in the year 1192 AD after the fall of the Chouhan empire. Since then and up to the year 1925 it flourished in Western Odisha in a limited number of designs and in vegetable colours. These saris were known as ‘Bhulia-Kapta’.

The word ikat comes from the Malay word ‘mengikat’ which means ‘to tie’. The countries where the art of ikat weaving is widely practised are India, Indonesia, Japan and China. Ikat is an elaborate method where threads are first tied and resist-dyed, and the dyed threads are then woven. The yarn already bears an impression of the pattern when the loom is set for weaving.The process starts with the warp or weft threads being bundled and bound with rubber bands which can resist the action of dye colors. The bundles, then, are tied to a wooden frame and put into the dye vat. Here they are given repeated dye treatments to generate bands of pattern. Once the dyeing process is completed, then starts the complex and intricate process of weaving these threads into a stable piece of fabric. The entire process involves almost an entire family’s participation in different aspects. Sadly, the creators of this extraordinary creation, the weavers often live in abject penury.

The process of making an ikat sari takes about seven months and involves two craftsmen, as the production goes through 14 stages of creation. In Odisha, either the warp or the weft alone is dyed, and the weave is called ‘single ikat’. This is unlike Gujarat’s Patola where both the warp and weft are dyed and that is called ‘double ikat’. There are several other differences. Suffice here to remember that the Odisha ikat is more curvilinear rather than geometric, and has a featherly outline.

These sarees have been called “poetry on the loom” because of their traditional motifs which are laden with rich symbolism and cultural icons. The weavers draw inspiration from verses and poems about the rich cultural heritage of Odisha, as they weave motifs of deers, lions, ducks, geese, Goddess Laxmi’s feet, tortoises, conch shells, coiled serpents, fish or peacocks. Depending on the predominant motifs which are woven on the sarees, bandh kala sarees are further classified as: ekphuliya (or one flower design), dusphuliya (or ten flower design), mandar phuliya kapata (or hibiscus flower cloth). boulomaliya (flower garland), aasman tara (stars in the sky), nagabandi (two entangled snakes facing each other) or sakatapara (featuring carts). Also featuring the kind of maiden depicted on the saree, they could be called Ratabati, Gajagamini, Padmavati, Bharatikusuma, Panchkanya, Mriganayani or Utkalaratna.

This handloom saree has geometrical designs highlighted on the saree, while the border is woven with dobby rudraksha motifs. My college batchmates came over for lunch that afternoon and we had a long chat. Eventful day also because my candidate finally completed his thesis

Saree #124: A Dus-phulia Saktapar

The person who got me interested in Odisha weaves, and pasapalli sarees in particular, was Lopamudra Mohanty. I was intrigued by the variety of ikats and began researching them.

So, the first question— what are single ikat and double ikat? In Odisha bandh kala or tie and dye, the unique aspect is that the threads are dyed prior to being arranged on the loom. Single ikats are where either only the warp (called warp ikat) or only the weft (called weft ikat) are dyed. In double ikats, both the warp and weft are dyed, and it is a painstaking procedure to get the designs right.

Now, this particular cotton saree was sold to me as a Bichitrapuri. This is a saree from the pasapalli series but this terminology is not correct. If what I have read is correct, the art of weaving Bichitrapuris has been lost. They are no longer made. A typical Bichitrapuri has borders similar to this saree, but instead of these large dice squares, it has ornate butis on a blue or black background.

Let me describe this saree. If you look at the pallu, it has ten rows woven with intricate flower, fish and duck/swan motifs. Hence this is a dus-phulia. If you look at the aanchal, there are prominent checkerboard (pasapalli) patterns in red and white. Running between these dice board squares is a single band with animal motifs (fish and swan here). This band is flanked by two red wave like bands which is called lahari bandha.

This particular pattern which has a middle band, sandwiched by lahari bandha and dice board patterns on both sides is called a saktapar. So the correct name for this saree is a dus-phulia saktapar. Hope this has been useful in understanding this weave.

Saree #125: A stunning Dolabedi silk saree

Dolabedi sarees are gorgeous and unique weaves from Odisha. And since Holi is just around the corner I thought it was time to tell you the story of Dolabedis.

On the full moon day in the month of Phalgun, most of north India celebrates Holi. Six days before Holi, on Phalgun Dasami day, coastal areas of Odisha gear up to celebrate Dola Utsav or Dolatsaba. Idols of the village deity, especially Krishna, are carried to all homes on decorated palanquins called Vimana. Villages compete to decorate these Vimanas in the most magnificent manner. The procession is accompanied by singers and musicians and people rejoice by smearing each other with violet abira (dry coloured powder). Each home offers bhog to the deity, which is prepared from the products of the recent harvest. In return the deity offers them colours to play on Holi. This daily procession which is led for the next four days is called chacheri.

The four days of processions culminate with the swing festival where idols of Radha and Krishna from several villages are brought to a common venue. The idols are placed on swings and sway to the notes of devotional songs. This is called the Dolatsaba. The locals celebrate this festival with fervor as it is believed that whoever sees Sri Krishna on the swing will be cleansed of his sins. The new Oriya panjis or panchang (almanac) is read out to the deity on this occasion.

On Dola Purnima day, Holika is burned in a bonfire, and this is called Holipoda. Another legend goes that the demon Mesha was burned to ashes by Lord Krishna, and this is called Meshapodi too. The next day, Holi is played with colours, and it celebrates the victory of good over evil.

While the rest of Odisha celebrates Dolatsaba, Puri celebrates it with much more grandeur. On Dola Purnima, the deities inside the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Jagannath temple are decked with gold, gems and diamonds. This ritual is called Rajadhiraj Besa or Suna Besa. Suna means gold and Besa means costume. Lord Jagannath is worshipped as Dologobinda along with Goddess Sridevi and Goddess Bhudevi.

Just outside the outer compound wall of the Puri temple is a raised platform with arched pavilions. These are called Dolabedis and the three deities are placed there. These idols are then taken around in a Dola Jatra procession. Devotees apply colours to these idols.

Dolabedi sarees have these unique triangular pavilion-like motifs lined up on the pallu which symbolize the Dolabedi of Lord Jagannath. These sarees are woven with tussar silk in villages in Nuapatna and Gopalpur, while villages on the Sambalpur side prefer to use mulberry silk. Along with the dolabedis, the different lines show bootis depicting flowers, parrots and storks.

Weaving Dolabedi sarees which use unique jala and dobby technique with extra weft work is extremely time consuming. While weavers usually use Jacquard looms these days, the traditional way was to use jala or naqsha drawlooms. In this jala or naqsha technique, the patterns are first drawn on paper and then woven on wooden frames. The jala is an attachment atop a loom. It consists of threads which contain the complete sequence of orders to make an intricate design. These threads are attached to their corresponding end to the warp below. When each jala thread is raised, the corresponding thread in the warp is also lifted. This allows the weaver to pass the extra weft which allows these ornamental patterns to be made.

But then, the wait is worth it. Like it was, waiting for four months to get a Dolabedi silk saree woven in your preferred shade in mulberry silk.

Saree #126: A coarse Kotpad saree

It was a cold morning and I felt like wearing something thick and warm. So naturally gravitated towards my blue kotpad saree which has slender indistinct checks woven in maroon and a prominent contrast border. Kotpad or kotpar sarees are woven in the tribal areas of Kotpad in Koraput district of Odisha. These coarse, thick but vibrantly coloured sarees are dyed with eco friendly vegetable colours derived from the Aul tree or Indian madder. I’m particularly fascinated by the gorgeous pallu.

Saree #127: A cotton Nuapatna ikat saree

The saree of the day is a handwoven Nuapatna cotton ikat saree from the weavers of Sambalpur in Odisha. The tie and dye technique existed in Nuapatna in 1719 AD or maybe much earlier in the 12th century. This indigo saree is woven with abstract geometrical motifs on the body. It almost resembles Oriya calligraphy. If you look closely, you will find flower and fish designs woven on the border. The pallu has the traditional ikat design. I paired it with a black ikat blouse.

Although this is a modern version and does not have proper calligraphy, Nuapatna sarees are known for verses from the Gita Govinda which are woven on them. Jayadev was a poet in the 12th century. His most famous composition, the Gita Govinda, runs into 12 chapters where he describes the relationship between Krishna and the gopis of Vrindavan, especially Radha.

Jayadev wanted to offer his poem to Lord Jagannath. And the best way he would think was to get his verses inscribed on fabric and used on the clothes worn by Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. He decided to get them woven by weavers from Kenduli village, which was his birthplace. However the king of Puri issued an edict which placed the onus of producing this order with the weavers of Nuapatna instead of Kenduli.

Since it was not feasible to weave the entire Gita Govinda on the fabric, only one shloka is woven on each fabric. Earlier Devanagri script was used to weave these shlokas, but eventually it was substituted with the Oriya script. While researching for this, I saw a picture of a Nuapatna fabric which had script saying “Lord save King George” in English! Perhaps their Gods has changed during colonial rule!

The original fabrics which are offered at Jagannath Puri are called phetas and are woven in silk. Three main colours are used. Yellow for Lord Jagannath symbolizing salvation, green for Balabhadra symbolizing life, and red for Subhadra symbolizing power or shakti.

Now these symbols and calligraphy are woven into silk sarees.

Saree #128: A Vijayapar saree

This saree is sold as a Sachipar on most websites. But the truth is that not every saree with checks is a Sachipar. A Sachipar essentially is a saree with checks with a border in a contrast colour. Just two colours all along.

Yes, this double ikat yellow cotton saree has small checks as well as a black contrast border. But it also has a red band inside the contrast border. That is called the lahari bandha and changes the nomenclature of this saree. The correct name should be a Vijayapar or Bijayapar. The size of the checks can be variable.

If you look closely the pallu has bands of fish (machha) and dobby flower woven alternating with bands of creeper (dala) motifs. The border on the other hand has rudraksha motifs at the edges, while the black band has swans woven on it. The red lahari bandha has tendril like motifs again.

I have already written that replacement of the checks with diceboard or pasapalli checks makes the name change to saktapar (refer to saree #124). Also note, that the presence of another middle band in the body will change the name. But more of that later.

Saree #129: A sunflower yellow Kathifera

I have always been enamoured by triangular zig-zag borders in sarees. Growing up in Pondicherry taught me about Gopuram borders in Kanjeevarams. Then studying in Nagpur taught me about the saw-toothed Karvati Kinar. My students from Manipur introduced me to the long pronged tooth like borders in Moirang Phee sarees. Berhampuri silks from Odisha have temple spire-like phoda kumbha borders. And then I saw these brightly coloured sarees from Odisha which had stick-like borders. The Kathifera.

In Odia, Kathi means stick. Kathifera (or Kathiphera) sarees have thin stick-like borders all along the border, which are distinctively different from the borders of sarees mentioned above.  Along with the border, the three-coloured bands in the pallu and the three rows in the border define Kathifera sarees. I was very wary of picking up a bright yellow saree. But there aren’t many choices available at the moment, and I needed one to complete my collection. There is a white one and then there is this sunflower yellow one. As if it wasn’t bright enough I accessorized the saree with my ghungroo necklace, and the bells tinkled all day in the department when I moved!

Saree #130: A silk Doll Bomkai

Continuing with my love for handlooms from Odisha, today I’m showcasing my first silk Bomkai saree.

Bomkai sarees are also called Sonepuri sarees. The name Bomkai comes from the name of the village Bomkai located in the Ganjam district of western Odisha. At one time, Sambalpur was under the Maharajas of Patna. These Maharajas ruled a cluster of 18 fortresses called Athara Garhjat, and a large area to the east of Ratanpur kingdom. The Maharaja was killed in battle, but his wife gave birth to a son, who was called Ramai Deb. Patna was then divided among eight chieftains who were always in a feud. Ramai Deb is said to have killed all these chieftains and regained hold over Sambalpur and surrounding territories. He is often credited with introducing these sarees to Sonepur, which gave them their name as Sonepuri sarees.

These sarees are available both in cotton and silk. Traditionally these sarees were made with low-count cotton yarn which is usually, coarse and heavy, and dyed in intense colours. The colours of the body and border/pallu are usually bright and contrasting ones. While cottons are often seen used during daily wear, Bomkai silks are special and make an appearance on ceremonial occasions. The magic of these handloom sarees lie in the pallu where intricate thread work can be seen.

These beautiful weaves are woven by weavers from the Bhulia community. These weavers all have the last name ‘Meher’. The weaving of the sarees are extremely labour-intensive. It is an extension of the tie and dye method and has unique designed bandha work in the borders. Bomkais are special because they are produced using the jala technique of weaving.

Jala technique with extra weft work is extremely time consuming. While weavers usually use Jacquard looms these days, the traditional way was to use jala drawlooms. In this jala technique, the patterns are first drawn on paper and then woven on wooden frames.The jala is an attachment atop a loom. It consists of threads which contain the complete sequence of orders to make an intricate design. These threads are attached to their corresponding end to the warp below. When each jala thread is raised, the corresponding thread in the warp is also lifted. This allows the weaver to pass the extra weft which allows these ornamental patterns to be made. The supplementary warp model of the borders in the saree is called as mikta panji. This is a trellis work with diamond form that gives the saree its distinctiveness.

In cotton and silk Bomkai sarees, sometimes butas are woven over the body using extra threads in weft direction. In the border, dobby design along with ikat is used. Phula (flower), rudraksh, matsya (fish), temple and pasapalli (diceboard) motifs are used. For the pallu or aanchal of the saree, motifs such as idols, birds, dancers, baraat scenes, pestle (rukha), damroo (drum), kanthi phoola (small flowers), karela (bitter gourd), mayur (peacock) are used.The peacock blue saree I’m wearing has a modern but popular motif of dancing girls all over the pallu. This is sold as the putli or doll Bomkai. I couldn’t resist the richness of the colour of this saree. Enjoy the close up of the pallu.

The weaves of Odisha are so fascinating that I could do another ten sarees and produce another special edition. Will do that eventually. But as of now, catch up with my other saree stories, if you haven’t done so already!

My saree stories: Part 1
My saree stories: Part 2
My saree stories: Part 3
My saree stories: Part 4
My saree stories: Part 5
My saree stories: Part 6
My saree stories: Part 7
My saree stories: Part 8
My saree stories: Part 9
My saree stories: Part 10
My saree stories: Part 11
My saree stories: Part 12


  • Pragyan Paramita

    Hello mam, is there a way I can personally get in touch with you. Would love to understand a few more things.

      • Annette

        Hi Dr Anshu! I’m a reader from Singapore and found your blog while googling Odisha sarees. I’m attending a friend’s wedding in Bhubaneswar in December, and would love to get a pattachitra saree to wear to it. I really love the vastraharan scene on yours. Would you be ok with sharing the details and seller/weaver you purchased this from? I would love to get one like it!

  • Sakura

    Mam, you saree collections are amazing and you carry them very well. I’m seeing you in traditional styles only by any chance do you own modern silk sarees too and how do you style them?

  • Annette

    Hi Dr Anshu! I’m from Singapore and came across your saree blog via Google while searching for a saree to wear to a friend’s December wedding in Bhubaneswar. I love your silk Pattachitra saree with the vastraharan scene! Would you be open to sharing where you got it from? I’d love to make a similar purchase from the artisans who made this!

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