Heritage,  Sarees

My saree stories: Part 17 (Odisha weaves)

Today’s blog post is the second edition of my collection of Odisha’s gorgeous weaves. I have previously written about the Odisha handlooms in Part 13. (click here to read). In the previous edition I had covered the popular weaves such as the Sambalpuri Ikat, the Dongria, the Pattachitra, the Dolabedi, the Saktapar, the Vijayapar, the Kotpad, the Nabakothi, the Bomkai and the Kathifera. This time some more relatively unknown weaves and designs including the Baghambari, Athakoti, Dhalapathar and Pitala sarees. I can never get tired of the handloom sarees from this state where I spent my earliest years as a baby.

Saree # 171: A stunning Baghambari saree

Within the whole range of Sambalpuri ikat sarees some motifs, patterns and designs have acquired their own identity. One of these designs is the Baghambari saree.

This mulberry silk saree has an ancient pattern, which Bidhan Chandra Mohanty in his book on Ikat textiles calls Baghambari. He attributes this saree to the Bargarh cluster of weavers and assigns it to the year 1973.

What is distinct about this saree are the multi-hued flowers which are placed in a background of large checks. These are blooming lotuses or padmaphula. Remember this is tie and dye work. So the weaver has made a multi-petalled flower in three colours — yellow, red and ochre, here using bandha. Plus he has made the red centre with a sun-shaped center within it. And done it symmetrically again and again throughout the body. That’s a really tough job. That’s what needs a master weaver.

I scoured the internet and tried to find out why it is called baghambari. If I do a Sanskrit translation, bagh means tiger and ambar means cloth. Traditionally sadhus who wore tiger skin were said to be wearing baghambar. On the net I find some unsubstantiated statements which say that these flowers look like tigers from a distance and this gives them this name. But I’m unconvinced and very skeptical about this explanation. Try as I might (and I tried squinting hard too) it doesn’t look like a tiger to me. And I’m really wondering if this name was actually baagambari rather than baghambari. After all ‘baag‘ means garden. And if you are wearing these floral motifs in such bold and beautiful colors, you do look like you are wearing a garden. But then this is my imagination and I have no credentials to substantiate this vague thought.

There are other parts of this saree I want you to pay attention to. The borders have four rows of rudraksha motifs in dobby work. Why is the rudraksha used again and again in Odisha weaves? Rudra means anger and it is also one of Lord Shiva’s names. Aksh means eye. The legend goes that Lord Shiva went on a rampage doing his Tandav while he was trying to finish off Tripurasur. At the end of his tandav, he closed his eyes, and some tears fell on earth. Each of those teardrops transformed into a rudraksha. I saw a rudraksha tree in a Shiva temple in Nepal. When the fruits completely ripen and dry, they are used as beads on rosaries. This motif is considered very pious and hence it is repeated.

Let’s have a look at this magnificent sarabandha aanchal or pallu. It has several rows of flowers and vines adorning it. But there are three distinct motifs which cannot escape your attention. The first in the middle are rather ornate fish motifs. I almost got confused whether they were conch shells, but the bifid tails are really distinct. And then when you look on both sides there are very pretty swan motifs which are woven.

Such painstaking work on a single saree. Such symmetry and elegance and detail. Should I simply say that wearing this Baghambari made my heart go garden- garden (baag- baag)?

Saree # 172: The Dhalapathar revival saree

This is a rare handloom revival weave from Odisha. The Dhalapathara or Dhalapathar saree.

The words Dhalapathar literally mean ‘white stone’. But Dhalapathar is a village in the Khurda district of Odisha. This saree is woven by weavers who belong to the Rangani community. ‘Rang‘ means colour, and ‘ani‘ means to bring. This community has been engaged in dyeing and weaving handloom cloth since over a century now.

Initially a bridal weave called kusumi kasta was popular. Eventually people stopped buying these sarees and the weavers suffered abject penury. It was then that they started making curtains using the same technique with motifs of Lord Jagannath, the Taj Mahal, dancers, animals and flowers. Today the thick coarse Dhalapathar parda has its own GI tag. Some organizations worked hard to revive this lost art of weaving Dhalapathar sarees.

The speciality of Dhalapathar weaves is that weft ribbed cloth is woven without the help of dobby, jacquard or jala. This painstaking weave can demonstrate the weft rib effect as well as multicoloured effect. Another peculiarity is that some substances are applied to the warp yarn to stiffen it. This process is called sizing. Here rice paste is applied to the threads and dried to strengthen them. Yet another speciality is that flat rectangular wooden pieces which are locally called chiari are used for formation of designs. Depending on the complexity of the design more than one chiari can be used.

This orange saree feels thick and coarse, but comfortable. Have a closer look at the extra weft design with the thin stripes in contrast colours and the fish motifs woven so intricately. The thin edged borders have arrowhead motifs and reminded me of the gomi borders of ilkal sarees which are inspired by jowar stalks.

Saree # 173: The Athakoti saree

I think most of us have heard of Nabakothi sarees. If you haven’t, look up Part 13 for details as it has an intriguing mythological significance. This grey and red saree was traditionally called Ath-kothari. And is now sold as Athakoti sarees.

My saree is an Odisha cotton handloom saree. I had read about these sarees in Bidhan Chandra Mohanty’s book. He says these were adapted from the Nabakothi, but I hadn’t seen one before. I’m not sure why the squares between the two borders were reduced to eight. Maybe it was an experiment by the weavers to create a new pattern.

The saree has broad red borders. On the outside, the borders have four layers of rudraksha motifs. The rudraksha is said to be a favorite of Lord Shiva and the significance of the fruits depends on the number of facets on their surface. Just below them, there are stick figures from Saura art.

The motifs inside the kotharis or boxes are repetitive and sequentially arranged. They are supposed to be auspicious motifs. I could identify the shankha (conch), padma (lotus), paan or peepal leaf, gaja (elephant), prajapati (butterfly), mayur (peacock), three more birds which look like either parrots or ducks, mangala ghat (temple ghat), phula gaach (flowers with stalks and leaves), two different eight-pointed flower motifs, a stag with antlers, and something which looks like a stupa.

But the motif which I liked best is the nabagunjara. The story behind the nabagunjara is very fascinating. It is supposed to be an avatar of Lord Krishna in the form of nine animals. I have written about it in detail in my post on Nabakothi sarees.

Saree # 174: A danti-buta Sachipar saree

This cotton ikat saree that I’m wearing is a Sachipar from Odisha. To call an ikat saree a Sachipar it has to have a body with a checked pattern and a border in a contrast colour. Just two colours. If you have a red band below the black it becomes a Bijayapar or Vijayapar (see my saree #138). You can find different sizes of the checks in Sachipar. The border has rudraksh motifs on both sides. They sandwich a middle band consisting of tendrils or creeper or lata motifs.

What makes this saree different is the lines which make up the checks. Notice that they are not woven as thin straight lines, but as double lines with a saw-tooth pattern between them in red. This type of weave is called the Danti-buta Sachipar or a Danti Sachipar. I’m posting close ups for a better idea. I guess Danti comes from the word for teeth or daant.

Saree # 175: A Pattnaikpar saree

This mustard saree with tiny checks is from the Sachipar series, although the nomenclature needs to be better delineated (I’m talking like a pathologist classifying tumours here!!!). This saree is often sold as a Sachipar with middle band. The correct name for this saree is a Pattnaikpar.

So to describe it better (mera detailed microscopic description!), this is a double ikat mustard yellow cotton saree with small checks. The outermost two bands in the border have rudraksh motifs. Between them is a bandha border with duck and fish motifs. Inside this (I’m tempted to write medial to this!) is a red band with tendril motifs called the lahari bandha.

In the centre of the body, which consists of small checks, is the middle band. It consists of two bands of lahari bandha sandwiching the bandha border with fish and duck motifs. Remember if the checks are replaced by dice board patterns it becomes a Saktapar (see saree #134). If the middle border is done away with, the nomenclature will turn to Vijayapar and Bijayapar (See saree #138).

The pallu is a sarabandha aanchal with curvilinear ikat work. It has bands of fish (machha), animals, and dobby flower woven alternating with bands of creeper (dala).

Saree # 176: A Pitala saree from Ganjam district

I have tried my best to reach out to the humble weavers located in remote villages during the lock down and buy directly from them without any middle men. But it has led to amusing experiences.

I had heard about the weavers from Ganjam district in Odisha. They wove simple cotton sarees called Pitala sarees. I managed to get the contact details of a weaver from Padmanabhpur and sent him a message. Within half an hour I got a very suspicious voice asking me where I had found his number. I explained and he promised to send me pictures of sarees. Communication was hilarious. His Hindi was rudimentary and my Oriya was zilch. But we managed.

He began by sending me photographs of expensive Bomkais. I explained that I was looking for the simple cotton Pitala sarees and not these lustrous silks. For the life of him he couldn’t fathom why a woman from the other end of the country was bothering to look for daily wear sarees around Rs 1000 each when he had silks to show.

Then he promised grudgingly to get back. Three hours later he posted a few cotton sarees. The pictures were shot in poor light. Someone was holding then up. In one instance they were hung on a bamboo stick placed horizontally. I chose four of them. When it came to payment he was clueless and then simply clicked a picture of his bank pass book and sent it to me.

When I was pondering about whether he would post the sarees properly, he said his village and the Padmanabhpur weavers society had been featured on the History Channel. My ears perked up. He sent me a video which I’m sharing with you here.

Then Ganjam was declared a containment zone and my parcel was abominably delayed. When the sarees arrived two were fine, one colour looked completely different from the photo I was shown and one was something I hadn’t chosen at all. “Oh, I didn’t find one like you had chosen, so I sent you another one instead,” he explained matter of factly. There was no point in complaining, as the saree didn’t look bad. Only it was something I wouldn’t have chosen! I would have preferred the “English colours” any day!

Whatever! I got my Pitala handloom saree. The borders and pallu have ikat work on them. All over are what he called “special dobby pungi buta”. Dobby is a simple loom which allows simple geometric patterns to be woven on a saree. I didn’t figure out the meaning of pungi. And I presume it refers to the extra weft work floral butis that you see here.

Saree # 177: The Jharna saree

I had bought this saree almost a year ago and had forgotten to wear it. Until Renu Pimpale wrote and reminded me.

This is an Odisha handloom cotton which is popularly called the Jharna saree. The name jharna, meaning waterfall, comes from the streaks or lines on the body of this saree which give it the impression of a cascading waterfall from a distance.

However the jharna pattern is not unique to these sarees from Odisha. But you can also see them in other sarees like Bengal handlooms or khadi cotton. In fact I’m sure you would have seen similar streaks which are more closely placed in khadi cottons. These lines are placed more far apart here in this maroon and orange saree. Personally, I like the streaks closer and more prominently placed. It gives a much better texture and look.

For some reason, the rain gods have been showering us their blessings and the scene outside my bedroom window looks like a waterfall in full splendour!

Saree # 178: An ikat saree from the Maniabandha cluster of weavers

During the early days of the pandemic, my friend Henal Shah had forwarded me a link about a Tata’s initiative called Antaran Artisan Connect. It was an appeal to order sarees from weavers so that they could survive the pandemic. And a promise that sarees would be sent later. I felt it was genuine and connected directly with the weaver.

I chose this ikat saree for the unusual combination of earthy brown and dark purple. This is a cotton handloom woven by the Maniabandha cluster of weavers of Odisha. All the weaver would tell me was this was hand woven and they called this the phuljhari pattern.

The saree took several months to arrive. But there were regular polite calls from the Tata people, assuring me that my saree would reach once the postal services were resumed. When the saree arrived it turned out to be a lovely earthier shade of brown than I imagined. Accessorized it with some delicate Murano glass jewelry which I picked up on my last trip to Venice. Seems ages ago.

Was feeling great to wear this. And had a very satisfying day. Who wouldn’t be happy when you take an interactive 100 minute session, post lunch, online and manage to keep participants excited and awake! All that wearing and removing my headphones all day made me lose an earring. But as soon as I reached home got a call from my resident that they had found it in the seminar room. The little things in life matter so much, don’t they?

Saree # 179: The Suta Luga

Today the mood is mellow with rain lashing down my window panes. The saree I’m wearing is a simple suta luga. ‘Suta luga’ is Odiya for cotton saree. This humble handloom saree is from Odisha from the weavers of Jagatsinghpur cluster.

These weavers originally belonged to the Bardhaman and Nadia districts of Bengal. It is believed that they migrated to coastal Jagatsinghpur during the Bhakti Movement as disciples of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They settled down in Badabagh village. Suta laga sarees are fine cotton sarees with a thread count of 60 to 100. The border and the pallu usually have motifs with extra weft work.

Jagatsinghpur district was battered by the super cyclone of 1999. Several NGOs helped these skilled weavers get back on their feet by forming cooperative sarees.These suta luga sarees are an ode to our mothers and grandmothers. These are the simple ghar ki sarees which they used to wear daily. Suta luga is to Odisha what the Taant saree is to Bengal.

Saree # 180: A mala bandha ghagra saree from Bargarh

Has been a lazy day. Procrastination seems to grip me. So much to do and the drive to work hard seems to ebbing. Desperately seeking a change. Maybe wearing brighter colours makes you feel more charged up. Those were my thoughts as I picked this saree.

It is a Sambalpuri ikat from Odisha. This pattern is called Mala Bandha Ghagara.

Mala, of course you know, means garland. It refers to the thicker double lined vertical motifs woven through the body of this saree. Bandha is how the ikat tie and dye work is referred to in Odisha. Ghagara means waterfall in Odiya. This refers to the thin dotted lines between the two main bold vertical lines. In the ikat work you can see the matsya and flower motifs. These simple lightweight cotton sarees are woven by the weavers of Bargarh district of Odisha.

Catch up with my previous 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
My saree stories: Part 13
My saree stories: Part 14
My saree stories: Part 15
My saree stories: Part 16

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