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Orissa handloom weaves with Ikat

Angul, 65 km from Bhubaneswar the capital, with two rivers Mahanadi and Bramhani flowing through the district, is fertile land and a well-known hub for handloom fabrics. Although Orissa is traditionally not a cotton growing state, it has a substantial and numerically large weaving population that depends on the handloom industry for its livelihood. Weaving is traditionally a caste based occupation.

The double Ikat with highly intricate designs woven by the Bhulia weavers of undivided Sambhalpur, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Phulbani districts, the single Ikat woven in Maniabandha, Nuapatna area of Cuttack district, extra warp and weft designs like Bomkai Sambalpuri weave.

The Bomkai Ikat saree

The Bomkai Saree, is an ethnic combination of Ikat style and supplementary thread work, showcasing the unique excellence of tribal art. Woven on pit looms, combining Ikat and supplementary thread work, the exclusive Bomkai cotton Sarees employ the Ikat style of tie-dye, where the threads are dyed with contrasting colours before they are woven with a special ‘extra weft’ technique. This traditional art uses vegetable dyes to a large extent, with a leaning toward artificial colours in present day creations.

The weaving of the Bomkai Saree, involves the usual thread movement of the warp (lengthwise lay of the threads) and the weft (breadth wise feed of thread), finely controlled through an arrangement mechanism on the loom. The special mechanism on the loom allows for special designs to be woven on the main weave to seamlessly merge with the saree as a homogeneous pattern.

Double Ikat of Bomkai

Here both warp and weft threads are tied with such precision that when woven, threads from both axes mesh exactly at certain points to form a complete motif or pattern. The ‘bandha’ textiles of this region have a distinct native identity.

In contrast to the imposing, mosaic-like appearance of the patola from Gujarat, traditional single Ikat bandhas from Orissa have a soft curvilinear quality. The charm of these cotton and silk Ikat textiles lies in the rich texture. The ’feathered’, flame-like, hazy effect of the forms, is a great contrast to the sharp, grid based patterns of the patola. Also, the effect achieved by the addition of extra weft threads woven beside the Ikat areas, gives the bandhas a unique appearance.

The bandha industry of Orissa is represented by various weaver groups. Each group developed its own characteristic styles. Orissa also produces large quantities of Ikats in tussar silk.

Certain Ikat textiles woven in silk are used for religious purposes in the famous temples of Jagannath Puri. In one of the oldest weaving centers, there exists an intriguing tradition known as ‘pheta’, of weaving slokas or verses from the Gita Gobinda texts into the fabric.

Each pheta contains one sloka or verse woven into it. Today also the weavers continue to weave these traditional Gita Gobinda fabrics.  Another interesting custom, which throws some light on the antiquity of Ikat weaving in Orissa is found in a tradition practiced by some weavers in a village. Each family preserves a small piece of fabric woven by their forefathers to the seventh generation. When an elder dies, his successor adds his fabric to those of his ancestors. The fabric, apparently endowed with some mystical significance, is kept in a secret place and is not ordinarily available for inspection.

Whereas traditionally one set of weavers of a group specialized in bandhas on tussar silk and another rival faction wove mainly cotton Ikats, today there is no longer rigid distinction as divisions of skill and specialization have entered Ikat production in many villages. Some specialize in tying and dyeing, while neighboring villages buy the dyed yarn to be woven into saris. In the realm of design, traditional motifs, once confined to one or other weaver group, are now borrowed and redesigned by both communities. Ikat itself has many styles among the weavers of Orissa.