The villages in the mountainous regions of the state of Orissa are famous for producing Ikat.
In Japanese, the word ‘Kasuri’ refers to Ikat fabric; a pre-dyed fabric that exhibits a design or pattern from the threads being tied and dyed before weaving. Above all, Double Ikat demands high skill in order to exhibit a calculated pattern, made by dyeing the warp and weft separately. The remaining areas that produce Double Ikat at present are Japan (Okinawa), Indonesia (Bali) and India (Odisha, Gujarat).
Odisha is dotted with countless weaving villages, but this time I decided to cover Nuapatna, where I could come back to Bhubaneshwar from in a day.
On the way to the village, we crossed a large, brand new bridge that we were told was built recently. A river that straddles 860 km in eastern India. Its name, Mahanadi, means great river.
Hydroelectric power is generated at a dam in Sambalpur, 400-500 km ahead upstream, which provides a stable supply of electricity in the region. The road till here was paved, but places under construction keep showing up on the one ahead. This area is just the entrance to the mountainous zone, but I suppose the arrangements for the ease of access to the mountain’s hinterland are yet to come. The taxi, raising the dust on the unpaved road and passing by cattle, reached our destination in about 2 hours.
“Do you know anyone around here who weaves?”, I enquire after we arrive in Nuapatna. It is almost impossible to communicate in English in the villages of Odisha; you cannot converse with the natives unless you speak the local language Odia. The taxi driver helped me get the information. Then, as the man downtown said, “Yes, I do”, I was able to meet the master weaver called Maestro 10 minutes later.
According to the Maestro Mr. Pradeep, almost the entire 3000-strong population of the village are employed in weaving or weaving-related activities. There is only one one-way main road that runs straight through the heart of the town. The alleys that radiate from it are dotted with houses. When I intruded upon Mr. Pradeep’s house, he was engaged in folding a silk saree that he had woven with his workers.
The region of Nuapatna is known for dedicating its silk sarees to the Jagganath temple in Puri, one of the 4 most holy sites of Hinduism, since ancient times. Mr. Pradeep also said, a little proudly, “We weave cloth to offer to the Jagannath temple. It even contains the design of the temple and the characters of its name.” “When the temple places an order, we weave it”, he explained.
Usually, orders come from large saree stores from various places in India. “Basically, after we get the orders, we weave the silk fabric”, he said. It seems that there is an approximate selling price. In Mr. Pradeep’s store, one silk saree is supplied at a cost of Rs. 4000. The price of the saree is fixed at Rs. 8000 at the store, but the sale occurs at a selling price to the tune of Rs. 6000. (At the time of composing this article, 1 INR was approximately 1.7 JPY)
Then Mr. Pradeep showed me Mr. Suresh’s workshop, 3 minutes away on foot, from his house. It was a mechanised weaving workshop for silk sarees. As you enter the workshop there are two large weaving machines. He said that he stands in the center and operates the two machines in front of and behind him simultaneously. He is a veteran artisan. The shuttle, which draws the weft through in between the warp, makes a rhythmic sound as it goes back and forth from left to right.
Here, the thread is pre-dyed, which is characteristic of Ikat, as explained in the beginning. We were unable to see the manufacturing process of dyeing the yarn this time, but it requires high skill and takes more time than everything else. The process of machine-weaving depends on the complexity of the pattern or design, but it seems that it can weave a single silk saree in average standard time of five hours.
Next, he guided us to a workshop where cotton material is handwoven, a few minutes ahead on foot. The woman weaving was Ms. Bilasini. Climbing nimbly onto and sitting on the loom in a small room near the entrance of her house, she showed us how she weaves. Operating the clanking loom with her legs, she slides the shuttle from left to right with her hand.
At the entrance of the room there was the deity Jagannath, who was like a symbol of Odisha, looking this way and smiling. The lady was shy, but she posed for a photograph with her older sister’s family. On the mud wall of the house is a picture drawn by her sister.
Hand-weaving takes too much time. The economic situation of hand-weaving artisans of cotton fabric is particularly difficult. According to Mr. Pradeep, if converted to a daily wage, the earnings come up only to the tune of Rs. 50. A 5 m cotton saree was selling for a price of Rs. 800 in the shops of Bhubaneswar. It’s not that ordinary consumers purchase them particularly worrying about if they are machine-woven or hand-woven.
Ms. Bilasini says that the brightly-coloured saree being dried outside that seems to suit her well was not something that she had woven herself, but a cheap saree that had been machine-printed. It seems that she sells the sarees that she weaves and buys cheaper sarees in the town.
Finally, at Mr. Ashok’s hand-weaving workshop. Following a rhythm, he weaves a few millimeters at a time, surely, little by little. Next to him, his wife and children were watching. Families in the village here have come along becoming only weavers across generations. All the looms I got to see were antiques used for a long time.
Images | Text : Yoko Kobayashi (translated by Aumurto)
Coverage Site :
Nuapatna, Tigiria, Cuttack / Ikat
Silk Saree Meocanl
Mr. Pradeep Kumar Kundu
Mr. Suresh Kumar Tosh
Ms. Bilasini Muduli
Mr. Ashok Patra
※ We have placed the samples of silk Ikat and cotton double Ikat in our Bengaluru office. Those who wish to see the originals may please enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is also available in Japanese.