The Art of Sambalpuri Textile

Updated: Jan 26

The western part of Odisha, India is famous throughout the world for its rich art in textile. Such textile, is popularly known as Sambalpuri Textile and is named after its place of origin, Sambalpur. Sambalpuri sarees are produced in Sonepur, Bargarh, Sambalpur, Balangir and Boudh district of Odisha. These sarees are made of 100% cotton fabric and silk (Paata) and well known for their exceptionally woven pallus and borders with beautiful contrasting colors and various charming designs inspired from temples. The designs reflect the original style and crafts of Baandhakala (tie and dye technique). Traditionally the craftsmanship includes flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. The Sambalpuri silk sarees (paata saree) are fancier and more distinguished by its fine quality, appearance and lustre.

A weaver working in his loom

The main architects of this textile are the Bhulia community. They are the skilled weavers and producers of superior quality of Sambalpuri Textile using typical technique of Baandhakala. It is said that the art of Sambalpuri ikat migrated from northern part of India to western Odisha with the Bhulia community after the fall of Chouhan empire at the hands of Mughals in 1192 AD. The history of Bhulia community attached to the legend of Rajput King Ramai Deo who was the son of Ashabati, a Rajput queen of Rajasthan. When Rajputs were defeated by Mughal, queen Ashabati ran away and took shelter in Patnagarh (now a town in Balangir district of Odisha). At that time, she was pregnant. The Hul community who helped her were engaged in weaving. When Ramai Deo was establishing his kingdom in western part of Odisha, he searched for the weaver community who helped his mother and helped them to settle in his kingdom. There after the Bhulia community started establishing themselves in western Odisha. All bhulias bears the surname Meher which seems to derived from Mihir meaning the sun since they were the follower of Suryavanshis.

The weaving process of Sambalpuri sarees include manually tying and dyeing of the cotton yarns. It is a very strenuous process which require a great patience and fine skills. The whole process of weaving is labor intensive and takes weeks to create a beautiful saree. It does not only include tie and dye but preparing the threads to put on the loom, fine task of repairing the broken yarn where the knot is hardly visible. In the tying and dyeing process, popularly known as Baandha, the yarn is put on the frame and a reference line is drawn for the required design. Then those piece that does not need to be colored are wrapped by cotton thread tightly, thereby preventing those portions during the dyeing. So, Baandha is a length of systematically arranged yarn, dyed according to a preconceived design in such a manner to enable a weaver to portray the design when the yarn is converted to a fabric through the process of weaving. Created with three shuttle weaving technique and the extra held shaft design on primitive pit looms. The unique feature of this form of designing is that the designs are reflected almost identically on both side of the fabric.

There are many varieties of Sambalpuri sarees such as Bomkai, Bapta, Sonepuri, Barpali, Pasapali. All the varieties are named after the area where they are produced. The types vary according to the types of fabric, colors, design and motifs.

There are tremendous variety of options in Sambalpuri sarees always with contrasting colors of border to the main body along with the pallus which are the main attraction. Both the portions of saree adorn with striking designs and motifs inspired from mythology, animals and nature. The symbolic motifs include Shankha, Chakra, Phula. Traditionally, nature inspired simple motifs, threaded butaa and geometrical shapes and lines were the trademark designs.

The saree was popular across India in 1980-1990s when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi started wearing them. To provide protection to the weavers practicing this art and the handloom manufactured in Sambalpur, Odisha were included in Govt. of India’s Geographical Indications (GI) of goods registry.

The pioneer efforts of Sri Radhashyam Meher who brought out an advancement in skill of craftsmen and quality of products owing to which, today the Baandha fabric is popularly known by its geographical and cultural name Sambalpuri fabric. Other artisans who contribute to the development of Sambalpuri textile were Padmashree Kailash Chandra Meher, Padmashree Kunja Bihari Meher, Padmashree Chaturbhuja Meher and Padmashree Kruthartha Acharya.

Besides sarees, Sambalpuri textile today include dress materials, salwar-kamiz, kurti, dhila, towels, handkerchiefs and furnishing materials.

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