Beautiful, tribal motifs in earthy hues of maroon and brown delicately woven into soft cotton fabrics - this defines the identity of Kotpad town in Odisha. The town in the Koraput district is known for its handwoven, dyed fabrics. But, what makes this weave stand out is its special bond with nature. The state of Odisha has one of the richest handloom traditions in India. Among them is Kotpad, a unique weaving tradition that is the preserve of the Mirgan community. No ritual or ceremony is complete without the locals dressing up in the beautiful and vivid weaves that have made this town famous.
While not much is known about the origins of this tradition, it has been passed down for several generations. This rich weave was once merely traditional wear for the local tribes such as the Bhatra, Dura, Paraja, Maadia and Koyan, among others.
In an age where the textile industry is moving towards sustainability and eco-friendly technology, Kotpad has plenty to offer.
For years, the process has remained entirely natural and organic and uses no chemicals at any stage. The cotton yarn for Kotpad is handspun, and treated with cow dung, ash and castor oil, while the dyeing and processing is done by using the root of the locally grown Aal tree or the Indian Madder tree. It is this natural dye, with its beautiful colours that makes Kotpad textiles so charming and special. The dyeing process is tedious and time-consuming - it takes 15-20 days to dye the yarn. Interestingly, only women are involved in the dyeing process. The men of the community are the weavers. The yarn is first washed and starched. It is then left to dry on wooden rods before being treated with castor oil, which helps the colour of the dye to bond better with the yarn.
The next step in the treatment of the yarn before dyeing is the application of cow dung. It acts as a bleaching agent and ensures that the dye is properly absorbed by the yarn. After this, the yarn is once again hung out to dry. It is then washed with ash water and given a final wash, usually at a local pond.
Dyeing with the roots of the Aal tree is one of the most important steps in Kotpad production and one of the defining characteristics of this textile. Roots of the Aal tree or the Indian Madder tree are dried, crushed and ground into a powder to make a deep, red dye. The yarn is soaked in the dye solution and then boiled in the same solution. Shades of red, maroon and brown are produced, depending on the strength of the solution and the age of the Aal used. The use of natural material also ensures that the fabric causes no harm to the body while the fabric does not lose its sheen. It also provides a cooling effect, making it comfortable to wear in humid conditions. The dyed yarn is finally dried and washed before it is woven. Kotpad still uses the traditional form of weaving, using pit looms made of wood and bamboo.
The Kotpad sarees are tussar silk sarees decorated with tribal art and are rich in their natural colour. The entire process of its making, dyeing, and weaving process is no less than an adventure for those hearts, who crave to drape themselves in these precious fabrics. Kotpad Sarees are the pride of Odisha’s rich tribal culture. It is one of the first few things from Odisha that got a GI tag in the year 2005.
Kotpad motifs are equally fascinating. The tribal motifs are inspired by nature and their local surroundings. Leaves, animals, rivers and farms are common themes in Kotpad weaves. When expertly done, it is almost as if these artisans are using their craft to communicate with the natural world.
Like many other traditional crafts, Kotpad has its own challenges. For a craft that depends on natural elements, environmental degradation and climate change is major threat. Also, the younger generation is turning to other means of livelihood, which is seriously threatening the survival of this craft.
Product / image credits: Narendra Tanti
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