The Versatile Saga of Orissa Sarees

One of the eastern states of India famous for its rich variety of ethnic Indian fashion wear is Odisha or Orissa. It is renowned for its beautiful and gorgeous handloom textiles. Orissa sarees are well-known for their exquisite finish and delicate works. Some of the sarees of Orissa are carefully preserved and proudly cherished to carry forward the tradition in subsequent generations. In fact, handloom weaving in Orissa is one of the ancient and largest industry in India. It supports thousands of weavers and related craftsmen and artisans. Hence, these Indian sarees cannot be missed when it comes to enhancing the beauty of one’s closet or gifting.

The whole process of making the handcrafted Orissa sarees is mechanised to save time. The dyeing and weaving the fabric has very strong religious inspirations. Old religious texts and traditions, especially those revolving around Jagannath (Juggernaut or Lord Krishna) have highly motivated the weavers. In the sarees, therefore, there is profound display of colours of Jagannath, temple borders and mythological motifs.

The weavers from Nuapatna in the Cuttack district of Orissa weave a special silk fabric used to dress three idols of the famous Jagannath Temple. It has verses from the epic Gita Govind embroidered in them.

The region produces a wide variety of tussar silk and very sturdy cotton. Interestingly, the cotton from this state has a shiny finish and smooth texture. Orissa ikat dyeing and weaving is one of its kind. It is extremely popular among saree lovers.


The following nine Sarees of Orissa very splendidly depict the heritage of handloom of the state:


Sambalpuri Sarees


Sambalpuri Sarees have been made famous by Late Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, as she used to wear them. They originate from the Sambalpur region of Orissa. They are made by the bhulia (weavers) from Attabira, Balangir, Bargarh, Barpali, Bheden, Bijepur, Boudh, Padmapur, Sohela and Sonepur. They are traditional wear wherein the warp and the weft are tie-dyed, knotted into sections and dipped them into colour one by one before weaving. They are noted for the ‘Baandhkala’ craftsmanship reflected in their unique patterns etched on multi-coloured tones, known as ‘ikat’ or ‘bandha’. They are very different from the Bandej sarees of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The conventional motifs incorporated in these Orissa sarees include, shankha (conch-shell), chakra (wheel), phula (flower), rudraksha, animals, birds, fish, landscape and many geometrical patterns. They decorate both the body and the pallu. While Sambalpuri Ikat is cotton based, Nuapatna sarees are available in tussar and soft silk. Berhampur sarees are heavy silk with thin borders. The Bapta sarees are a combination of silk and cotton. They have received the Geographical Indication mark by the Government of India. The price of the sarees is dependent on the complicacy of the works.


Bomkai or Sonepuri Sarees

Bomkai or Sonepuri Sarees have originated from Bomkai village, in the Ganjam district of Orissa. They were discovered in the early 1980s. They are primarily produced by the bhulia from the district of Subarnapur. Yet another GI product of India, Bomkai is woven by an extra-weft technique on a power loom. It combines ikat weaving with silk or resham thread embroidery on the pallu and the border. The borders come in contrasting colours. The pallu, on the other hand, is embossed with elaborate and fine works. Traditional wooden jaalas are still used for weaving a Bomkai. Today both cotton and silk bomkai are procurable along with intricate zari threaded works. Inspired by tribal art, the motifs created on the border of the fabric comprise, temple spire patterns, floral patterns, mikta panji (lattice work of small diamond shapes), kumbha spire and rudraksha (bead). Pallu motifs include, atasi flower, kanthiphula, peacock, birds, fish, ducks, elephants and geometric patterns. Kathak dancers all over the world usually sport these sarees.


Kotpad Sarees

Kotpad Sarees are vegetable-dyed fabric weaved by the tribal Mirgan community of Kotpad village in the Koraput district of Orissa. Out of the several Orissa sarees, these received the first GI mark. These are usually cotton sarees with solid borders and pata anchal. The ingredients for the rich textures are aul (madder) tree roots, tussar silk, and cotton yarns. Even though they have limited shades of colour (black and maroon being the most common), thy are eco-friendly, pleasant and shining. They are also comfortable to wear during summers and winters. The motifs developed by the extra weft are, axe, crab, bow, fish, temple, fan, conch and boat, reflecting the culture of the sea. The sarees have befitting elaborate borders and designs depending on the occasion.


Pasapali or Saktapar Sarees

Pasapali or Saktapar Sarees are one variant of the Sambalpuri sarees of Orissa. They are mainly weaved in the Bargarh district. ’Pasapali’ comes from the word ‘pasa’ meaning chess or gambling games using a chess board. Hence, they have detailed chequered patterns of different variety and colour combinations. They are identified by the double ikat weave in the pattern of a chessboard and brocaded borders. There unique symmetry makes them stand out in ethnic Indian fashion wear for women. Tussar, silk, pure organic cotton and their varied combinations serve as the base material for the fabric. Pure silk threads are then woven to enhance its glossy appearance. The anchal or the pallu has motifs like conch, flowers, animals, birds, temple, wheel and landscape.


Khandua Sarees or Maniabandi or Kataki Sarees


Khandua Sarees (Maniabandi or Kataki), dedicated to Lord Jagannath of Puri Dham, one of the sacred places of India, dates back to 12th century. In Odia ‘Khandua’ refers to the cloth worn in the lower half of the body. Manufactured in Nuapatna of Cuttack district, a Khandua is rightly termed as ‘Pride of Orissa’. It is a traditional hand-woven saree woven on wooden looms using pure tussr yarns. It is also popular for its ikat or bandha. It is commonly worn by women during wedding. Kenduli Khandua of 12 feet and 2 kani (1 kani = length of one’s hand) is engraved with stanzas and illustrations from Gita Govind. It is offered to Jagannath as Khandua. The traditional colours include orange, red and sunset yellow. The borders and pallu are generally seen in black, blue and red colours. The colours are extracted from Sal tree. The designs seen on the sarees are auspicious elephants, large many petalled flowers, a deula kumbha and a unique Orissan animal Nabagunjara. It is lightweight, barely 300 gms. and comfortable fabric. One type of the Khandua is the Navakothi which has all the nine main motifs of – flowers, animals, leaves, peacocks, beetel leaves and vessels.


Berhampuri Saree or Berhampuri Patta

Berhampuri Saree or Berhampuri Patta is a GI product from the Silk City of India, Berhampur in Orissa.  Its unique feature is that it comes with a matching ‘joda’ for men. The 200-year old conventional Odisha weaving style is incorporated in its making. The temple or kumbha design falls into two categories; phoda or badhi. The zari borders are surely eye-catching. The saree also adorns the three idols of the Jagannath temple. They are worn at weddings and auspicious occasions. Of late the weavers are complaining about its bleak future owing to low wages, shortage of raw material and non-availability of subsidy in power tariff.


Habaspuri Saree

Habaspuri Saree is a GI marked tribal handloom product from Orissa. The kondha weavers from Chicheguda, Kalahandi district are attributed the weaving of this exquisite piece. It has taken its name from the Habaspur village where it was originally woven during the 19th century. The making of a Habaspuri is a time-consuming and painstaking process. The traditional patterns in kumbha style are etched out on the saree. It is basically a cotton saree. The weavers are trying hard to restore the dying art of this saree in the best possible ways.


Dongria Sarees

Dongria Sarees are inspired by Dongria or the tribal art form of Orissa. They are woven the Dongria Kondh tribe of the Munda ethnic group, located in the Niyamgiri Hills from the districts of Rayagada and Kalahandi. They are handwoven pure soft cotton fabric. Natural products like dyes and cotton yarns make them eco-friendly. They are rare and unique. They are generally thick weaves with bright and vibrant colour play and geometric and simple designs. Today to catch up with changing times there are prints and modern textures and designs.


One of the best parts of these ethnic sarees of Orissa is that it is now recognised worldwide for myriad hues, exquisite textures, vibrancy, versatility and affordability. Today they can be spotted on fashion runaways and red carpets. The artisans and craftsmen are constantly playing with colours, designs and base material to produce sarees for every mood, occasion and need. The subtle and delicate handicrafts are globally acknowledged. These Indian sarees are comfortable to wear, lightweight and easy to drape. They are suitable for women of all age groups. They can be paired with tribal jewellery and off-beat Indian jewellery like wooden bracelets and terracotta necklaces. This surely enhances the ethnic style statement of the wearer. They can appear similar to Bengal sarees but they are completely diverse. Unlike Bengal sarees, they are thick and richly textured and more lustrous.

So if you love Indian ethnic fashion and have a fondness for traditional Indian sarees, you must consider buying sarees of Orissa. Needless to say that these beautiful sarees will end up making you look more graceful and further enhance your beauty.

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