Imagine being presented with a cloth to wear, rough to touch, as simple and as raw as nature… in fact, tales whisper of it being magically woven by the hands of nature herself, as a gift to nature lovers, with hints of healing properties. Being first worn by a tribal folk – forgotten, now remembered through this timeless fabric, made from a specific tree in a small district of Odisha, after which it is named – Kotpad.
For those looking to go green, live organic and at the same time don authentic cultural art, set your gaze upon Kotpad handloom fabrics, the first item from the state of Orissa – to receive the ‘Geographical Indication of India’ tag. Simple, but with a raw grandness that befits a true union between nature derived materials and handcraft, this organic dyed textile is found fashioned into traditional saris, as well as dupattas, stoles and other contemporary products. Being a tribal invention made for self-use, Kotpad weaves were discovered and popularized in the 80s, and is credited today to Orissa’s Mirgan community of Kotpad village, Koraput district.
INSPIRED BY NATURE
This organic handloom antiquity is a vegetable-dyed fabric manufactured from the Indian Madder (Aal) tree, which grows in Koraput district. Non-synthetic, non-toxic and eco-friendly, you can wear a Kotpad weave – free of fearing any harm to your skin and with an invigorating sense of rustic authenticity. This knowledge and use of vegetable and mineral dyes goes back to pre-historic times in India, and it is now fighting a modern battle of quality vs quantity against chemically-dyed products, which are less labour intensive. While there are said to be around 300 dye-yielding plants in India, post the advent of chemical colors flooding the markets, most of these plants stuck to producing popular natural dyes such as Indigo, but the craft of Kotpad weaving still lives on, staying true to nature and its origins.
HOW IS A KOTPAD WEAVE MADE?
The tribal Kotpad weave is traditionally woven in heavy cotton. The process for hand-weaving Kotpad fabrics is elaborate and can take up to a month for maximum quality. Procured from Aal trees in the jungles of Koraput district, the root dye is naturally processed and the cotton yarn is laboriously treated with dung, wood ash and castor oil. Woven in pit looms with extra weft patterning, the dyed rough cotton yarn is decorated with intricate motifs and treated to a solid border effect on the fabric, using a multi-shuttle interlocking patterning, which allows for innumerable combinations in scale and volume. However, only one saree of a particular type can be woven once the loom is set.
The Types of Kotpad Weaves
Kotpad saris are perhaps the most popular and most complex product of Kotpad weaves, typically rich in fabric and minimal in design. Yet being a tribal invention, traditionally – Kotpad saris weren’t often woven without symbolic significance, being more elaborate in its make and design when made for occasions such as weddings, yet more simplistically made to mark the rites of passage in a woman’s life, or to indicate the identity of the wearer and their standing. Initially handmade as short length saris, weavers expanded operations to include full-length cotton saris, dupattas, kurtas and other contemporary products, after gaining nation-wide popularity. For men Kotpad weaves are fashioned into Gumchas – traditional coarse cotton cloths, used as towels and sweat cloths, worn as headscarves. They are also made to be worn as Tuvals, or knee-length lower garments with border designs and decorative motifs.
The Motifs and Colours of Kotpad Fabric
The colours of Kotpad fabric, which resonate an earthly grandeur, are limited to the nature of the tree its uniqueness and vegetable-dyes are derived from. Depending on the age of the root bark and proportion of dye used, colours range from deep maroon to dark brown. For added effect, the original colours are mixed with the natural unbleached off-white of the cotton yarn.Traditionally, they used to weave sarees which were narrower than the existing sarees, made of heavy thick unbleached cotton with a single color pattern woven in red, purple or brown, which were then dyed with the distinctive dye made from the roots of the Madder.
While Kotpad weaves have evolved to include many new modern day products, the varying motifs that each authentic Kotpad product embodies, religiously maintains the traditional tribal art and iconography, which visually represent the way of life the art has originated from. Kotpad motifs typically include depictions of traditional patterns, tools, professions, native animals, huts etc. In particular, if you were to look for a distinctive motif, popular among Kotpad weaves, you should find a pyramidal pattern called the ‘phool (flower), cheeta (leopard), chauk (seat). It is important to note that these motifs have been passed down from generation to generation.
THE FUTURE OF KOTPAD WEAVING
To wear a Kotpad weave today – is to know that you wear a tradition that was intimately first created for self-use, humbly hidden amidst tribal life. It was Government exhibitions and fares that led to its nation-wide recognition and demand to be implemented in a variety of products. Yet, in the face of a now nearly synthetic – modern world, which favours speed and volume, many among the new generation of weavers are shifting towards less time-consuming and more rewarding professions.
Nonetheless, as befits the timeless handcraft – there are still tribes that are persistently keeping the craft of Kotpad weaving alive, albeit at great difficulty, adapting their designs to match contemporary urban market preferences, while sticking to tradition. And so to wear a Kotpad weave today, is to also know that you’re not just wearing one of India’s finest organically dyed fabrics, but that you’re adorning a cloth that embodies simplicity at its best, with a storied past – spun from nature.
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