Through simplicity comes great beauty! And the contrary juxtaposition reflected in the weaves of Kotpad inspire awe for the simplicity they reflect. This rough spun, all-natural fabric has since long adorned the dark, bejeweled and lithe women of this region and greased the wheels of the local economy. Kotpad silk is the first item from Odisha to be granted the GI of India tag in 2005.
Akin to all tribal cultures around the world, the weavers of Kotpad also find heavy inspiration in nature. So much so that the fabric created here is 100% organic and chemical free, a huge feat in this artificially charged world. The fiber is dyed with the reddish tinge of the Aal tree making it eco-friendly and non-toxic, as well as completely skin-friendly. The proportion of dye used and the addition of iron sulphate determine the shades brought about, varying from deep maroon to dark brown. This gorgeous deep hue is offset with the all-natural whiteness in the major portion of the cloth that brings about a dramatic contrast of colours. Even the motifs incorporated in the material, developed by extra wefts, are inspired by nature and by all the aspects in their daily life ranging from crabs, conches, boats, axes, etc.
The weavers here create gorgeous sarees that are the staple attire of all the local women. The quaint motifs indicate the wearer’s identity and mark the rites of passage in a women’s life. However for special occasions like weddings, the designs get a bit more elaborate with detailed borders and pallav, the dominant design being of the auspicious kumbh. The dimension of the saris also varies from the shorter knee-length version measuring 8 haath to the longer ankle length ones going up to 16 haath.
However, will such an institution truly stand the test of time? Until the early 90’s, the fabric that was so proudly created by the tribals was in fact too undervalued to feed its weavers. Earlier, an eight yard Kotpad sari would fetch the weaver a measly 200-300 rupees – not enough to sustain a person even on the border of the poverty line!
The scenario is however changing for the better now, and fast. Various government and independent organizations and textile designers have begun to show great interest in the indigenous craft and have started to promote it steadily. Local organizations realized the value of the art and slowly steps were taken to show the entire nation the beauty and simplicity of the Kotpad weaves. Once the GI tag was awarded in 2005, it brought along with it international recognition too. The documentary made by Biswanath Rath, The Story of a Race against Time, catapulted the plight of the weavers and brought with it humungous support and appreciation for the artisans. The State Department of Textiles released about 75 lakh to the society last year and almost 1.8 crore this year to support the weaver families and their art.
In today’s scenario people are developing an anathema to chemically treated clothes. The natural soothing textures of Kotpad fabric is providing much sought after relief from harsh and unnatural materials. Textile designers have also begun getting involved at the grassroots level. While they ensure that the traditional and organic practice and methods are not compromised, they nudge the artisans to polish their art and create designs that provide more variety than the strict tribal designs that they have been creating. This will only create a larger market for the weave. Today, more women from Kotpad tribes are being encouraged to become more active in the roles that they play. The visibility of the weave is on the rise, with a regular 12-yard sari sells for an astounding 10,000-12000 rupees, much to the delight of the weaving community.