Bomkai

A quest to revive some of the dying weaves of Odisha, particularly the Bomkai and the Dhalapathar.

Among the rare original weaves that Odisha was once famous for, the Bomkai is woven on a basic pitloom and the weavers have inherited their colour and design sense from their ancestors who, like the most modern of designers, were inspired by their immediate environment. The weavers participate and dance in the annual Thakurani jatra which begins on the last Tuesday of the month of Chaitra. The male dancer in the red bomkai sari represents Durga and the one in black, Kalika. The Thakurani icon is a conceptual combination of Durga and Kalika with a headdress adorned with seven snakes.

Today, only three weavers are left in the village of Bomkai who still weave their beautiful thick cottons with extra weft designs inspired from their environment depicting bitter gourds, peacocks, parrots, trees, flowers, fishes in glow- ing colour. The others have migrated to Tamil Nadu and other states to work on powerloom or given up weaving altogether. You see this story of weavers migrating as unskilled labour and the death of the weave that is part of their heritage over and over again in Odisha.

The ones who do stick it out find every year more and more discouraging but stick it out of stubbornness and pride in their creative heritage. Kabiraj Naik, one of the only three surviving original Bomokoi weavers once said, ‘I prefer weaving in my house with my family over breaking stones and/or operating machines for 15 hours like all those people migrated to Surat and elsewhere for better salaries. All I ask for is fair wages for my weaves.’

The Dhalapathar offered the most exquisite handwoven tapestries in cotton. Even 20 years ago every Odia household displayed Dhalapathars proudly.Today, there are only two weavers left in Odisha who have the knowledge of this rare weave. Reviving these beautiful tapestries — now in the form of pure cotton saris which are extremely rare, sensuous and comfortable to wear with traditional motifs of fishes, butterflies and lotus flowers adorning the pallu.

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