Dhalapathara has an illustrious past and, perhaps, an even brighter future. The origins of this weave can be traced back several generations to a village dominated by the “Rangani” community in Odisha’s Khurdha district.
Dhalapathara, literally meaning white stone, was at its peak from late 1800s to mid 1900s. One of the weavers in the town recalls the glory that formerly this saree belonged to the Rangani community, which was brimming with excellent weavers, and how, when it came to the best bridal dress, the Dhalapathara saree was everyone’s first choice. From the late 1800s until the mid 1900s, Dhalapathara, which literally means “white stone,” was at its peak. During the 1950s, it was a regular in weekly markets in Bhubhuneshwar, Calcutta, Sonepat, and even Madhya Pradesh.
There is no jala, jacquard, or dobby in a Dhalapathara. They weave sarees, curtains, Lungi, towels (gamcha), and other items with this technique. Natural coloured threads are used to hand spin these fabrics. The saree’s name comes from Dhalapathar, an Odisha town in the Khurdha district. They are noted for their design motifs such as Kusumi Kapta, Kankana Pedi, Muktapunji, Nahati, and Akhata, which are generally weaved in contrasting colours. A Kusumi saree purchased from weaver Shri Nityaanada Mekap and displayed in Orissa’s State Museum is the only artefact of the Dhalapathara tale on display for everyone to learn about.
The community “Rangani” wove a special form of cloth that was free of jala, jacquard, and dobby. The words “Ranga” and “Ani” both mean “to bring.” The woven sarees of “Rangani” provided colour to our life. It would take 400-600 hooks to weave such a textile with jacquard, but the Dhalapathara weavers use ‘Chiari’ instead. Warp rib constructions or wooden planks known as ‘Chiari’ were used to weave the fabric.
Extra weft shedding and picking is an uncommon weaving technique.
Dhalapathara used to be the top choice when it comes to the greatest saree for a bride or festivities. The name of this saree comes from the town where it was made. Its popularity peaked in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During our conversation with Shri Budhinath Prusty, who is now in his late 90s, he proudly revealed how, in the 1950s, he was a regular at the Bhubaneswar weekly market and how the traders from Kolkata would fawn over the Dhalapathara sarees. Back then, it was a bridal saree.
Dhalapathara’s art is exquisite, and its history is even more so. Kusumi Kapta, Kankana Pedi, Muktapunji, Nahati, and Akata are some of the saree designs available. The motifs were so sharp and precise that it’s hard to believe these sarees were handcrafted. These weavers are so talented that they can produce beautiful patterns without using any graphs. The saree is unique as it owes it to its stunning multicolor look which is created by the weft rib effect.
The Dhalapathara weave has its own set of problems. Weavers’ demand and jobs were reduced by machine-operated handlooms. These looms were simple to weave and could produce more sarees in less time. The Dhalapathara saree, which was originally a bridal saree, has vanished. Ganesh Pujari and Udayanath Sahu, on the other hand, revamped and developed the craft as “Parda” or curtain. When automated handloom machines were introduced, Dhalapathara weavers began to weave pardas and developed exquisite designs of Lord Krishna, Lord Hanuman, the Taj Mahal, sunset landscape, Gautam Buddha, the Map of India, and other famous figures. Because these pardas were so lovely, demand for them increased.
This painting is more than simply a work of art; it is a way of life steeped in colour. The Dhalapathara Parda will go extinct as time passes and customer demand declines. Today, we had the pleasure to meet and work with Shri Braja Bandhu Rout, Dhalapathara’s lone parda weaver. He continues to weave parda at the age of 75 and predicts a bleak future.
Nirguna Trust is honoured to collaborate with Shri Suresh Rout, a master weaver. Mr. Jitendra Kumar Prusty deserves credit for introducing Nirguna to this talented weaver from Dhalapathara, Odisha. Shri Rout is the only true weaver in Dhalapathara weaving in the old technique as of today (26 June 2017).
In many respects, Nirguna’s struggle to resurrect Dhalapathara has been difficult. Because the saree was lost in the early 1900s, we knew we were entering a zone with no weaver story. It was like putting together a puzzle from scratch. Leesa, Nirguna Trust’s Founder, and a small team of Nirguna field executives began visiting Dhalapathara on a regular basis and questioning. We made numerous trips and knocked on nearly every door. Even back then, no one knew anything about the Dhalapathara Saree. The first few months were a complete letdown.
Nirguna’s founder, Leesa Mohanty, began working with traders, saree shops, and emporiums in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar selling so-called “Dhalapathara” sarees at the same time. The “Dhalapathara” design, but not the method, was evident in the sarees sold in the markets at the time. Leesa continued to meet with senior handloom experts in order to learn more about the weave and began gathering secondary literature.
After more than five months, Mr. Bansidhar Raut, a manufacturer/trader, verified that his father, Shri Sridhar Rout, is willing to weave again during one of the trips, and thus began the effort to bring the authentic Dhalapathara saree back on the loom. Nirguna paid for all of the raw materials, and we placed our first order with the weaver for twenty-five sarees. It had been a joyous occasion!
Unfortunately, due to Mr Sridhar Rout’s ailing health, the project came to a halt after only a few weeks.
To revive this dying craft, the Nirguna team began spreading the news within Bhubaneswar’s weaving community. During their first visits to Dhalapathara, it was found that many weavers had relocated to the city to work as roadside sellers or tea stall owners. This was quite devastating and challenging in the journey to revive the forgotten craft. Fortunately, the Nirguna think tank decided to resume Dhalapathara travels and this led them to Suresh Rout who is a master weaver eager to recreate the original Dhalapathara saree.
He was, however, afraid of losing his job as a powerloom operator in Maharastra. He left his town about twenty-two years ago because the earnings from his loom were not enough to feed his family. Nirguna Trust Founder Leesa Mohanty took on the burden of paying whatever the weaver expected for the saree. And a promise to back Suresh Rout. Suresh began weaving at the home of a friend.
Within six months, the Dhalapathara saree went back on the loom for the second time. Master weaver Suresh Rout erected an extra room with a new loom with the help of the Nirguna Trust. This was a significant step forward for the weavers and the dying craft. Leesa made it a point to offer design suggestions and to promote traditional patterns and styles. Suresh Rout constantly came up with new and innovative designs.
Unique Technique that goes into Dhalapathara:
The thread yarns are acquired and organised singly and paralleled to make the winding process easier. Charkhas are used for bobbing and prim is used for wrapping and wefts in the winding process.
A specified number of rounds of thread are wrapped and coiled around the beam in Dhalapathara weaves. The loom is set up so that the wrap beam and the cloth beam are parallel.
After weaving a little piece of cloth, the cloth beam and wrap beam are rotated and unwound by hand, respectively. Wooden rectangular chiaris are used to create designs. Different weft ribs are generated in shedding employing the chiaris depending on the pattern colour and effects. A little cloth is woven to begin the weaving after the wrap has been wrapped and loomed.
A different amount of chiaris can be utilised depending on the design’s intensity. The chiaris are kept at 90 degrees to each other to create tension in the wrap, and they are brought back once the weft is finished. Handmade treadles are used to weave the wefts. Throughout the fabric, this process is repeated. To give sarees a symmetrical appearance, the same designs are repeated.
Treadles and handcrafted wooden ground picks are used to make the extra wefts. Weavers put extra wefts according to their own ideas. Some weavers use graphs to assist them weave a certain design with precision. To weave a single repeat design that would otherwise take at least 400 hooks, jacquard, or jalas, the weaver only utilises CHIARIS. Small butti motifs, such as fishes and flowers, are woven into the horizontal bottom panels, enhancing the sarees’ beauty.
Sizing is a technique of strengthening the thread that involves placing the hank inside a saucepan with 2-3 days old rice water. With two hands, the worker applies pressure to the rice and the hank in such a way that the water rice turns into a paste and adheres to the individual threads of the hank. The hank is then squeezed out and dried in the shade over a bamboo bar. The hanks are exposed to thread separation during drying by providing tension to the hanks around the bamboo, which allows for easy winding of bobbins for warps.
Sal wood beams are employed in Dhalapathara weaves, and a specific number of warp threads are looped around them depending on the length of the cloth to be woven. Weavers put the chiaris (wooden stick) right beneath the shaft in the warp after warping by making two layers of warp threads ( four up one down or six up one down). Different weft ribs (Rib weaving employs one heavyweight yarn.) are generated in shedding using the chiaris depending on the colour and motifs. A different amount of chiaris can be utilised depending on the design’s intensity.
Dhalapathara’s art is exquisite, and its history is even more so. The motifs were so precise and sharp that it appears unimaginable that these sarees could have been handcrafted. These weavers were so skillful that they were able to weave these beautiful patterns without the use of graphs. The stunning multicolor appearance was created by the weft rib (Produces Cord or Rib in the warp direction).
Leesa Mohanty, Founder, Nirguna says, “Putting Dhalapathara back on the national handloom map has been challenging but an exciting journey for Nirguna. Identifying the weavers, picking up the lost craft, financing and creating forward linkages gives us the immense pleasure”.
The saree that was lost a century back is being woven again. We at Nirguna feel blessed to have motivated and supported talented weavers of Dhalapathara to pick this weave again. As of today, there are more weavers who want to weave Dhalapathara saree. There is hope and excitement among the weavers ”says the founder.
(Prof Gaurav Mandal is the recipient of two national awards)