Koraput–rough, coarse to the touch, yet soft on the skin and completely organic. Like a wildflower’s unrefined beauty, Koraput’s elegance lies in its unassumingness and simplicity.
Woven for centuries in Kotpad–a dusty little town in Odisha, India, this fabric is entrenched in Kotpad’s regional identity. Traditionally woven by the Mirgan community, Koraput yarn is dyed in warm reds and maroons with the roots of the Indian Madder or Aal keeping it completely organic and exalted on the Green index. The process of dyeing is a tedious one, handed down generations. With its origins tracing back to the 3rd Century, Koraput fabric is also an important commodity in the region’s micro-economy. Right from sourcing the raw materials that are either bought or bartered to selling it, Koraput greases the wheels of the local economy.
This indigenous tradition must be preserved and the community must be sustained in a world enveloped in synthetics.
Locally known as ‘Pata’, Koraput was traditionally created by the Mirgan for the Koraput Raja and subsequently for different tribes in the area – like the Muria, Gonda and the Bhatra among others, highlighting their respective motifs, making the fabric a visual code for that community. For instance motifs like Sacred Axe signifies the Paroja tribe and the Palanquin Bearers are a symbol of the Gadaba. These motifs, inspired by the abundant nature around the Panika (the weaver) also include Bili-khoj (Cat’s Paw), Machari (fish) and Prajapati (butterfly). Rife with symbolism, these motifs are used to identify significant life moments like weddings, birth of a child and the hunting season making Koraput culturally significant as well.
Largely insulated from growing urban markets, Koraput caught the urban buyers' attention in the 1980s owing to a revived interest in traditional Indian fabrics and the Odisha government’s support through the Kalingavastra Program. Although at present they can fulfill the needs of both traditional and new markets, Kotpad weavers like Govardhan Panicker, a prominent Panika who works closely with Jaypore, face growing challenges like rising cotton yarn prices and increasing difficulties in sourcing Aal root for dye extraction. Finally, the presence of middlemen leaves the artisans with little to take home.
All this could well mean the end of a beautiful art when it is worth saving as Pankaja Sethi, a textile designer who works very closely with the weaving communities in Odisha, puts it, “The two things that make Koraput unique are its ancient dyeing technique - deriving color from the Aal root, the inclusion and importance of women in the dyeing process and the organic nature of the dye; and the traditional weaving methods used by the Panika who continue to use pit looms till date. This indigenous tradition must be preserved, and the community must be sustained in a world enveloped in synthetics."
Her sentiments find resonance in Dr. Sudha Dhingra's views on Koraput, “My research in the natural dyeing field has convinced me that Kotpad is the only region in India where Aal dyeing is done in the most indigenous and traditional manner and waste management is also highly effective. The craft is languishing as the dyers and weavers find it difficult to market the Aal dyed fabrics at a price that is higher than other naturally dyed fabric. The only way to preserve this dying tradition of self-sustaining natural dyeing process is to spread awareness of Aal dyeing and to promote the fabrics as a premium product.”
Jaypore’s new Koraput collection is an effort in this direction by producing a series of ensembles where each garment is created by interweaving a contemporary design aesthetic with traditional motifs, catering to a global audience. It is a reiteration of Jaypore's commitment to keeping languishing craft forms such as Koraput from dying and the resolve to bring the most beautiful handloom textiles of India to an urban audience in a fresh, globally viable form.
To learn more about the Koraput collection, please visit www.jaypore.com.