Pipli’s live art heritage – vibrant and colourful handicraft

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We are on the Bhubaneswar-Puri road, roughly 40 km from Puri, the temple city of Orissa famous for the Rath, or chariot, festival at the Jagannath Temple. Endless vistas of hills and fields suddenly give way to a street that is at once vibrant and colourful — handicraft shops line both sides, choc-a-bloc with intricately designed cloth danglers, buntings, bags and other artefacts.

Published In: The Hindu Business Line

This tiny town called Pipli lends its name to the region’s unique appliqué work that dates back to the 10th century.

History records that this colourful collage of fabric on fabric was intertwined with the rituals associated with the Jagannath Temple. With royal patronage, the appliqué work peaked in excellence. According to temple records, Maharaja Birakshore of Puri appointed the darji or tailor community to supply appliqué works for the daily rites performed in the temple. The craftsmen created canopies, umbrellas and banners that are traditionally associated with the temples of Orissa, especially Puri.

Pilgrims to Puri often brought these banners as offerings to the temple and carried back little canopies or bags as souvenirs that were displayed during festivals at home.

This cottage industry once formed the backbone of the region’s economy, but fell into decline after Independence and loss of royal patronage. Moving with the times, the artisans have expanded their repertoire to cater to a more broader spectrum of consumers, says Raj Kishor Seth of the You Like Applique Work Shop.

So now you find the appliqué works fashioned into handbags, purses, letter racks, wall hangings, bedspreads, cushion covers, pillow covers, lampshades and tablecloths.

Traditionally, Pipli appliqué works featured motifs such as flowers, birds, animals (the elephant and peacock dominate), mythical and mythological characters, as well as geometric patterns. The appliqué works are further embellished with embroidery and mirrors. Apart from the traditional colours of red, yellow, white and black, a range of green, blue and other vibrant hues are in use today. The time taken to complete a single piece depends on the size and the intricacy of patterns involved, says Kishor. “While we make about two pieces a day in the smallest size, the large ones could take up to three months for completion.”

The commonly used fabrics at Pipli are casement and swede or velvet, he says. A large number of women are involved in this craft; the men mainly work as cutting masters.

There is a growing demand for Pipli art, especially from foreign tourists, says Kishor, who completed his graduation before joining his family business. Machine-crafted works are also present today alongside the traditionally handcrafted works. When handcrafted, the laborious and time-consuming work has over the years produced several heirloom pieces that the craftspersons are justifiably proud of.

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