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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

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Odissa Sarees: a Photo Essay

by Jaina Mishra

(PART 2)


It must be noted that the color and design palette for men’s dressing is conservative while women dress in any and every possible colour, design and pattern.  The only exceptions are white, black and red.  White signifies death and is necessarily worn in mourning.  Red is auspicious and is necessarily worn by the bride.  Black is unauspicious and is not a good colour to wear at weddings or festive celebrations.  These colors lead to strong associations and are part of a bundle of nonverbal communication but these may be worn on other occasions without any meaning.

An Odissi saree cannot hope to blend quietly into the background!   Most handloom Odissi sarees contains bright and strong colours.  I am not sure of the reasons for this choice, but could possibly be dictates of the market. It could also be that these combinations look best on the brown skin.   Vegetable dyes have been replaced by chemical dyes, though the former is still available, but the prices are significantly higher.

THE DHOOP-CHAON EFFECT:  In silks, a stunning impact is created when the colours of the weft and warp are different. The shadow – light effect is amazing and is not easy to capture on a camera.  Movement or difference in field of depth shows this effect off perfectly.


This characteristic is not restricted to sarees from Orissa.

This is the loose end of the saree that flows freely and is usually its most attractive part.  The pallaa or paalav or pallo may have contrasting colours or designs and stands out from the rest of the sari. This part may be up to a metre long.  It is also the portion used as a partial veil in a temple or as a mark of respect among elders in traditionally conservative societies in the northern belts.

We saw earlier that the saree can be worn in 7 ways.  No matter how it is worn, the pallu is always the best displayed portion and the weavers and the retailers spend a large part of their effort on it.  It is therefore one of the critical contributors to the attractiveness of the saree. 



The pallo of the Odissi saree is always arranged in horizontal lines with motifs filling up the space in between.  Lines alternating with a variety of motifs seems to be the signature of the classic Odissi textile.

This is a special element of all sarees.  It takes on representations from the culture of the place that creates it.

The sarees from Orissa have a border which shows the silhouettes of these temples seen as simple mountain peaks.  Sea shells or wheels are another major characteristic of borders in Oriya sarees.



The last image is reproduced from Sarisafari.com, with the kind permission of the owner.


This one looks quite like the boteh in persian rugs.  It takes the form of a raw mango and in this particular case upon a closer look, we can see the peacock which is also a very common decorative element.


Here we see the leaf like tendrils which are also seen again in Isfahans as islimis.  These motifs may be found in sarees from all over India and are not restricted to Orissa.  This form is also common in other forms of art such as Henna tattoos.


Elements found in nature – flora and fauna are frequently used elements along pallos, borders and in the main body of the saree as buttis.  On the sarees pictured here, there are birds, elephants, waves, flowers of many types, leaves, shells and waves.

These are small little elements that may be present all over the saree in some form of symmetry.  They may populate the saree sparsely or densely and the more work there is on the saree, the ‘heavier’ it gets – not only in real weight terms but in price perceptions as well.  These are minor elements and cannot on their own create magic.  They can only support the overall design through a splattering of colour or consonant design elements.

These two pictures show details of the ‘buttis’ which are present all over the saree.   In sarees from other states, this element plays a major role, but in Oriya sarees, they are generally very sparse and small.


The actual embroidery work may be done using ‘zari’ which is golden thread (not gold – just golden) or silk thread.  The presence of golden thread or zari work makes a sari very heavy figuratively – and the use of such heavy sarees is warranted only at weddings of families and close friends.   Therefore a zari embroidered sari had limited opportunities to be worn compared to a silk thread embroidered one.  On all the silk examples above, the threadwork is resham or silk thread.

A study of the elements is useful in creating an abstract framework of understanding.  Approaching the subject through a study of similarities and differences in the elements helps us as outsiders to recreate a complete and internally consistent model of the development of and the influences on this art.  This is a fulfilling intellectual pursuit.  But as in the case of all art, the piece must be experienced for it to affect us deeply.  And so although the odissi saree lends itself to understanding easily enough, only a touch and feel experience with a flowing 5 yards can convey its magnificence!

I hope that this photo essay has conveyed the magic and grandeur of Odissi or Oriya Sarees that I have loved and collected for over a decade.

Discussion Return to Part 1