Odisha’s varied landscapes range from forests to beaches, and its tradition of handicrafts is no less diverse. Inspired by Hindu myths, Mughal designs, tribal folktales, and nature. Odisha’s crafts are worked in metal, cloth, and stone, and are an integral part of its culture. Here are some of it’s finest:
The ancient city of Cuttack is home to the delicate art of silver filigree jewellery, or tarakasi, which especially flourished under the patronage of the Mughal emperors. Silver still sparkles in its dusty bylanes, with about 1,500 filigree artisans, who learned the craft from their ancestors, plying their wares.
At the workshop of Nirakar Das, in Mansinghpatna, one group of artisans creates silver wires almost as thin as a spider‘s web. Others meticulously shape these into flowers, trinket boxes, jewellery, chariot-shaped souvenirs, and more. As I look around the shelves decorated with showpieces, idols, and jewellery, Das demonstrates how to twist long silver threads into intricate floral designs with the help of a sharp knife. The product is fired in a furnace, and glazed and polished with reetha, or soap nut, for that pristine white sparkle.
Visit Cuttack during Durga Puja to witness pandals where idols are set against gorgeous filigree backdrops. While these are the grandest of the lot, almost all pandals in the city have some element of filigree in their design.
How to Reach: Cuttack is around 25 km/45 min north of Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital city.
Where to Buy: Besides Mansinghpatna, silver filigree is available in jewellery shops at Shaikh Bazaar, Naya Sadak, and Dolomundai.
At the workshop at Raghunath Crafts Museum visitors can watch the stone sculptors of Bhubaneswar at work. Photo: Biswanath Swain
Bhubaneswar abounds in temples and stone sculptures. In fact, the city once had about 2,000 temples, of which 700 still survive. Thanks to the area’s abundant red sandstone, the art of stone carving took off here in the 13th century, and prospered especially under the patronage of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, which ruled between the 11th and 15th centuries. Taking the Bhubaneswar-Puri Road, where shops sell stone statues of deities in different postures and sizes, I make my way to the Raghunath Crafts Museum, to see how these sculptures take form. The museum is spread over two acres on the outskirts of the city. An ornate gate opens to a garden decorated with lifelike sculptures of dancing celestial beings. Raghunath Mohapatra, the founder of the museum, is a pioneer in his field. In the workshop at the museum, artists painstakingly chisel small strips of stone from a large block, which will take the shape of a meditating Buddha. While small statues can be completed within a day, more complex figures can take months to finish. Watching these sculptors work is an experience in itself, as every stroke of their hammer immortalises both myth and history.
How to Reach: Bhubaneswar is well connected to Indian metro cities by air, rail and road.
Where to Buy: Travellers can purchase sculptures from stone craft shops on the Bhubaneswar-Puri Highway. The Raghunath Stone Crafts Museum at Sisupalgarh and Sudarshan Arts and Crafts Village at Jaydev Vihar also have pieces for sale.
Odisha’s pattachitra painting is an extension of the ancient technique of palm leaf painting or tala patra chitra. Photo: Biswanath Swain
Most people associate Raghurajpur with pattachitra scroll paintings, but this idyllic village on the banks of the River Bhargabi is equally well-known for tala patra chitra, or palm leaf engraving. Raghurajpur has two neat rows of identical houses, where about 100 artisan families live and work. As I walk through the colourful village, Banamali Mohapatra, an elderly artist, invites me to his house. He makes miniature paintings on sheets of palm leaves. He shows me an extremely intricate painting of the Dashavatara or the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, which took him six months to complete. Each palm leaf painting goes through a number of processes—from stitching sun-dried palm leaves together, to sketching the subject, engraving it with a needle, and staining it with lamp soot. Besides palm leaf engraving, Raghurajpur artists also make toys, paper masks, coconut shell paintings, and wood carvings.
How to Reach: Raghurajpur is accessible via taxi from either Puri (10 km/30 min) or Bhubaneswar (58 km/1 hr).
Where to Buy: Almost all the artists in Raghurajpur sell samples of their work from their home-workshops.
Visitors to the small town of Pipili are greeted by mirror-encrusted lanterns and umbrellas, gently swaying in the breeze outside handicraft shops. One of Odisha’s most vibrant crafts is the appliqué work found in Pipili. Locally known as chandua, it involves sewing colourful patches of cotton, jute, and silk onto a contrasting fabric with special embroidery techniques.
Common appliqué products include cushion covers, lampshades, bed covers, bags, and umbrellas. More importantly, chandua adorns the giant chariots of the divine trinity of Odisha—Jagannath, Subhadra, and Balabhadra—during the annual Rath Yatra in Puri. The erstwhile rulers of Puri, who were followers of Lord Jagannath, promoted the craft and resettled all the chandua artisans in the same village, which grew into present-day Pipili. Hindu and Muslim appliqué makers live next to each other and work together to produce and sell chandua. Their designs follow age-old patterns with Jagannath’s face often taking pride of place in the larger pieces. Today, some artisans are trying to bring modern elements to this art form by integrating motifs from pattachitra, Warli, and saura tribal paintings, and experimenting with new colour palettes. Pipili’s appliqué has also earned it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for design and artistry.
How to Reach: Pipili is accessible via NH316 from both Bhubaneswar (24 km/40 min) and Puri (36 km/40 min).
Where to Buy: The approach road to Pipili is lined with crafts shops.
The appliqué artisans of Puri entered the Limca Book of Records in 2004 for creating a177-foot-long piece depicting India’s freedom struggle. Photo: Biswanath Swain
The famous bronze figurine of a dancing girl, excavated from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization site of Mohenjo Daro, is considered the earliest example of dokra, or metal casting. Amazingly, this technique thrives 4,500 years later in the Dhenkanal district of Odisha. Located near the Saptasarjya Hills, Sadeibareni village has 60 thatched houses, inhabited by members of the Situla tribe. Each house is a repository of dokra art, and every local an expertin the craft. Many have received the National Shilp Guru award from the Ministry of Textiles.
As I walk down the untarred road, I see women preparing black wax strands from beeswax, and resin, which they collect from the surrounding Saptasarjya forest. At another corner of the village, Golap Gadtia, a 2002 National Shilp Guru awardee, is busy applying natural glue onto sculptures prepared with cow dung and red clay. After the glue is applied, the wax threads are layered around the figurines, which are covered with a clay and cowdung mixture. Golap bakes these sculptures in a kiln at the centre of the village. The melting wax drains out from a duct at the bottom of the sculpture, and molten brass is poured through a duct on top to fill the space, forming a metal statue. Unlike Chhattisgarhi dokra, which artisans polish to a shiny golden hue, the Sadeibareni dokra retains its raw, unpolished look.
How to Reach: Sadeibareni is around 80 km/1 hr 40 min from Bhubaneswar. One can also take a train to Dhenkanal from Bhubaneswar and proceed to Sadeibareni by car.
Where to Buy: The entire village is an open-air gallery. Dokra is sold in the village by weight, intricacy of the work notwithstanding, and is priced at approximately Rs 800/kg.
Cuttack’s artisans (left) use three techniques to create tarakasi, or silver filigree work (bottom); The little-known dokra (right) artisans of Dhenkanal claim to be related to their more famous counterparts in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Biswanath Swain
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