Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Exotic Shawls of Orissa

The hand woven shawls of the Dongoria Kondhs in Rayagada district of Orissa are the most eye-catching among the handcrafts of the state. These beautiful shawls of the Dongoria Kondhs are associated with fortunes of matrimony. The cloth is called ‘Kapada Gonda’ or main cloth, embedded colourful motifs on off-white ‘chaddars’ are attractive works of art. The shawls are distinguishing mark to the social standing of the wearer. People wear it on the special occasions like marriages or religious rituals and for the eminent people they also wear it for weekly bazaars.

Kondhs are the regional tribes who inhabited and the Dongor literally means hill. Tribes who inhabit the hilltops here are called Dongoria Kondhs. Niyamaraja, worshiped by the Kondhs as their ancestral god, is the presiding spirit in the Niyamgiri hills of Rayagada and hence, the name of the terrain. Flanked by green hills and pebbled streams, the Dongoria belt stretches for over 115 km. to reach the Dongorias, one has to go uphill for 10 km from Chatikona town, a small railway hub or travel seven km from the Bissamkatak railway junction.

Whenever the tribals go to the plains, The Dongoria Kondh shawls can be identified from a distance. The cloth for the shawl is usually obtained in exchange for paddy or vegetables or even a cock from scheduled caste tribe called Dombs, who live nearby. Each shawl is slightly different in size and style and the motifs woven on them are drawn on impressions from the forests they live in. their surroundings – hills, streams, trees, birds and flowers – find portrayal in their craft.

Woven only by girls for their lovers or brothers, these shawls are suggestive of warmth and comfort and are playing a major role in attracting mates and courting sweethearts, the owner of a spectacular shawl is the cynosure of all eyes. During the ceremonial dances or in a bustling marketplace, if a boy flings his wrap at a girl, it signifies that he wants to marry her. The girl either accepts the shawl or throws it back. If she accepts, the couple meets and marries with the consent of their respective families. At times, the boy makes the marriage proposal by snatching away the shawl from a girl.

Even while it is being embroidered, the shawl undergoes scrutiny, approval and recognition by fellow members or elders of the community. The girl who gets a shawl as a gift from her lover never parts with her precious possession. Today, however, the shawl is sold at a few tribal produce-selling units at prices ranging between Rs 500 and 700.


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