Think of the famous Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Puri that is held every year in July – August. Think of the brightly coloured chariots of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Sister Devi Subhadra. Think of the gorgeously colourful appliqué sheets that are used to protect the gods and goddesses from the Sun and the Rain when they are out on the street to meet their maternal aunt Devi Gundicha. That is how the story of chandua (the Indian version of appliqué) began in Jagannath Dham.
Rath Yatra of Puri
According to Wikipedia, ‘Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern’. Appliqué is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments, but also in canopies, wall and door hangings, quilts, covers for royal bullocks and horses, umbrellas, banners, etc.
India boasts a great diversity of appliqué craft, the prominent regions being Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kashmir, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh. Each of these regions has its own uniqueness in styles and fabrics used.
Chanduas are curated by a hereditary caste of a community called darji, who trace their roots to Jagannath cult somewhere around 1000 CE when they first started creating chanduas for the rituals of Lord Jagannath and the Ratha Yatra. In due time, they became sevayatas or temple servitors and were patronized by the Gajapati Kings of Puri for their craft that became a hereditary occupation.
Images are from Kalabhoomi – Odisha Handicraft Museum Exhibits
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They settled in Puri and also in Pipli apart from 50 villages that are scattered in the region. From then on they have been putting together several small pieces of cloth to make designs that are so joyfully colourful and impeccably symmetric.
Pipli is a small town on old Bhubaneswar – Puri Highway at a distance of 20 km from Bhubaneswar and 40 km from Puri. The new bypass is about a km away from the town. There is signage for Pipli after the Toll Gate while driving from Bhubaneswar towards Puri. While at Pipli do visit Jabar Khan’s shop on the Main Road called Diamond Applique. (http://www.diamondapplique.com/).
For accommodation, Pipli does not have many options but the nearby Bhubaneswar and Puri offer plenty of choices. A traveller can also explore the nearby Dhauli Hill, the famous Buddhist site of Mauryan Era and Aragarh Hill, yet another important Buddhist site. To visit Pipli booking a cab from Bhubaneswar/Puri is a better option as most buses passing through Pipli are overcrowded.
For modern applique work at Puri meet Shri Debi Nanda at his residence cum workshop in the address below.
Kundheibent Sahi, Near Bhagvat Club
Panch Chaura, Puri
Phone – +91 9437166369
A Darji in Work at Pipli
The uniqueness of appliqué creation lies in the carefully created motifs of birds, animals, flowers, leaves and other geometric patterns that are stitched onto a base cloth used to make artistic products, like umbrellas, wall hangings, gardens or beach umbrella, lampshades and other utility items.
The Bazaar Street of Pipli with a colourful display of Applique Work
However, traditionally the appliqué items were used during the procession of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like chhati (umbrella used in religious functions and processions), tarasa (heart-shaped banner mounted on a stand) and chandua (canopy) were used for the purpose.
They also made batuas (cloth bags of semi-circular shape) and sujni (embroidered quilt). Colour combination of traditional items consisted of black, red, yellow and green.
Artistic motifs such as leaves, flowers, animals (elephant, lion and tiger), birds (parrot, duck, swan, peacock) and astral bodies such as Rahu (the demon that swallows the sun and moon during eclipses), sun and moon were cut out from a single piece of cloth and then fixed to the base material with the help of various stitches in embroidery. The decorative repertoire of traditional Chandua crafts has been mainly influenced by temple motifs of Odisha.
Depiction of Rahu
Traditionally chanduas have also been used as palanquins during Dola Purnima and folk dances like ghoda nachha.
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Over centuries, the small town of Pipli became a hub of appliqué craft and started catering to the demand of kings, nobility and the Jagannath Temple. Historically, Pipli was a centre considerable trade in rice and cloth. The town was seized in 1621 CE by Emperor Shah Jahan when he was advancing from Deccan to Cuttack and then to Bengal in revolt against his father. From then on Pipli became also a settlement of Muslim communities, who since then have also been involved in appliqué trade.
Today the traditional chanduas are mainly replaced with the new variety of items in order to meet the present taste of people and market demand. A New colour combination such as blue and turquoise have also evolved with time.
Mr Jabar Khan, a celebrated chandua artisan of Pipili explains in the film below on his personal journey, and concerns for the craft’s survival.
In 1980, there was a remarkable shift in appliqué craft of Odisha from traditional to global. Mr Debi Prasanna Nanda, a leading craft innovator and entrepreneur based in Puri was a young man than when he was approached by one of his American clients to create an appliqué based on Mexican traditional themes. Debi Babu saw this as an opportunity and hence agreed to the proposal. As he narrates in the film he succeeded in 80 to 90 percentage in executing the work.
In modern appliqué craft, the enhanced effect is gained by supporting pieces of coloured fabric in predetermined layout and sequence. The patch edges are then sewed. Unlike the traditional ones, which are mainly carried out by machines, modern appliqué work is done by hands.
Modern appliqué work revolves around needlework. Designs or representative scenes are created by attaching small pieces of cloths to a larger piece of bright or contrast colour fabric. There are however three important elements – stitches, strips and patchwork.
The product range includes wall hangings, pillow covers, bedspreads, bags, umbrella, saris and party canopies. These have become quite popular and adorable in urban households and in corporate spaces. The designs are timeless representing both traditional as well as modern art decor.
Chandua craft is Odisha’s timeless heritage. But it is not a static craft. Its journey has always been synonym with creativity to address the changing time and the taste of people. But its core essence has always been its deep association with Jagannath Cult of Puri, one of holiest tirthas for Hindus of India and worldwide.
Author: Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at email@example.com