Orissa is a beautiful state, well irrigated by rivers, its landscape rising up from the temple towns of the coast through the Eastern Ghats with their thick forests, to the Deccan plateau. The women of Orissa dress in saris of blue, red and magenta and other deep colors, with ikat (known as bandha in Orissa) patterning. The men wear ikat lungis and have smaller ikat clothes draped over their shoulders. All this cloth is made within the state, either at Nuapatna, near Cuttack on the coastal plain, or in the weaving centres inland around Sambalpur and Sonepur.
In the villages around Sambalpur, Bargarh and Sonepur the weavers are predominantly members of the Meher caste. They claim that their forefathers originally came from Rajasthan or Delhi by way of Madhya Pradesh. The Mehers now weave complicated designs in cotton, mainly using weft ikat, with sometimes warp ikat for the borders and, less often, double ikat for parts of the central field and the pallav. Patterns seem to have greatly increased in complexity from relatively simple beginnings as this century has progressed.
The textile that is traditionally the pride of this area is the saktapar sari, with its double ikat checkerboard pattern and brocaded border of rudraksha bead compositions. The development of these fabrics has been much encouraged by local patronage. The weavers have, until recent times, had a local market that was insulated, because of difficulties of transport, from the temptations of mill-made cloth.
This century there has been much cross-fertilization between the Sambalpur-Sonepur region and Nuapatna. The weavers of Sambalpur Sonepur have the technical expertise to tie and dye and weave silk, but rarely do so.
At Nuapatna, cotton has been tied and dyed and woven only from the middle of this century, but is still much cruder than the products of Sambalpur-Sonepur. Cloth is woven on pitlooms in Orissa. In both areas, the layout of the textile design takes the form of horizontal stripes, and motifs are mainly floral or of fish and animals, rarely geometrical.
Pipli is a small village on the main road between Bhubaneswar and Puri, and from Pipli comes much brightly colored applique work. Like Nuapatna, Pipli has strong connections with the Jagannath temple at Puri. Temple records state that in 1054 Maharaja Birakshore of Puri appointed tailors of the Darji caste as sebaks, to provide a regular supply of appliqued articles for the daily sebas (rites performed in the temple). Pilgrims coming to Puri would stop at Pipli to buy banners as offerings to the temple gods, and on their way home they would purchase souvenir bags or small canopies for their domestic deities and for festivals in their own town.
Apart from making articles for the Jagannath temples and for the pilgrims, the Darjis of Pipli supplied the maths, or monastic houses, with appliqued articles for their religious processions. Since Independence, however, with the decline of the maths and the loss of patronage from the Raja of Puri, the Darjis of Pipli have taken to making articles for the tourist trade, such as cushion covers and bedspreads.