'Applique', which is a French term, is a technique by which
the decorative effect is obtained by superposing patches of coloured
fabrics on a basic fabric, the edges of the patches being sewn in some
form of stitchery. It is distinct from what is known as patch work in
which small pieces of cut fabrics are usually joined side by side to make
a large piece of fabric or for repairing a damaged fabric.
Though the form is not unknown in other parts of India, it is Orissa and especially in Pipli that the craft has a living and active tradition continuing over centuries. While the largest number of appliqué craftsmen are concentrated in Pipli, there are quite a few in Puri and very small numbers in Khallikote, Parlakhemundi and Boudh areas also.
Entangled With Rituals And Traditions
As with many other handicrafts of Orissa, the roots of the appliqué art & craft form is intertwined with the rituals and traditions of Lord Jagannatha, the presiding deity of the Puri temple.
The appliqué items are mainly used during processions of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like 'Chhati', 'Tarasa' and 'Chandua' are used for the purpose. However, the appliqué work in its colourful best is most prominent in the cloth cover of the three chariots of the presiding deities in which they travel every year during the 'Ratha Yatra' or Car Festival.
Creating A Multihued Appearance Of The Rathas
As per tradition, the colour scheme of the three covers is predetermined. The chariot of Balabhadra known as "Taladhawaja" has a cloth covering of bright green and red, while that of Subhadra known as "Padmadhwaja" or "Darpadalana" has a cover of bright red and black. The chariot of Lord Jagannatha called "Nadighosha" has a cover of bright red and yellow.
The basic design of all three is similar being a combination of narrow and wide stripes while on the four sides above the openings, there are appliqué mythical motifs like 'Rahu', 'Chandra' as well as motifs from nature like flowers etc. It is these colourful appliqué covers, which identify the chariots of the three deities from far away by the millions of pilgrims thronging the "Badadanda" or the extra wide main road of Puri , in which the lords make their annual sojourn in the car festival.
Seats and pillows in appliqué are also made for ceremonial use by the deities during the annual ritual of bathing festival ('Snana Jatra') and is locally known as 'Chakada Kama' with motifs of 27 stars and geometrical forms in appliqué work with motifs of fish, frog etc. on black cloth is used in the ritual dress of the Deities of Puri temple, locally known as the 'Gaja Uddharana Vesha', incarnation of Rescuer of Elephant. Appliqué cover is also made for caparisoning the horses in the 'Horse Dance' or 'Ghoda Nacha' during 'Chaitra' Festival in Puri and other places.
A Time-Honored Craft
The craft is traditionally practised by a caste of professional tailors, known as 'Darjis'. As with others services of the Lord, 'Darji Seva' or the supply of appliqué items is rendered by the caste members in return for which they receive certain portion of the daily offering, 'bhog' from the temple.
All this is regulated by the record-of-rights of the Jagannatha Temple ( also spelt as Jagannath). The Darjis have their own headman or 'Sardar' who has a higher share in the 'bhog' of the Jagannatha Temple. It is interesting to note that the craftsmen are socially well organised and there are close family relationships between the craftsmen of Puri and Pipli. Their organisation can be very well compared to the craftsmen's' guilds of medieval Europe. They also have annual meetings of craftsmen to resolve social and related problems.
Religiously Associated Items
The traditional items made of appliqué patterns and associated with religious functions are canopies, locally called 'Chanduas', Chhati - a sort of big umbrella with a long wooden handle. 'Tarasa', a heart-shaped wooden piece covered by appliqué cloth and supported by a long wooden pole, both these items being carried before the deities in their ceremonial processions.
'Jhalar' another popular item is a sort of frill, which is used as a border to canopies and also independently used as decorative pieces. An interesting secular and popular item is 'Batua', a unique Orissan cloth pouch, which has usually a semi-circular shape with the top being straight.
There are various layers of cloth providing pockets for storing different items of use and the mouth is closed by pulling strings attached to the sides. It is very popular among village folk for keeping the materials for 'pan', like betel leaf, areca nut, lime, etc., as well as for keeping money. Another traditional item is 'Sujnis' or embroidered quilts.
The Basic Material
The basic material for appliqué is cloth. The process is fairly simple and has been succinctly summarized by Mr. B.C. Mohanty in his monograph on "Appliqué craft of Orissa-study of contemporary Textile crafts of India"as under:
Flat motifs are first cut from cloth and specially prepared motifs are made separately. If more than one of the same cut motifs is required, a stencil is used. These cut and specially prepared motifs are then superposed on a base cloth in predetermined layout and sequence.
The edges of the motifs are turned in and skillfully stitched onto the base cloth or stitched by embroidery or without turning as necessary. The specially prepared motifs may be coloured or white. The base cloth is usually coloured. Some of the specially prepared motifs have exclusive embroidery work and some have mirror work. In heavy canopies, the base cloth is additionally supported by a backcloth for strength.
The stitching process varies from item to item and come under six broad categories, namely, (1) 'Bakhia', (2) 'Taropa', (3) 'Ganthi', (4) 'Chikana', (5) Button-Hole and (6) 'Ruching'. Sometimes embroidered patterns are also used and in a few items mirror work is also incorporated.
The layout of various motifs and patterns vary according to the shape of the piece. The canopy has a large centrepiece, which may be a square. Several borders of different widths, one outside the other then bound this centrepiece, till the edge is reached. In the umbrella and Chhati the inner field is arranged in circles, each circle having patches of one motif placed side by side.
Patterns are laid in the same way as the shape of the Tarasa, with a large motif or two placed at the centre. The layout for covers for horses consists of a series of concentric strips in the portion which covers the neck, each strip having patches of one motif, while the portions which fall on either side of the body are plain, having border all round with or without a motif at the centre of the plain field.
The motifs used are fairly varied yet fixed and consist of stylised representations of flora and fauna as well as a few mythical figures. Of the more common of these motifs are the elephant, parrot, peacock, ducks, creepers, trees, flowers like lotus, jasmine, half-moon, the Sun and 'Rahu'.
Just as there are a few fixed motifs only a limited number of colors are used in the traditional appliqué craft. These are green, red, blue, ochre and black. The creative urge of the craftsmen however are released in the endlessly various combination of motifs as well in the mixing of these limited colors. While there has been very little change in the use of motifs, there has been a trend towards greater experimentation in colour combinations.
Rejuvenating A Contemporary Look
Superimposition of coloured cloths on grey marking cloth is quite common today as the use of cloth of all colors and hues. Similarly, with the changing times the craft has also adopted itself to the needs of modern man. Among the more popular appliqué items today are garden umbrellas, a variant of Chhati with wooden or aluminum stands, shoulder bags, ladies hand bags, wall hangings, lamp shades, bed covers, pillow covers, letter pouches, etc.
Appliqué items are also being used in combination with other handicrafts to produce composite products. An interesting use is the superimposition of appliqué on grass mats and used as partitions. Though earlier the art form was restricted to Darji caste, today it is practised by non-caste members, notably by some young Muslim boys. Unlike many other handicrafts, appliqué items are attractive artefacts of daily use apart from being decorative and they are also comparatively cheaper.