An exhibition of ravishing ‘aal'- dyed saris, dupattas, stoles and yardage created by the tribals of the Chattisgarh and Orissa belts is now on.

The blood red 'aal' dye is among the last of the world's dyes still processed and extracted totally ‘naturally.' It is a centuries-old dye ‘recipe' of the tribal populations of Naganar in Chattisgarh, Bastar and Tokapar, and the Orissa tribals of Koraput.

Today, some 40 families of Koraput weave the special textured cloth and also create the dye, whose ravishing redness and ‘fastness' is legendary.

Madhusudan Panika and his son Nabeen are part of the small community which creates this heritage dye and fabric. Madhusudan Panika is a National Award winner. Says Panika, “We adopt a special, age-old process to powder the ‘aal' tree roots.” A hole is dug in the ground and filled with ‘aal' roots. A huge plank or iron rod is placed at an angle. A protruding stick attached to the plank, does the work of powdering the roots with men stamping on the plank.

The process

“We heat water in huge mud vats,” he says, “and add the ‘aal' powder to it.” Meanwhile the yarn is soaked in plain water, dried and dipped in warm castor oil, after which it is covered with wet cow dung. Says Panika: “This process makes the yarn and fabric soft. The treated yarn is put in the ‘aal' dye solution for 24 hours.”

The process then involves washing and drying the fabric for 15 days. According to the father and son, apart from the trademark red, ‘aal' dye also gives out a rich brown colour when iron filings or ‘heerakasi' powder is added to the dye when soaked for the first time.

Then the looms get to work bringing out impeccably crafted and textured fabric in bright red, deep brown or ‘natural' colours woven with temple or ‘kumbh' borders and spattered with fascinating motifs.

“They tell stories too,” says Nabeen. “Butterfly, leaf and bird speak of our closeness to nature and the pots and the hammer or ‘pharsi' denote tribal lifestyle. The temple or ‘kumbh' borders which were in earlier times painted on the walls of our huts every Thursday, are now greatly admired borders on saris, dupattas and dress material.

A rich and varied collection of 'aal' tribal weaves are on display at the 'Exhibition of Textiles', at the Palace, T.23A, 7th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Adyar, till June 30 (Tel: 45587000).

Other textiles showcased are Orissa ikat saris, Bengal cottons, Tussars, Chanderis, Maheshwaris, Bandhini, Kalamkari yardage, made-ups and designer handbags.

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