The jungle, it is said, hides its secrets well. And it is in the deeper jungles of Orissa that the blood red aal has survived through the millennia.
Perhaps the only existing natural dye which totally eschews the use of any chemical ‘fixing’ agents, the aal dye is derived from the bark and root of the aal trees which grow in abundance in the Orissa forests. The dye is made by the Adivasis through a time-tested process based on the changing rhythms of Nature and an unhurried, earthy way of life.
Today when revival of natural dyes is has got a cult status, Kotpad’s aal dyed fabric stands proud, much like the Adivasis who processes the dye, spins the yarn, colours it and weave the stunning Kotpad saris.
Adivasi Shreenkant Parika has come a long way from Kotpad village to sell his saris in Chennai. His creations are a study in harmony: saris and dupattas with red or black temple borders, all over red backgrounds with brown borders and a sprinkling of woven ‘butties’, bird, animal and fish motifs or mesmerising lines.
“We collect the labinga or all bark and root from the trees which grow in the jungles,” says Parika. “Our family goes out to collect the bark during season. After drying the pods, we immerse them in boiling water for 2-3 days in specially designed clay pots. Once the red of the aal is extracted, we soak the yarn and let it remain for 2-3 days. The dye can be darker by adding iron filings to the solution. From mordanting and dyeing to soaking and rinsing the yarn, the process takes up to 15 days. After unravelling the of yarn and drying it, we fit the yarn on the loom and begin weaving.”
Where once every householder in Kotpad wove aal dyed fabric, today many have moved to other careers. But the typical saris are still being woven for domestic consumption, for special occasions and to meet the growing demand in the metros.
A wide range of Kotpad saris and other sari traditions of Orissa are on view at The Orissa Craft Utsav at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road, Teynampet, till January 20. The exhibition also has on display filigree jewellery, pipli worked home linen and garden umbrellas, stone sculptures and woodcraft, patachitra and palm leaf scrolls.