When Sakshi Rawat draped the pichoda on her wedding day as she took the vows with a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, this customary piece of apparel from the quiet hills of Kumaon was in the spotlight for a day. The hyperventilating electronic media went to great lengths, explaining the traditions of a Kumaoni wedding and the significance of the pichoda. A relatively unknown entity outside the frontiers of its state, on its home grounds it needs no introduction, as it is part of every bridal trousseau.
To a bride from Kumaon the pichoda is what a phulkari is to a bride from Punjab, the red cheli to Bengal, the turquoise-studded perak to a Ladakhi or the khara dupatta to a Hyderabadi. It's a symbol of a married woman and, according to custom, to be worn during festive social gatherings and religious occasions. Usually it's presented to the bride by her family and, in some cases, by her in-laws as well.
Rudimentary yet celebratory in appearance, a pichoda is worn over the sari and is essentially a broad cotton stole with a saffron base colour embossed with brick-red polka dots. These are sequentially placed around its most significant central feature, the swastika, which is artistically created and dressed with ritualistic representations as the conch shell, sun, bell and moon. A variety of floral or paisley patterns running along the border or on either ends are other highlights. Contemporary versions have their surfaces further embellished with zari (golden thread) trimmings, an assortment of metal ornamentations, wood beads, sequins etc.
The true essence of a pichoda lies in the art of dyeing and printing. The real-value ones are those still made traditionally with vegetable colours and then hand printed. Though rapid colours have taken over the two processes and commercialisation has seen machine-made clones fill the market, what still draws the discerning eye is the hand-made pichoda.
Similar to other hand-printing styles across India, the creation of a pichoda too makes use of indigenous methods. To begin with, white cotton cloth —Lucknowi chikan is now in great demand —about 2.75x1.25 m is used as base material. To obtain the saffron colour, a paste is made from the root of the locally-growing kilmoda plant. A little turmeric powder is added to the paste, following which the mixture is diluted with water and left to stand for a few hours. After this begins the process of dyeing. This involves boiling the mixture along with the white cloth. Once the required colour has been reached, the cloth is dried in shade.
Meanwhile, the colour for printing is also readied. To obtain the brick red hue used for the pichoda's surface ornamentation, raw turmeric or alternately soaked dried turmeric is ground to a paste with lime. The blend is called pithiya and this too is diluted with water overnight, in a copper vessel, to let it reach a paint-like consistency. Next day, this mixture is used to print the now dry saffron cloth. An artisan ensures that no moisture is present in the base cloth for this would lead to smudging during printing.
Distinctively, the traditional ‘printing' process is different from regular block-printing methods. The pichoda's ‘printing' is done by hand and only three fingertips are used for the entire embossing, including the dots and symbols. At times the dots are made with a 25 paisa coin and it's amusing to see the ‘ tool' in a printer's workshop.
The pichoda makes use of two colours considered most auspicious in regional cultures of India. Also called rangeeli pichoda or ragai pichoda in the local dialect, the brick-red colour denotes energy (from the element fire) required for human existence, while saffron is a combination of all elements and represents a blend of the holy and the worldly.
The exercise of experimentation and giving a modern makeover to tradition, as seen across crafts in India, has touched the pichoda as well. Over the past few years, elements and colours of the pichoda have stepped beyond their use on drapes for ceremonial occasions, and have started appearing on accessories as bags, folders cushion covers, pouches etc. Its sacred connotation lends a degree of funk to the items that appeal to a different section of patrons who have begun using it commercially for purposes other than what tradition demands. For the local Kumaoni buyer, though, it will continue to appeal in its original structure as a ceremonial stole.