Primarily woven from silk and cotton in the Bargarh district of Odisha (formerly Orissa), Bichitrapuri sarees derive their name from the Odia term bichitra, meaning “wondrous”. Also known as pasapali sarees, they are characterised by rows of chequered patterns resembling a pasa and woven in contrasting colours on the main body, which are created using the double ikat technique. These sarees have ornate pallus featuring rows of traditional motifs such as rudraksha beads, fish, conch shells, tortoises, swans, ducks, flowers, elephants, deers and yalis, separated by thin stripes. Although their exact origins are unknown, they appear to have gained prominence during the nineteenth century. They form a vital part of Odia attire and are typically worn on special occasions. Like most handwoven textiles produced in Odisha, Bichitrapuri fabrics have been traditionally used to drape idols of deities at the Jagannath Temple. More recently, they have been woven into dupattas, bedspreads and sarees.
Producing Bichitrapuri sarees is a labour-intensive and time-consuming process, involving various karigars, including designers, tiers, dyers and weavers. The Odisha ikat, or bandhakala, process of dyeing warp and weft threads is used to create the design for the border and the pallu on a fly shuttle pit loom prior to weaving. Yarns are tied according to the design, then dyed, dried and woven on the loom.
These sarees typically feature extra warp patterning on the main body with extra weft patterning on the pallu. The check designs on the main body also feature white, red and black squares, which appear more vibrant due to the use of the double ikat technique. The colours of the saree weaves are predetermined. The dyed threads are then woven together so that the design appears in the completed textile.
The production of these sarees underwent a decline during the British Raj, but there was a conscious effort to revive the technique post-Independence. Today, ikat textiles, including Bichitrapuri sarees, are made by the Meher community of weavers from western Odisha.
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