An embroidered shawl made by the women of the Dongria Kondh tribe in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha, the Kapdaganda is an important cultural object for the Dongria Kondh people. A finished Kapdaganda is presented as a gift to mark major life events – particularly by newly-wed brides for their husbands – and can also be presented to a parent, sibling or other close family members by the women who embroider it. Kapdaganda is usually worn by both men and women to important ceremonies and occasions; men wear it around the waist and women wrap it around their waist and neck, along with an additional Kapdaganda scarf.
Kapdagandas are typically embroidered in diagonal satin stitches and these form horizontal rows of geometrical and colour-coded patterns. The designs are made in shades of green for the Niyamgiri hills and the surrounding landscape, red for sacrifice and yellow for community and collective well-being. Certain motifs, also colour-coded, are included as a rule in all Kapdagandas: the akka, meaning leaves, are embroidered in yellow as growing turmeric is a major source of income for the Dongria Kondh people; linga, a red and brown triangle, represents Niyam Raja; krali, a red triangle, represents an axe, which is a ceremonial object used in Meriyaparba, the buffalo sacrifice ceremony for Niyam Raja; kairi, a set of green, red and yellow diagonal lines that represent the Dongria Kondh agricultural practice; and kanaka, a symbol for vitality and strength, is a green circle filled in with red, representing an eye. Other circles made between rows of triangular temple motifs signify the deity worshipped by the embroiderer’s family.
The off-white base cloth of the shawl is traditionally made by the Domb community from West Bengal and Odisha. This cloth is typically white with a thin orange or pink line running across it. Historically the Dongria Kondhs bartered crops for the cloth, although this practice has dwindled in recent years due to inexpensive alternatives and a lack of government support for Domb weavers. The thread for embroidery was dyed with plant-based dyes that were made locally, but today the Dongria Kondh artisans use commercially available coloured thread as a less labour-intensive option. The use of the katri, a small scalpel-like knife for cutting thread, has continued.
However, the making of Kapdaganda is becoming unpopular with the young Dongria Kondh women today due to the shift towards mainstream contemporary trends and the availability of affordable mass-produced clothing. The Odisha state government and organisations such as Dongria Kondh Development Agency (DKDA) have undertaken programs to preserve the Kapdaganda weaving and embroidery tradition since the 1980s, for instance, Ama Parampara Ama Jeevika, a three-month training program for women in Kurli and Munikhol villages. Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe have also expressed concern about the fashion industry’s appropriation of the traditional Kapdaganda design – textile brands and designer labels have been known to create imitations of the Kapdaganda shawls, diverting demand away from the Dongria Kondh artisans who produce these shawls commercially – and are taking measures to curtail this by seeking a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the shawl.
Dora, Siba Prasad. “Kapdaganda: No Coarse Cloth for Dongria Designs.” The New Indian Express, July 07, 2019. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/jul/07/kapdaganda-no-coarse-cloth-for-dongria-designs-2000527.html.
Ghosh, Rakhi. “Kapdaganda Shawls of Dongria Kondhs in Need of Revival.” Village Square, July 27, 2018. https://www.villagesquare.in/2018/07/27/kapdaganda-shawls-of-dongria-kondhs-in-need-of-revival/.
Ghose, Ruchira. Mapping Indian Textiles: Approaches to Display and Storage of Indian Textiles in Public Museums. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 2017.
Sengupta, Anuradha. “The charismatic land of the Dongria Kondh.” Outlook Traveller, December 13, 2016. https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/explore/story/44458/odisha-hills-alive.
“The Kapdaganda Shawl: Of Proposal, Love & Consent.” The Heritage Lab, August 10, 2017. https://www.theheritagelab.in/shawl-of-love/.