Think of the famous Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Puri that is held every year! Think of the brightly colored chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra! Think of the gorgeously colorful umbrellas or chhati that is used to protect the gods and goddesses from the sun and the rain when they are out on the street! That is how the saga of Chandua art (the Indian version of the French Applique) began.
What began as a craft among a small set of people to serve and decorate the lord during festivals evolved into one of Odisha’s top handicrafts. Today, one can see them in temples, at weddings and even at your shopping malls and centers as commonly used consumer products. And the place that functions as the headquarters of this traditional Indian Applique work is Pipili, a small village that falls on the old route connecting Bhubaneshwar to Puri and Konark.
The village of Pipili derived its name from Pirs, holy Muslim saints who lived in this area. But, their craft was used in Hindu temples, especially the Puri Jagannath temple. Be it the Car Festival, Snana Jatra (annual ritual of bathing festival), Chaitra festival or the Darji Seva, these Chandua artisans weaved their creative magic almost everywhere. And it was for these very temple rituals and festivals that the then Kalinga Emperor awarded a piece of land at today’s Pipili to these artisans so that they could flourish their art and craft here.
And boy, have these artisans and craftsmen flourished their Chandua art through some eye catching designs and quality products. Be it wedding canopies, umbrellas, shoulder bags, hand bags, wall hangings, lamp shades, pillow covers, bed sheets, wooden products and more, their traditional motifs and designs are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
For all those who do not know, Applique is akin to patching cloth design where one obtains a decorative effect by superimposing patches of colored fabric on a basic fabric and then sew the edges of these patches in some interesting stitchery. This chandua patch work is mostly designed by the women who live in the villages around Pipili. Each household has a specialty and they then send their finished products to either local tailoring units in Pipili or sell them to wholesale dealers in Odisha. Either way, it ends up as a finished product in shops or goes directly to customers.
Their traditional work includes Samiana or Canopies (the original Chandua) that are extremely popular at Bengali weddings and during Diwali in Maharashtra, the Chati or big umbrella with long wooden handle that is used both for religious purposes and for weddings, The Tarasa or wooden fan decorated with applique cloth that is used for religious purposes, Jhalar or a frill design used as a border for canopies, Batua or the unique Orissan cloth pouch and the Sujni or the local embroidered quilt.
The traditional colors include green, red, black and yellow and the traditional motifs are mythical Rahu, Sun, Moon, flowers, and other elements from the nature like elephant, peacock, parrot, ducks, lotus, jasmine and others.
So, the next time, you see interesting Applique work at a wedding, shop or on the television or internet, do think of Pipili. And if this place really fascinates you, you should definitely visit this quiet village located close to four hotspots of Odisha, namely, Bhubaneshwar, Puri, Konark Sun Temple and Chilika Lake. You never know, it might become one of your cherished holidays in a beautiful part of Incredible India.
Some Handy Details to help plan your trip to Pipili
Nearest Train Station: Bhubaneshwar. Puri is also an option
Nearest Airport: Bhubaneshwar
Is Uber Available: Uber Taxis from Bhubaneshwar do drop people at Pipili. That is how I reached Pipili. However, if you wish to return, you need to strike some kind of deal with your taxi or Uber driver.
Nearest Hotels: Bhubaneshwar, Puri or Konark. For luxury, stay at Bhubaneshwar
Food and Beverages: Basic Food and Beverages are available at Pipili, though for slightly better quality restaurants, Bhubaneshwar or Puri would be your best bets.
How to see artisans at work: If you don’t mind wandering around, talk to people, ask for directions to households where Chandua is designed and walk into those households. The locals welcome all tourists and they don’t ask for any money. If you wish, you could either give them some gifts or money. Different households in and around Pipili work on their crafts all through the week with the exception of holidays and festivals. Morning time is generally the best time as most of them are actively working.