Bomkai Art – Where Simplicity meets Extravagance

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Odisha is considered one of the major handloom-concentrated states in India and its handloom products are recognized all over the country and abroad for their highly artistic and intricate designs, color combinations, and durability even today. Bomkai Silk Sarees and dress materials are very famous all over India for their excellent workmanship, design, and color combination. The handloom originated from a small village called Bomkai in Patrapur Tahsil of Ganjam district and originally it was woven with coarser cotton yarn. The characteristic of this traditional Bomkai lies in the stepping and shaft formula and the regular motif remains the same in any composition. The uniqueness is that there is no fixed layout for the Anchal panels developed by extra weft in various colors. The Bhulia community of Sonepur district primarily produced this kind of embroidered saree. It originated during the time of the then-ruler of Patna Ramai Dev. Such Bomkai sarees come with buti and temple borders.

Caviar-Black Bomkai Sari from Orissa with Hand-woven Warli Motifs

Woven on a pit loom, Bomkai, which is also known as Sonepuri, is an extraordinary fabric that results from the confluence of two extremely popular components of the Orissa textile industry. In its simplest, Bomkai can be explained as an extra weft technique on a pit loom. It is an outcome of Ikat and embroidery interwoven into each other. The borders are often in contrasting colors and the pallus is marked by intricate threadwork. The motifs on the Bomkai are inspired by nature and tribal art, giving the saree a fascinating look that makes it perfect for aristocracy. Bomkai sarees are available in cotton and silk fabrics.

The historical significance of Bomkai emerges from the fact that Bomkai is one of the traditional faces of a designer Orissa; and, showcases the adept works of an artisan. Also known as Sonepuri the embroidered cloth is a type of saree that was first crafted in the southern coastal parts of Orissa. Undoubtedly then, the fabric carried an essence of the ensembles that originated on the shores. While most of the coastal areas of Southern Orissa are involved in the creation of Bomkai sarees, it is in Sonepur that the prettiest of the fabric facades are found.

Locally known as ‘Bandha’ Bomkai's concept of sarees has been a part of the Orissan culture since 600 B.C. An outcome of Ikat and embroidery interweaved into each other, Bomkai is a magnificent innovation that has taken over the textile industry and given it a global push. Traditionally worn as an auspicious attire by the Brahmins of the South during rituals, Bomkai or Sonepuri today is counted amongst one of the most highly thought of attires in the state of Orissa and an illustrious one in other parts of the country.

Coral-Sand and Maroon Bomkai Sari from Orissa with Woven Warli folk Motifs All-Over

Unlike most of the common forms of designs that are painted on the face of various fabrics, Bomkai dares to be different. The motifs and designs portray mythology and well-kept secrets of the past. Inspired by folklore that springs from the roots of the Orissan culture, Bomkai is the heart of the textile industry of Southern India. However, Bomkai doesn’t ignore the inspirations that nature offers to everyone completely free of cost.

Designs composed in the most outlandish of concepts string together motifs from offerings of the environment including karela (bitter gourd), the atasi flower, the kanthi phul (small flower), Macchi (fly), rui Macchi (carp-fish), koincha (tortoise), Padma (lotus), Mayura (peacock), and charai (bird). A significant part of the finishing in Bomkai sarees can be attributed to the borders or pallavs. Some of the sarees feature border motifs that are inspired by tribal art. A few examples include Mitkta Panjia, Kumbha, Rudraksha, and Floral. Colors, on the other hand, are inspired by the effect of contrast. So with yellow, you might see a nice bright green, and with an orange saree, an equally absorbing yet mesmerizing black border. Sometimes, the pallav might be double-shaded, giving out a reflection of royal lustre. Lattice work, which creates small diamond-like shapes, can also be commonly found on the border of a Bomkai saree.

Beginning with the history, as usual, the earliest of Bomkais were made using a technique known as jaalas. Woven with a low count of Cotton yarn, Bomkai saree is a weaving industry that makes use of both the weft and warp techniques. The major occupation of the people of the Chikiti tehsil, Bomkai gets its name from the Bomkai village of Orissa.

Banana-Cream Garad Sari from Bengal with Woven Pallu and Golden Border

The main steps in the manufacturing of Bomkai include dyeing, dressing the loom, as well as weaving. Materials used include a pit loom, dye vats, thread, cotton/silk, or dyes. While Orissa still makes use of the Jaala technique for creating certain unique pieces of Bomkai and retaining the original flavor of the craft, the industry has not been able to escape the influence of modern-day mechanization. However, the changing face of the industry does not, in any way, interfere with the love that people instill for Bomkai. It’s the creativity and the love of the people for Bomkai that sparks innumerable concepts within the domain of Bomkai industries. Innumerable varieties of Bomkai have been introduced to date by people belonging to the Southern parts of Orissa. Some of the most popular ones though include Sonepuri, Pasapali, Barpali, and Bapta saris.

Bomkai still retains the original technique of weaving through the jala (net-like) technique and has not shifted entirely to the jacquard and dobby techniques like a lot of other weaving traditions. This method uses both weft and warp techniques and the sarees can be made using a very less cotton yarn. The jala is a kind of frame on which the nakshabandhs or designers first create the designs using threads, which is then attached to the pit loom on which the final weaving takes place. For more complicated designs, two jalas are used. Once Bomkai sarees started using zari (threads made of gold or silver), it increased its popularity and led to an increase in Bomkai’s market demand and value. Weavers began to use the zari as a base on which the rest of the threadwork was done and the sparkling base helps create a newer style.

Some of the famous varieties that are based on Bomkai and zari weave include Sonepuri, Pasapali, Barpali and Bapta. In addition to traditional sarees, contemporary weavers also make other garments like suits, stoles, shawls and so on to cater to a younger market and make the trade inclusive. There is an encouraging trend for handloom in domestic as well as international market today and we craftsmen are putting our best forward to be a part of it. The modern-day challenge, however, has been how to contemporise handloom without taking away from the warp and weft for which it is sought after and artists from Odisha have done it beautifully.

Chocolate and Red Sambhalpuri Handloom Sari from Orissa with Ikat Weave

In order to distinguish genuine Bomkai sarees from artificial ones, one can take a look at the following pointers: Traditionally, these are distinct in their use of heavily plied cotton, with stylized floral and geometrical patterns in the borders and contrast color border and pallu (muhajorha). Generally, colors are very bright like red, black, dark green, dark blue, white etc. Designs have small dots within, which is not seen in other textiles. Body and pallu warp are joined to get the contrasting color effect. Sometimes it combines bandha (tie-dye) and supplementary

Like the Sambalpuri weave, the name Bomkai is synonymous with Odisha. A Bomkai saree uses motifs that are quite uncommon when compared to the ubiquitous and most used designs of traditional Indian weaves. One of the most interesting innovations in the history of Bomkai was the introduction of zari threadwork in its weaving. Angular discontinuance that stuck to creating traditional motifs on the pallav makes use of a new base now in the form of shimmering zari. In that way, the Bomkai manages to sell old wine in a new bottle successfully, not compromising on the likes and dislikes of the industry. A Bomkai saree is largely worn by Kathak dancers around the world. Because it is considered auspicious, the brahmins of the southern part of Odisha wear only Bomkai sarees on religious occasions.

Bomkai is one of the major attractions in world fairs on fabrics, textiles, and attires. The Bomkai or the Sonepuri Saree was a great attraction in the wedding of renowned Bollywood couple Abhishek Bachhan-Aishwarya Rai. A Bomaki saree, called Radhakunja, designed by Chaturbhuj Meher at Sonepur, was worn by actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for her wedding. Every time there is an award show or a wedding coming up in Bollywood, there is an unprecedented increase in the demand of Bomkai sarees. Odisha’s expertise in weaving handloom is unparalleled in the country. Whether it is Bomkai, Ikat or Pasapalli, the ubiquitous handloom is identifiable with the state’s rich culture and traditions.

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