There is a fascinating legend of how applique came to be in Puri and, eventually, Pipli. It tells of how Emperor Badshah, of what might have been Delhi, ordered a darji or professional tailor to create two pillows. The darji finished the first and found his creation to be so beautiful that he thought them only befitting for use by Lord Jagannath. When the darji returned the next morning to complete his handiwork, one of the pillows was found to be missing. Upon learning this, Badshah imprisoned the darji for the crime of stealing. However, that night, Lord Jagannath came to Badshah in his dreams to tell him that it was he himself who transported the pillow to Puri.
The darji was released the following day. After he had completed the remaining pillow, he travelled to Pipli where he taught the art of applique to those of his caste. Thus, only the most skilled artisans were chosen to produce the finest creations for Lord Jagannath. The Muslim population of Pipli played an influential part in applique's later designs and its commercialisation.
L: Traditional Pipli applique depicting Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra
R: A modern-day professional Pipli applique tailor, otherwise known as a darji
The legend reflects how royalty and nobility patronised the age-old craft, attributing to it continuous appeal on a global scale. This legend also illustrates how religious rituals and traditions helped preserve the art of applique throughout time. Puri is famously known as the holy land of Lord Jagannath, whose name translates to 'Lord of the Universe' and is believed to be an avatar of the Hindu God, Vishnu.
The city of Puri is also best known for its annual Chariot Festival or Rath Yatra which commemorates Lord Jagannath's journey to the Gundicha Temple, along with his brother, Balabhadra, and sister, Subhadra. Three sizeable chariots - one for each of the triad of deities - are newly produced each year. As is tradition, canopies on the chariots are adorned with elaborate applique motifs and colours that were prescribed centuries ago.
L: Pilgrims from all over India and tourists from all around the world flock to Rath Yatra in Puri to witness the colourful religious festival and awe-inspiring Pipli applique
R: Traditional Pipli appliqued lampshades and wall hangings for sale in Pipli, en route to Puri
Driving through Odisha (Orissa) today, one can see how the tradition blends with modernity by witnessing the huge array of applique items adorning the roadsides. Today's darjis of Pipli, who continue to create pieces using the traditional applique technique, have adeptly created applique items for the modern world, such as garden umbrellas, purses and party canopies. Pipli appliqued products are also in global demand by hotels and wedding halls, which use the extravagant creations as awe-inspiring decorations.
Traditional Pipli appliqued lampshades for sale alongside contemporary Pipli appliqued bags on the streets of Pipli, Odisha (Orissa)
Images: D'Source, Wikipedia, Biswajeet Rana, e Samskriti