The French term ‘Applique’ translates to ‘to apply’ and is explanatory of the technique of the age-old craft. Applique in textiles and ceramics is the technique of superimposing embellishments, such as small pieces of fabric and round mirrors, onto a large base fabric. Pipli is a town in Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), where the craft of applique is held in high esteem. The craft of applique is also prominent in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan. However, it is the applique from Pipli that is held in highest regard, as it is where the Indian traditions of the age-old art originated. Today, Pipli is globally known as the centre of Indian applique and is where many artisans and workshops continue to practise the long established technique, creating both traditional and contemporary items.
Pipli applique adorns the streets of Pipli, Odisha (Orissa)
Applique is sometimes confused with patchwork as both textile arts incorporate similar concepts. In patchwork, many different types of fabrics are sewn together to create a single textile pattern. In applique, many different types of fabrics and ornaments, including small round mirrors, are sewn on top of one another to create elaborate motifs in the overall design. Small applique creations may take a day to finish, but large intricate creations may take up to six months to complete. Historical kings and noblemen patronised the craft in India, leading to the tradition of the craft heavily featuring in religious traditions.
Close-up of Pipli applique with an array of motifs and small round mirrors
The annual Chariot Festival, known as Rath Yatra, is held in the neighbouring city of Puri. During this religious festival, held for centuries in commemoration of the triad of deities, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, locals, pilgrims and tourists can witness sizeable chariots bedecked with Odishan appliqued canopies, known as chanduas. As pilgrims journey through Pipli to reach Puri (the town and city are 40km apart), they purchase traditional commemorative items such as banners, lamp shades, chanduas, umbrellas (chatris) and pouches (batuas) to offer to Lord Jagganth or as souvenirs to adorn their homes. However, applique creations adorn the roadsides of Pipli all year round, with tourists flocking to the town to witness the traditions and exquisite productions of the long established textile art.
The three chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra at the Rath Yatra Chariot Festival
After centuries of practicing the craft, Pipli more than deserved their place in the 2004 Limca Book of Records, which is sort of the Indian Guinness Book of Records. Artisans in the town of Pipli broke the record for the creating the largest applique work depicting India's struggle for independence, which measures 54 metres long.
These days, tourists flock to the town just to get a glimpse - and purchase a piece - of its colourful applique items, enriched with history and diffused into modernity. No longer are applique items restricted to the likes of canopies and tents produced as offerings to deities. Time has introduced items such as blouses, purses and modern umbrellas to be enjoyed by all who see the beauty in this hereditary craft.
Contemporary applique work on a modern-day garden umbrella
Images: Wikipedia, D'Source, Rath Yatra, Sai Handicrafts