Tribal Glory Of Odisha

Culture has always been an integral part of our identity. We Odias are proud of our unique culture and tradition. However, beautiful things are often hidden. One of them is the unique tradition of weaving tree fibers into colorful cloth.

Meet the Gadabadas and Bondas

The pristine land of Odisha is home to several tribes. The Koraput district of Odisha is itself home to about 52 tribes. The Gadabada tribe of Koraput is well known for its rich tradition of wearing clothes made out of the bark of a tree. The Bonda tribe from Malkangiri has been following the same tradition for centuries.

Kerang Tree: The Weaver of Traditions

The Kerang, a plant found in the local forest areas of Odisha, has been a prominent subject of discussion for years. The people of the Gadabada tribe and the Bonda tribe wear clothes woven from Kerang’s bark. However, there’s a striking difference between both. The women of Gadabada wear full-length clothes like the womenfolk of the non-tribal areas. The colorful stripes on the clothes make them more appealing.

Women of the Bonda tribe, on the other hand, have more of a tribal touch to their way of dressing up. They wear the cloth covering the lower body in their traditional manner.

We all are fascinated by traditional and handcrafted things.

Let’s thank nature for the abundance it gives us. It also inspires our traditions and customs. People pluck the bark of the tree. They then keep it beside the flowing water to make them wet. The last step they do is to dry it in the sun and carefully extract its fiber.

What makes the Kerang fabric so unique and authentic is the usage of organic colors. The locals strictly prefer using natural colors to dye the cloth, making them highly appealing. The tribals weave these clothes in a wooden loom, which the women themselves make.

Surrounded by legends

Till now, everything about the tradition has been intriguing. However, several folklores and legends add to the charm.

Legend 1:

Once, there lived 12 Gadabada brothers. They used to be completely naked. The brothers had a sister that often complained about their wives, which made them furious. They plotted against her. They took her to a forest in the plea of digging the roots and left her alone. She cried and called out for help, after which an old lady heard her. She rescued her and took her along with her. She took care of the young girl and made her a dress made out of the bark of the Kerang tree. She also taught the girl how to extract thread from the Kerang’s bark and weave cloth.

One fine day, the girl’s brothers found her crying all alone in the forest after the old lady had passed away. They learned the art of extracting the Kerang fiber and weaving fabric from their sister who by now had become quite good at this art. Gradually this tribal art began spreading far and wide among the locals and was soon used for weaving fabrics.

Legend 2:

A man named Gulsi Dom and his wife once inhabited the Manjhali hill. One day in his dreams, he heard a cotton plant speaking to him and asking him to take it home and make cloth from its yarn. However, Dom displayed his ignorance, to which the plant replied, “Do whatever you want, and I will see to it.” Gulsi went up the hills the other day and got the plant. He spun the thread and wove clothes. He also threw the seeds of the plant far and wide, from which many other plants began to spring.

These stories are highly fascinating to hear about. However, the most interesting one is still waiting for you.

Link with Ramayana

During their 14 years exile, Lord Ram, Goddess Sita, and his younger brother Lakshmana were told by their stepmother Kaikeyi to strictly wear clothes woven out from the bark of a tree. This caught the attention of the women of the Gadaba tribe and Devi Sita became their subject of joke. The enraged Sita then cursed them that they will have to wear the tree fiber cloth forever.

Kerang with Gadabada Customs and Rituals

Every community has its customs and traditions to look up to and follow. The Gadaba tribe has its unique ones.

Every Gadaba girl should know the weaving process using the traditional loom. It becomes the first step toward qualifying for marriage. Kerang fiber has not only become an integral part of the culture of these tribes, but it has a strong hold on their beliefs too. It is mandatory that every bride must wear the Kerang fiber, or misfortune will prevail. They wear two pieces of cloth that measure about five feet but one and a half ft.

In the Clutches of Modern Technology

We always believe that old is gold. The charm and authenticity that these old customs carry are always unmatched. However, with the advancements in technology, we are almost on the verge of losing touch with our traditions.

The use of looms has drastically declined among the Gadbada women. Efforts are being made to revive the age-old tradition. A project was undertaken by the Indian National Trust of Art and Cultural Heritage to bring back the emphasis on the importance of the traditional way of using the loom and weaving six sarees in the special loom.

Let’s together pledge to keep up the beauty and the charm of this tradition alive, and work towards giving it the recognition it deserves!

Culture has always been an integral part of our identity. We Odias are proud of our unique culture and tradition. However, beautiful things are often hidden. One of them is the unique tradition of weaving tree fibers into colorful cloth.