Indigenous Textiles of Odisha

December 20, 2022

The Karun Thakar Fund has awarded a Project Grant to textile researcher Pankaja Sethi in support of her project ‘Indigenous Textiles of Odisha’. Here, Pankaja introduces herself and her project.

Kapdaganda (Dongria Kondh shawl), Niyamgiri hills, Odisha, India 2007. Photo: Tanuja Sethi

Pankaja Sethi

I am a textile designer, artist and researcher who has been working with adivasis, weavers and artisans in Odisha, India, for over ten years. I studied Textile Design and Development at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and have a MA in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

My research has been supported by the Indian Ministry of Culture as a Junior Fellow (2018 – 20), Sahapedia-UNESCO (2017 – 18) as a fellow working on ‘Kerang-The Bark cloth of Gadaba Adivasi women’, and the National Folklore Support Centre (2012 – 13) as a Dorabji-Tata fellow working on Dongria Kondh textiles. I have also been supported by the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum for my work on ‘Kotpad Adivasi Natural dye Textiles’ (2009 – 10), ‘The Quilting tradition of Ganjam’ (2015 – 16) and ‘The Bark Cloth of Mahima Dharma’ (2017 – 18).  

Embroidery close up, two hands working on a colourful fabric
Kapdaganda embroidery process, Rayagada district, Odisha, 2013. Photo: Tanuja Sethi

The cultural context of kapdaganda, textiles of the Dongria Kondh

My research focuses on Kondh kapdaganda textiles, which are made by Dongria Kondh women of the Niyamgiri hills, a hill range in the Rayagada district of Odisha.

Kapdaganda are sacred cloths whose visual language expresses both the Kondh peoples’ identification with the environment of the Niyamgiri hills and their intangible relationship with Niyamgiri, the spiritual power, or nature God, that presides over the hills. Kapdaganda is the local Kui language term for these textiles, the patterns of which vividly tell the creation story of Niyamgiri hills through hand-embroidered motifs symbolising the eyes of the Goddess, the house of the Goddess and the sacred world of Niyamgiri.

A woman stitching carefully while concentrating
Dongria Kondh Woman embroidering kapdaganda, Khajuri village,  Rayagada, Odisha, 2013. Photo: Tanuja Sethi

Dongria Kondh Adivasis sustain themselves primarily through indigenous crop cultivation. In their community women play a significant role in farming, and men and women contribute equally to household finances. Kapdaganda are labours of love and craftsmanship that may take many hours, days, or even months of work, stitched by small groups of women or worked alone after the day’s farming is done, during rainy days or during leisure hours.

After puberty young Kondh girls customarily live in a youth dormitory, known as an ‘unmarried girls house’. It is here that they learn the art of embroidery from older girls living in the house. Stitches are measured by counting the warps and wefts of the woven ground fabric, a technique which results in symmetric, geometric patterns on both sides of the cloth.

The ground cloth is a coarse cotton woven on a pit loom. Over time, the number of weavers who produce this kind of cloth has declined, and it is now made by a single Dom Dalit caste weaver in a nearby village. The cloth is either purchased by Kondh women directly from the Dom weaver at the haat bazaar (an open-air rural trading market), or it is bought by a local development agency and consigned to the embroiderers.

Most of the women embroider for themselves and prefer not to part with their labours of love, especially as Kondh women gift kapdaganda to their beloveds as a sign of future courtship.

Kapadaganda textiles of the Dongria Kondh Adivasi are an important needle craft tradition that should be preserved, documented and sustained.

1 comment so far, view or add yours


Add a comment

Please read our privacy policy to understand what we do with your data.


Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more


Explore our range of exclusive jewellery, books, gifts and more. Every purchase supports the V&A.

Find out more