Kabir Ke Julahe

Craft, Handloom, Art

Kabir Ke Julahe: Bastar-Kotpad Yatra

Sethi, Pankaja


The search of Adivasi textile craft turned into a reality yatra to Bastar and Kotpad. As usual the start of every journey begins with train yatra connecting cities to towns and towns to rural villages. It was peak of summer 2000; I was still studying at NIFT. Along with other classmates, Ireached Raipur station from Delhi and then to Bastar in a state transport bus cutting around the steep edges of the hills. I remember, the initial two daysof experience at a dingy local lodge turned into excitement when we found an accommodation in a forest guest house and a jeep with the help of local IAS officers. Little did we know that our excitement and fantasy of Adivasi land will turn into nightmare,until we faced the first encounter at the guest house?  As we peeked inside the guest house we saw the care takers sleeping upside down on the couch in the lounge area, eyes half closed and the stench of local liquor all over the room.  Everything appeared very absurd and not so good feeling about the space and place. But we had no choice. So, this was the opening of our journey and start of more such excitement to come.

There was a small ground for haat in front of the guest house which was often crowded early in the morning. Sometimes, I used to go with my sketch book and draw women selling vegetables. Some of them would pose for me and rest of them would pierce their eyes inside my sketchbook. I loved it and admired different expression of different people. Sketching was fun. It was one of the ways I captured people in my memories, my thoughts and imaginations. I sketched people sitting, chatting and doing other job work.

Morning routine started with visit to villages Tokapal, Nagarnar and Kondagoan to study textiles, dhokra casting, and terracotta and wrought iron though textiles remained our focus area. Tokapal and Nagarnar villages were our main centres to learn about traditional Bastar textiles.My Bastar Yatra was my first field trip when the agitation for Chattisgarh state was going on. Whist travelling inside the remote villages I admired the space of weaver’s abode and small mud house of Adivasi people with thatched roof and the local objects.Looking at Adivasi womenengaged in different activities and the innumerable stories I heard, it was inspiring, to learn, unlearn and capture memories inside the camera, diary and my sketch book.While doing research work for one month in the Adivasi land, travelling five to eight villages was like an experience in itself. The sight of flowering mahua trees, women collecting mahua, gourd hanging around the shoulder and people fishing using local fish traps was enchanting  but at the same time hard realities of life also struck my mind when we saw middle men cheating artisans, master crafts person exploiting small artisans, people starving for basic amenities and I cannot forget the obnoxious trader selling dyed colourful chicksin the Jagdalpur market to attract customers.

Research work started with textiles as the prime area of research documentation. Weaver’s of Bastar had an interesting story to share. Weavers claim themselves to be Panika-the followers of Santkabir. Kabir was a weaver and a poet from Banaras, preaching the union of Ram and Rahim –the beliefs of Hinduism and Islam. Panika’s ancestors migrated to this region several hundred years ago and adapted the local Adivasi traditions of region. Panika people belief in Kabir and weave the cloth for Adivasi communities. Kabir is the dharm of Panika people.The cloth of Kabir shares syncretised relation between two different communities.The cloth or pata of Kabir is adored by Adivasi people. Once upon a time, it was worn by the entire Adivasi community. Sharing local traditions together, Panika and Adivasi communities were interdependent on each other. Panika sing the folk songs of Kabir and believe in nature god like Adivasi. Their belief reflects in the textiles.The material culture narrates how local stories travel, beliefs and patterns of nature are incorporated into textiles.

With time, culture and practices change. The weaving tradition of Adivasi pata reduced with the advent of mechanised factory produced material available in the local market.  The story of Adivasi cloth still breathes with handful of Kabir weavers.  The two weavers Sindu Das andVijay Kumar Das from Bastar narrated innumerable stories and superstitious beliefs related to Adivasi cloth. Sindhu Das commitment to create exclusive textiles and Vijay Kumar’s dedication to Kabir dharma opened up several nuances of Adivasipata.

In the year 2009-10 Small Study grant (India) from Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at Victoria and Albert Museum supported me to pursue my research on Adivasi textiles and the methods of natural dyeing from the border area of Odisha and Bastar. I was visiting almost after almost a decade. There was shift in the lifestyle of people which I guess is inevitable. Culture keeps shifting and altering, so is the social and cultural context of region and the people in relation to material culture. Panika weavers who have retained the age old tradition of weaving and natural dyeing are still struggling for sustenance.

The following research abstract is gist of NTICVA work which was later published in Imagining Odisha book, Praffula publication in 2013.


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