Bichitrapuri sarees are a type of traditional attire woven primarily from silk and cotton in the Bargarh district of Odisha, formerly known as Orissa. The name “Bichitrapuri” derives from the Odia term “bichitra”, meaning “wondrous”, and these sarees are also known as pasapali sarees. They feature rows of chequered patterns resembling a “pasa”, woven in contrasting colors on the main body using the double ikat technique. Ornate pallus with rows of traditional motifs, such as rudraksha beads, fish, conch shells, tortoises, swans, ducks, flowers, elephants, deers, and yalis, separated by thin stripes, add to their charm. Though their exact origins are unclear, Bichitrapuri sarees gained prominence in the 19th century and have since become an integral part of Odia attire, typically worn on special occasions.
Bichitrapuri sarees are produced through a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that involves various karigars, including designers, tiers, dyers, and weavers. The Odisha ikat, or bandhakala, process of dyeing warp and weft threads is used to create the design for the border and the pallu on a fly shuttle pit loom prior to weaving. The yarns are tied according to the design, then dyed, dried, and woven on the loom.
These sarees are characterized by extra warp patterning on the main body and extra weft patterning on the pallu. The check designs on the main body also feature white, red, and black squares, which appear more vibrant due to the use of the double ikat technique. The colors of the saree weaves are predetermined, and the dyed threads are then woven together so that the design appears in the completed textile.
Although the production of Bichitrapuri sarees declined during the British Raj, there was a conscious effort to revive the technique post-Independence. Today, the Meher community of weavers from western Odisha continues to make ikat textiles, including Bichitrapuri sarees, using the traditional methods. These sarees are not only used as traditional attire but also woven into dupattas, bedspreads, and sarees.